As US presidential candidates battle it out to become the leader of the world's only superpower there is one subject on which they all, in public at least, agree - the
To leading politicians on both sides of the partisan divide the special relationship is sacrosanct, largely due, critics say, to the power of pro-Israel lobby groups.
Those critics also say that pro-Israeli groups are set to play a major role in the forthcoming election battle, both in terms of funding candidates and by publicly criticizing any candidate critical of
John Mearsheimer, who alongside Stephen Walt is the author of a controversial series of articles and a recent book on the Israel lobby, have said: "Almost all of the major candidates are falling over themselves to demonstrate how deeply committed they are to America's special relationship with Israel.
"Hardly a word of criticism is directed at anything
What is the pro-Israel lobby?
The lobby is made up of dozens of pro-Israel political action committees that draw a large part of their support from the
But Christian Zionists, who are among the most vociferous supporters of
They believe that by strengthening and supporting the state of
At the lobby's vanguard is the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), which works mainly in
It boasts its recent "victories" include the
Money and power
Defenders of the
But money talks in politics and the figures tell a different story.
The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), which monitors the role of money in US politics, says pro-Israeli groups and individuals have already donated more than $845,000 to presidential candidates in the 2008 campaign - 70 per cent of it to Democrats.
In the entire 2004 presidential campaign pro-Israel interests contributed at least $6.1 million to federal candidates and parties.
"Money translates into influence in
And it is outside of the presidential race and in congress, which holds the purse strings on the key area of aid to
Aipac and other groups spent more than $1.5 million on federal lobbying in 2006 and more than $1.25 million in the first half of 2007, meaning that this year could be a record one for the lobby.
The pro-Israel lobby accounts for about one-quarter of all foreign policy lobbying on Capitol Hill, the CRP says.
Arab efforts to put their case across are, in contrast, minimal.
The National Association of Arab-Americans and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee reported spending just $80,000 on federal lobbying in 2006 and $40,000 in the first six months of 2007.
The financial power of the
Aipac provides educational trips to congressman and their staff - more trips than any other sponsor, according to the CRP.
"Members of congress and their staffs have been to Tel Aviv more often in recent years than they've been to
Aipac's defenders say that this is where the organization plays an important role, as an information source for politicians - including US presidential candidates.
But critics say that pro-Israel lobby groups go much further - as John Mearsheimer says: "The lobby monitors what the candidates say very closely."
In March, Democratic candidate Barack Obama gave a speech in the key primary state of
A local Aipac member immediately contacted the media to denounce the comment, describing it as "deeply troubling".
In July Jim Moran, a Democratic congressman who has criticized Aipac in the past, accused the organization of pushing for war on
Seventeen members of congress immediately wrote a letter to Moran condemning him and saying that his remarks "unfortunately fit the anti-Semitic stereotypes some have used historically used against Jews".
Eric Cantor, the House of Representatives Republican Deputy Chief Whip, reportedly went further and was quoted as saying: "Unfortunately, Jim Moran has made it a habit now to lash out to the American-Jewish community.
"I think his remarks are reprehensible, I think his remarks are anachronistic, and hearken back to the day of Adolph Hitler."
In such a political climate it is easy to see why those seeking a job in the Oval Office are wary of speaking out for any change in the
The charge of anti-Semitism is regularly used by the
"We are not anti-Semites and the book is not anti-Semitic," he says.
"Calling critics of Israeli policy or the US-Israel relationship is standard operating procedure for the lobby. It's the standard strategy they use to stifle criticism of
Beyond the politics of elections, the lobby's critics say that pro-Israeli groups, after pushing for war on
"If you look at who is pushing the
Jim Moran, in an interview with the Tikkun, a Jewish peace magazine, said
"No one's suggested that
"In effect, all the same groups and individuals who were pushing for war against
Aipac, however, vehemently denies it is asking for anything other than sanctions.
"Aipac solely advocates sanctions as the best way to stop
Mearsheimer argues that the
He and other critics, from both inside and outside the Jewish community in the
They believe that the
This has emboldened Israeli leaders to sanction the illegal occupation of Palestinian land, the building of settlements and for the Israeli military to carry out numerous human rights abuses.
"If these presidential candidates were real friends of Israel as they claim to be, they would not only be criticizing Israel for its policies in the occupied territories ... they would be arguing that the US put significant pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to reach an agreement on a two-state solution," said Mearsheimer.
"That's what a real friend would do."