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Mission (as of 2015)
“NORPAC is a non-partisan Political Action Committee (PAC) whose primary purpose is to support candidates and sitting members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives who demonstrate a genuine commitment to the strength, security, and survival of Israel. With the constant turnover rate in Congress, we cannot take a strong U.S.-Israel relationship for granted. It is only through our continued active involvement that we can help to make sure the issues of importance to our community get the attention and support they deserve. … Together, we can continue to accomplish this most worthwhile goal: to aid in the survival of Israel, the Jewish Homeland, and the Middle East’s sole democracy.”
NORPAC (also the “North Jersey PAC”) is a New Jersey-based political action committee that has worked to promote a hardline “pro-Israel” agenda in Congress. Founded in 1992 by Rabbi Menachem Genack, the lobbying organization supports legislators “who demonstrate a genuine commitment to the strength, security, and survival of Israel.” Among its activities, NORPAC raises funds for political candidates, organizes an annual citizen lobby day in Washington, and distributes talking points to members of Congress and supporters. It claims to be “the largest pro-Israel PAC.”
NORPAC has been among the top donors to politicians who have vehemently opposed the historic 2015 Iran nuclear deal. During the 2014 election cycle, NORPAC was the biggest donor to Rep. Ed Royce’s (R-CA) election committee. According to a January 2016 LobeLog article, NORPAC’s money has allowed Royce—who is “leading the charge” in the House of Representatives to “derail” the nuclear agreement—to “continue in his role as the House’s leading Iran hawks.”
Royce is also “NORPAC’s biggest recipient of campaign contributions in the House during the 2016 cycle,” with anti-Iran deal 2016 GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) being the “group’s biggest overall recipient in the cycle.”
NORPAC’s president is Ben Chouake, a New Jersey physician. In a 2009 debate with Jeremy Ben-Ami—head of the liberal-leaning Israel lobby organization J Street, which supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has criticized the Israeli government’s intransigence on the issue—Chouake declared that NORPAC’s “job is to defend Israel in Congress,” which Chouake suggested meant not criticizing Israeli policies or U.S. support for them.
Chouake chided groups like J Street for “confusing” members of Congress by presenting themselves as “pro-Israel” while arguing that the United States should pressure Israel to make concessions on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process or curb its illegal settlement-building in Palestinian territory. “Promoting pressure on Israel from America is best left to our enemies. The Jimmy Carters, the Walts and Mearsheimers, and the OPEC oil cartel lobbyists do a good enough job without our help,” Chouake quipped. “We can have all sorts of good internal debates about this within the pro-Israel community,” he added, “but when we go into the halls of Congress, we had better do it with one voice.”
NORPAC’s legislative agenda was laid out in a talking points memo it distributed to lobby day supporters in May 2013. The memo called on members of Congress to oppose cuts to the $3 billion annual U.S. aid package to Israel, to endorse a resolution pledging U.S. support for Israel in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran, and to support legislation officially designating Israel “a strategic partner” of the United States, which would enable visa-free travel between the two countries. (Observers have pointed out that Israeli leaders tend to oppose this latter provision because it could limit Israel’s ability to restrict the travel of its American critics.) In the past, NORPAC has also claimed credit for curbing U.S. arms transfers to Arab countries on the grounds that the weapons could be used against Israel.
Some observers have suggested that NORPAC serves informally as an auxiliary arm of the better known American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) by taking more explicit positions than AIPAC is willing to take. For example, during the heated confirmation hearings in early 2013 over Chuck Hagel’s nomination for defense secretary, AIPAC remained officially neutral while a slate of Israel lobby representatives—including former AIPAC figureheads Morris Amitay and Josh Block—vigorously denounced the nomination. For his part, NORPAC president Ben Chouake argued in an op-ed that Hagel’s nomination was “problematic and should be declined.” He accused Hagel of showing “consistent solicitude” toward “Iran and the terrorist organizations and states it funds,” refusing “to acknowledge the danger of a nuclear armed Iran,” and evincing “consistent opposition to every legislative effort to contain this threat.”
Among the charges Chouake levied against Hagel were that he had refused to sign a letter in support of Israel during the Second Palestinian Intifada in 2000, voted against extending sanctions on Iran and Libya in 2001, and declined to “formally call upon the European Union to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization” after the Israel-Lebanon war in 2006.
LobeLog’s Marsha Cohen pointed out that former Sen. Richard Lugar—the Indiana Republican who received more NORPAC donations than any other candidate in the 2012 cycle—had taken many of the same positions that Chouake said made Hagel a “fringe” senator in 2013. In fact, noted Cohen, “The more vicious of Hagel’s critics didn’t make the list” of NORPAC-supported candidates. “Perhaps they are hoping, by their professed fealty to Israel, that they might be on that list for the next election cycle?”
In contrast to AIPAC, which spends money on lobbying but does not donate directly to candidates, NORPAC donates money directly to political campaigns. During the 2012 election cycle, NORPAC donated $62,330 to Senate Democrats, $54,741 to Senate Republicans, $10,603 to House Democrats, and $6,350 to House Republicans. Among its numerous beneficiaries that year were Republicans Reps. Eric Cantor and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen as well as Democrats Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi. According to OurJerusalem.com, NORPAC members had “hosted more than 200 members of Congress in their homes, including the majority of the Senate” as of 2009.
Several AIPAC leaders, including current president Michael Kassen and former president David Steiner, have used NORPAC to personally donate thousands of dollars to campaigns.