Ethnic politics and lobbies began with the large waves of nineteenth-century immigration. Irish Americans were one of the more effective ethnic lobbies. But ethnic lobbying became much stronger in the last quarter of the twentieth century. With Congress gaining a larger role in making foreign policy during the 1970s, ethnic groups became more involved in the deliberations over foreign affairs matters in Washington.
Ethnic groups and their lobbies proliferated in the 1970s and 1980s. Greek, Armenian, Turkish, Irish, Hungarian, Romanian, Serbian, and Croatian issues were among the many that often roiled the political scene. Violent rhetoric, confrontations, and even physical clashes led to fractious controversy and bitter recrimination. Congressional leaders regretted the fractiousness of ethnic controversies and the danger they could pose to national interests, but could see no way around such primordial tendencies.
While the executive branch of government proved better able than Congress to insulate itself from ethnic lobbies, some members of Congress began to worry in the late 1970s about the "overall ethnicization of foreign policy." The frequently successful targeting of Congress by ethnic lobbies created fears among some in the executive branch that congressional involvement in the daily conduct of foreign affairs policy, combined with Congress's vulnerability to ethnic interest groups, was imparting an ethnic hue to American diplomacy.
Arab-Israeli Conflict Among the ethnic lobbies, none were more vigorous—or more often successful—than those advocating American support for the state of Israel. The groups concerned with the fate of Israel were referred to at various times as the Zionist lobby, the Jewish lobby, or the Israeli lobby, a terminology that appears to have come into use in the 1970s, when lobbying both for and against support for Israel was most fierce. During World War II, Jewish groups united to advocate the establishment of a Palestinian state for the Jews at a time when outspoken appeals for the rescue of Jewish victims of nazism appeared politically unsound in the United States. They had, however, the support of Christian and labor groups and various public leaders. The American Zionist Council's Emergency Committee on Zionist Affairs, which evolved into the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in 1956, provided critical lobbying on behalf of U.S. recognition of Israel in 1948. President Truman acknowledged the importance of the lobbying, which, he observed, counterbalanced the pro-Arab sentiments prevailing in the State Department and the preferences of the oil companies. Pro-Israeli lobbying prevented congressional action mandating unconditional Israeli withdrawal from Egyptian territory following the 1956 Egyptian-Israeli war and also was successful in persuading Congress to suspend aid to Egypt until cargoes bound for Israel were allowed to pass through the Suez Canal.
AIPAC was among the most successful of the ethnic lobbies. By 1990 it represented the views of thirty-eight pro-Israeli organizations, had an annual budget of $12 million, a small but efficient staff supported by more than 10,000 duespaying members, and an executive committee that included the heads of major American Jewish organizations. AIPAC, which confined its activities to advocating U.S. government policies in support of Israel (the Israeli government appears to have left to AIPAC the lobbying of Congress on important issues), gained the reputation for having outstanding intelligence about executive branch planning relative to Israel; often it was able to generate support for the Israeli government position by providing members of Congress with vital information sooner or more fully than could the State Department. AIPAC also generated grassroots lobbying by the many Jewish communities that deluged the State Department with telephone calls and other messages for or against American policies or actions.
AIPAC had some significant successes in lobbying for legislation that provided military and economic assistance to Israel and denied critical arms to its Arab neighbors. The tenacity of AIPAC was on occasion resented by both Republican and Democratic administrations, which wanted to measure American national interests in the Middle East by their own standards, and AIPAC occasionally failed to prevent actions opposed by the Israeli government. In 1978 the Carter administration pushed through Congress the sale of sixty F-15 planes to Saudi Arabia over the opposition of AIPAC. In 1981, Congress passed Reagan administration legislation for the sale of AWACS surveillance aircraft and other equipment to Saudi Arabia despite the strenuous lobbying of AIPAC, and during the senior Bush's presidency AIPAC unsuccessfully challenged White House opposition to a $10 million loan guarantee to Israel. The very vigor of AIPAC lobbying and its contribution to the electoral defeat of prominent congressional opponents of important pro-Israeli legislation stirred fear of renewed anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic sentiment in the United States.
In the absence of a substantial domestic constituency in the United States, Arab states countered the Israeli-AIPAC efforts with a combination of hired professional lobbyists and new advocacy groups. The National Association of Arab Americans (NAAA), formed in 1972, was never as successful as AIPAC, but it did attract attention in the media and in Congress among those who felt that the United States was not evenhanded in dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict. NAAA became increasingly effective in influencing U.S. institutions as Americans grew more concerned about the plight of the Palestinians. Other groups included the Action Committee on American-Arab Relations, the American Palestine Committee, and the American Near East Refugee Committee. The rival lobbies tended to offset one another. They also intensified the debate around Middle East issues and often informed the outcome.
Jackson-Vanik Amendment In 1973 ethnic and human rights concerns coalesced when Congress adopted legislation requiring that the Soviet government permit wider emigration to Israel in order to obtain most-favored-nation trade status. In working for the legislation—the so-called Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the 1974 Trade Act—Senator Henry Jackson gained critical support from the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, an umbrella organization representing major national and local Jewish organizations. The National Conference's grassroots campaign developed an expansive constituent appeal to Congress that generated more than 250 cosponsors for the amendment when Representative Charles Vanik introduced it in the House. The AFL-CIO, which lobbied Congress for special tariff protections for domestic industries impacted by cheap foreign imports, joined Jewish organizations in persuading Congress to adopt the Jackson-Vanik Amendment as well as to withdraw the United States from the International Labor Organization (ILO) because of that organization's recognition of "captive" labor unions in the USSR and the communist bloc generally. Despite an angry visit to Congress by Soviet politburo member Boris Ponomarev, efforts by President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger to negotiate a diplomatic compromise with the Soviet Union were thwarted by the lobbying campaign. Leaders in Congress afterward complained that the kind of lobbying evidenced by Jackson-Vanik made it impossible to conduct normal or effective foreign policy.
