Examining individual ethnic groups and their particular campaigns on behalf of shaping policy in a region or toward a particular nation provides clues as to how and why ethnic politics can work in America's pluralistic democracy. It is likely that the most extraordinary case of an ethnic group successfully shaping the direction of foreign policy is the campaign of American Jews to win U.S. support for both the creation of Israel and the close partnership between the two nations that has followed.
Many factors need to be in place for ethnic politics to succeed; what is interesting about the campaign initiated by American Jews following World War II is that the community did so many things so well. Although small in numbers, there was near unanimity among American Jews in support of the Zionist goal of creating a viable Jewish state. Furthermore, it was understood that although direct support to those creating Israel in Palestine was important, what was essential politically would be to bring the United States in on the side of the new state.
American Jews represented only 3 percent of the population, but in the presidential election year of 1948, when Zionists declared the existence of Israel, American Jews were concentrated in those states that constituted the biggest electoral prizes. Half of the nation's Jews lived in New York State, which had by far the most electoral votes.
Winning American support for Israel became the community's most important political objective, ensuring that politicians would pay attention to the issue. Firmly established within the political structure, almost all Jews voted, many were activists involved in campaigns, and as a high-income group they had already established a record of financial support for candidates and organizations that backed their causes. President Harry Truman, and most members of Congress, responded favorably to the call to assist the newly established state when Zionists proclaimed the creation of Israel on 14–15 May 1948.
It was Truman's support in extending de facto American recognition of Israel just eleven minutes after it was declared to exist that proved crucial. It not only gave Israel, which was immediately plunged into defense of itself in the first Arab-Israeli war, great moral legitimacy by being acknowledged as a state by the most powerful nation in the world, but it also proved to be the first step in a continuing stream of support from the United States. It is always difficult to attribute motivation, but a case can be made that Truman recognized Israel and continued American support for the new nation out of a concern for the political consequences in a presidential election year.
Thanks in large measure to American Jews' fostering the "special relationship" that grew between Israel and the United States, by the 1970s the political, economic, and military ties were so firm that they became a foundation of American foreign policy. American Jews identified with and felt pride when Israel achieved its goals in the face of constant adversity. When Israel stunned the world with its unexpected military victories in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, perhaps no citizens of one nation have ever been as committed to another nation's fate as Jews in America were to Israel. More than any other event, the outcome of the war forged unanimity toward Israel on the part of Jewry in the United States.
An American lobbying group, the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), has met with so much success that it has become a symbol of foreign policy lobbying effectiveness. Some political observers have said that AIPAC has become the most powerful foreign policy lobbying group in Washington. Focused exclusively on lobbying the U.S. government for Israel's needs, AIPAC avoids identification with the liberal causes with which Jewish groups usually associate. This has allowed AIPAC to remain ideologically comfortable with anticommunist conservatives such as Ronald Reagan and the territorial expansionists on the political right in Israel. AIPAC developed the capacity to mobilize thousands of activists across the United States when needed, and into the 1980s they were able to stifle dissent among Jews who questioned the direction Israel was taking.