“There was a real desire to help Findley out of Congress,” Asher said. He identified an obscure Democratic lawyer in Springfield, Richard Durbin, as someone who could defeat Findley. “We met at my apartment in Chicago, and I recruited him to run for Congress,” he recalled.
“I probed his views and I explained things that I had learned mostly from aipac. I wanted to make sure we were supporting someone who was not only against Paul Findley but also a friend of Israel.”
Asher went on, “He beat Findley with a lot of help from Jews, in-state and out-of-state. Now, how did the Jewish money find him? I travelled around the country talking about how we had the opportunity to defeat someone unfriendly to Israel. And the gates opened.” Durbin, who went on to win a Senate seat, is now the Democratic whip. He is a fierce critic of Bush’s Iraq policy but, like aipac, generally supports the Administration’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Durbin says that he considers Asher to be his “most loyal friend in the Jewish community.”
Mayer Mitchell led a similar campaign, three years ago, to defeat Earl Hilliard, an Alabama congressman who was a critic of Israel. Mitchell helped direct support to a young Harvard Law School graduate named Artur Davis, who challenged Hilliard in the Democratic primary, and he solicited donations from aipac supporters across America. Davis won the primary, and the seat. “I asked Bubba how he felt after Davis won,” Asher said, “and he said, ‘Just like you did when Durbin got elected.’ ” Mitchell declined to comment.
aipac’s leaders can be immoderately frank about the group’s influence. At dinner that night with Steven Rosen, I mentioned a controversy that had enveloped aipac in 1992. David Steiner, a New Jersey real-estate developer who was then serving as aipac’s president, was caught on tape boasting that he had “cut a deal” with the Administration of George H. W. Bush to provide more aid to Israel. Steiner also said that he was “negotiating” with the incoming Clinton Administration over the appointment of a pro-Israel Secretary of State. “We have a dozen people in his”—Clinton’s—“headquarters . . . and they are all going to get big jobs,” Steiner said. Soon after the tape’s existence was disclosed, Steiner resigned his post. I asked Rosen if aipac suffered a loss of influence after the Steiner affair. A half smile appeared on his face, and he pushed a napkin across the table. “You see this napkin?” he said. “In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.”