Greek-American Lobby In 1964 Greek-American organizations sought to persuade President Lyndon B. Johnson to deny Turkey the use of U.S. military aid to thwart the movement for independence by Greek Cypriots. The impact of the Greek-American lobby on U.S. foreign policy reached its peak in 1974, when it helped to foster congressional legislation that favored an independent Greek Cyprus and opposed Turkish intervention there. Although most observers blamed the Greeks for the fighting that broke out in 1974 in Cyprus between Greek and Turkish Cypriots after the Turkish invasion of the island, the Greek-American community and lobby persuaded Congress to deny U.S. arms to Turkey, a NATO ally. The American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) and the American Hellenic Institute were instrumental in securing a law that amended foreign aid legislation to cut off assistance to nations using it for purposes other than national defense. In response to the congressional embargo of arms, an action strongly opposed not only by the Nixon administration but by the leadership of Congress itself, Turkey ordered the closing of American military installations on its soil.
A new, more professional lobbying organization, the American Hellenic Institute Public Affairs Committee (AHIPAC), arose in the 1970s; it pressed friendly members of Congress to repel efforts to end the arms embargo against Turkey. AHIPAC—patterned after the successful, pro-Israeli AIPAC—and AHEPA carried on grassroots campaigns that generated large quantities of letters, telegrams, and telephone messages to Congress and the State Department whenever the administration initiated an effort to lift the embargo. The Greek-American community in the United States was not very large, and the effectiveness of its lobbies stemmed not from the number of senators and representatives they could influence but from their success in influencing those few members able to affect the work of Congress. Of course, the reorganization of power in Congress during the 1970s contributed to the potential effectiveness of lobbies like those pressing Greek concerns.
The Greek lobbies also increased their influence by cooperating with other ethnic lobbies, such as those advocating Armenian and Israeli issues. At the end of the 1970s, AIPAC supported the Greek lobby's effort to maintain the embargo against Turkey, while AHIPAC supported the lobbying effort to prevent the sale of aircraft to Saudi Arabia. The Turkish government then retaliated by breaking off relations with Israel, an example of the unintended and unexpected consequences for American foreign policy that these ethnic alliances could have. An alliance of groups—particularly American veterans' organizations—concerned about U.S. military security and strength, rallied in support of the government's eventually successful effort to lift the embargo against Turkey.
During the 1970s the Cyprus dispute not only ignited grassroots ethnic lobbying but also precipitated one of the early examples of direct lobbying by foreign governments with Congress. When in 1978 Congress had before it legislation aimed at removing the embargo on arms sales to Turkey, the leaders of all of the concerned governments—Turkish prime minister Bulent Ecevit, Greek prime minister Constantine Karamanlis, Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, and Cypriot president Spyros Kyprianou—met with members of the House. Also, the Greek minister to the United States consulted frequently with the House staff preparing the legislation and apparently was able to mitigate the language removing the embargo.
Armenian-American Lobby In the last several decades of the twentieth century, a small but passionate Armenian-American lobby made the public aware of alleged Turkish genocide in the massacre of Armenians—in estimated numbers ranging from hundreds of thousands to more than 1.5 million—between 1915 and 1923. The Armenian lobby in America and other major Western nations was able to obtain a resolution in 2000 from the House International Affairs Committee acknowledging the killing of Armenians as genocide. Only an urgent appeal by President Clinton to the House leaders, reminding them of the danger that Turkey would evict the United States from its Turkish bases if such a resolution were adopted, brought about a last-minute withdrawal of the resolution from consideration.
By the end of the twentieth century Armenian lobbyists, responding to the growing tendency of state governments to adopt positions on foreign policy issues important to their citizens, had pushed their campaigns to the individual states and obtained resolutions in fifteen state legislatures condemning the Turkish massacre of Armenians as genocide. By 2001 the increasingly powerful Armenian Assembly of America, the central Armenian lobby, had purchased a headquarters building two blocks from the White House. The Turkish side of the dispute had no natural constituency in the United States, but representatives of the Turkish embassy engaged in their own lobbying in Washington and in state capitols. An articulate Turkish lobby consistently succeeded in frustrating Armenian demands for resolutions regarding the massacres by reminding members of Congress of the importance of the U.S.–Turkish alliance.
Cuban-American Lobby The waves of Cuban refugees to the United States in the last half of the twentieth century significantly impacted domestic politics in Florida and generated a foreign affairs lobby that was a virtual determinant in U.S. policy toward Cuba. The largest Cuban advocacy group, the Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF), led by Jose Mas Canosa until his death in 1997, was highly successful in pushing Congress and the executive branch into initiatives like the establishment of powerful U.S. broadcasting to Cuba by the Voice of America's Radio Martí (in 1985) and TV Martí (1990) and ensuring that the U.S. delegation to the annual meetings of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva took the lead in condemning and isolating the Castro regime. The U.S. sanctions regime against Cuba became a fixture of Washington's policy despite the general trend among America's friends and allies toward the end of the century—and especially after the collapse of the Soviet bloc—to seek to normalize diplomatic and economic relations. U.S. leadership in the UN on anti-Castro resolutions, whatever the cost to the overall American role in multilateral diplomacy, was a requirement of State Department policy in all administrations. None wished to arouse the anti-Castro lobby, which had no viable counter-lobby.