The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most influential lobbies in Washington, D.C., is about to open a Westside office as part of its effort to influence American policy on behalf of the Jewish state.
"This is a recognition that Southern California is very important in the national political scene," said Murray Wood, executive director of the Community Relations Committee of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation Council, who will head the new office as of next month.
He said his duties would include meeting with elected officials at all levels and with Jewish and non-Jewish groups that support Israel.
"We'll be doing what can be done to help our friends," he said.
In Washington, a spokesman for the group said that it has begun establishing regional offices because "there is a recognition on the part of friends of Israel nationwide that they need to get involved. There is a recognition that it can't all be done by a staff here, that we need to have people across the country."
Known by its initials as AIPAC, the public affairs committee grew from 8,000 members nationwide to more than 50,000 after the Reagan Administration sold four sophisticated electronic intelligence planes to Saudi Arabia over the protests of Israel and its supporters in 1981.
In an interview last year, King Hussein of Jordan gave a back-handed confirmation of the group's influence, saying that in American politics, "contenders must appeal for the favors of AIPAC, Zionism and Israel."
Although its main goal is improved U.S. ties with Israel, the public affairs organization is not considered an agent of the Israeli government. Instead, it is registered as a domestic lobby representing Israel's supporters in the United States.
"The content of their work is concerned with Israeli matters, but they're not an Israeli entity," said Hanna Palti, a spokesman for the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles. "They're an American Jewish group, and a very well organized one."
Wood, who said his new office will be located near the federation office on the Westside "because that's where the action is," said the consulate's job is to represent the government of Israel.
"My job is to work with and help facilitate the pro-Israeli community in Southern California," he said.