Friday, May 20, 2005

The Case Against AIPAC

Has the lingering trauma of the Pollard affair induced our silence in the face of large questions regarding the investigation of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee? We have been treated during the past year to leaks and contradictory reports about Lawrence A. Franklin who now has been arrested. Somehow, Aipac is involved. Several Jewish leaders initially questioned the investigation, but for the past six months there has been silence. Our newspapers report the latest developments, but there is little inclination to probe, to try to figure out what is going on. Apart from firing two top staff members, Aipac has said little, preferring to have us believe that it is business as usual.

The stakes are high and we need to know more. We cannot rely on FBI leaks, if only because that agency which occupies a central place in American mythology has shown itself capable of destroying and distorting evidence and employing tactics that egregiously depart from minimum standards of criminal justice. These failings are apart from the FBI's well-advertised mishandling of major security matters. With time out for the presidential election, perhaps under White House instructions, the FBI has investigated Franklin for at least a year, which should be sufficient time to gather information and reach conclusions. In the present climate which tolerates, even encourages, abuse, investigations have become daisy chains. What emerges at the end of the process often has a tenuous connection to the reasons why the investigation was launched. As in the already notorious Wilson affair and the CIA, journalists who are no more than bystanders become the target of an investigation. This may be happening regarding Aipac.

Increasingly, the Bill of Rights are in exile in the United States and too few have the courage to speak up.

Aipac seeks to distance itself from the investigation. Its main business is marketing itself, convincing American Jews that what it does is vital for Israel and makes a significant difference. In fact, the organization's contributions to Israel's welfare are negligible. It raises no money for Israel, sponsors and supports no programs in the Jewish state and does not promote aliyah. Aipac is essentially a safe haven for well-meaning American Jews who are eager to demonstrate their intensive feeling for Israel by doing what American Jews often do best, making contributions and going to events.

We only need to consider the big ticket items on Israel's agenda to appreciate how feeble, indeed infantile, is the notion that Aipac is vital. The Gaza withdrawal, responses to terrorism, relations with Palestinians, diplomatic contacts around the globe - in these and other critical policy areas Aipac's role amounts to a big zero. While Washington pays lip service by sending officials to its affairs, the While House and State Department set U.S. Middle East policy without giving a rap about what is said by these pacmen. Attention is paid, however, by those who believe that there is a Zionist conspiracy.

Aipac is about to have its annual policy conference. There will be thousands of pseudo-machers, again they are well-meaning, who will spend money and time that could be better spent on causes that directly help Israel. In line with the imperative of the political world that makes pandering a positive commandment, there will be loads of people from the Administration and Congress, it is said including Secretary of State Rice and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. It is not expected that the ghosts of Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, the staff members who have been sacked, will hover over the event. It is expected that Ms. Rice, Dr. Frist and other officials will say nice things about Aipac and Israel, even as the organization is being investigated and even as the State Department is putting enormous pressure on Israel to yield more. While recently in Israel, Bill Frist insisted in a speech that the Gaza withdrawal must be the prelude to further unilateral steps and withdrawals to meet Palestinian needs and demands.

For sure, the attendees will applaud these speakers and, for sure, Aipac will market the message that the event proves that it is crucial for Israel.

The decision to jettison Rosen and Weissman is puzzling because charges have not been brought against them. The perception is that Aipac's action is designed to accommodate the Bush Administration. A credible source tells me that Aipac is under White House pressure not to pay the high legal fees that Messrs. Rosen and Weissman are expected to incur.

The affair raises tangential issues. We need to know the extent of FBI surveillance, including wiretapping, of American Jewish leaders. We need to know whether our government considers these Jews to be loyalty and security risks. There is shocking evidence of mini-McCarthyism as American Jews who have been employed by Defense Department contractors have lost their security clearance. Where is the Anti-Defamation League? Perhaps it is too busy attacking the Ten Commandments.

It is expected that Rosen and Weissman will be formally charged, their crime being that they verbally received from Franklin classified information regarding Iran and/or Iraq. Is this a crime? If it is, charges should be brought against top U.S. officials who constantly serve as the "unnamed sources" that leak classified intelligence information.

I imagine that in Israel, as well as elsewhere, there are CIA operatives, military attaches and other U.S. personnel whose job it is to get secret information - including surreptitiously - from sources in the host country. It will be valuable to learn how many Israelis with access to their country's intelligence and security information are on a U.S. payroll. Of course, there is a difference because Israel has yielded much of its sovereignty to the United States and in too many areas it operates as an American protectorate. In short, Israel is required to do as the U.S. says, but not as the U.S. does.