Friday, November 10, 2006

Exhibitionism Is Not Influence

Is the continuing pursuit of AIPAC a rouge operation, the handiwork of a zealous prosecutor who doesn't like the organization and has the FBI at his disposal to act out this dislike, or is it an organized Justice Department operation that has the approval of people at the top? One day we might know. My guess is that what began as a limited investigation has now blossomed into a crusade sanctioned by high Justice Department officials and perhaps the White House.

Whatever the full story, this business has been going on for more than three years and there is no sign of a let-up, as we know from the latest chapter involving Representative Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. She's been investigated, apparently because she may have enlisted AIPAC in her effort to chair the committee should Democrats gain control of the House. This is a crime?

Likely, Harman is off the hook. Also off the hook are nearly all whom the FBI has trailed, wiretapped, questioned and investigated in the pursuit of AIPAC. Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, the ex-AIPAC staffers, are not off the hook. They await trial on phantom charges concocted by Justice Department prosecutors, their alleged crime being that they did what hundreds do every day in Washington. Should we be comforted because no one caught up in the AIPAC dragnet has been waterboarded?

What is the American Jewish reaction to the systematic attack against a Jewish organization that has by far more members than any other? We are once more the Jews of silence, not daring to criticize the government and not even curious about how an administration that sends its highest officials to AIPAC events can compile so flagrant an anti-AIPAC record. As for the lobbying group, its spokesman utters the familiar mantra, "we wouldn’t do anything wrong." That's not the issue. The issue is why the Feds are harassing people who have an association with the organization.

In truth, the bad news has not been too bad for AIPAC. The impact on Israel and American Jewry is another matter. After Rosen and Weissman were cashiered by the organization they served with loyalty and were then indicted, American Jews responded by adding substantially to their contributions, the apparent explanation being their belief that the anti-AIPAC crusade demonstrates that their idol is vital to Israel and the Jewish people. The logic may be flawed but the group’s overstuffed coffers are real. AIPAC also eats well when Israel-haters like John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt attack. It is inappropriate to ask whether AIPAC's self-promotion gives ammunition to Israel haters.

AIPAC's hype is a serious Jewish/Israel problem and we need to have the courage and intelligence to address this issue. Its annual extravaganza is a public declaration that "we are powerful." The participation of high officials and scores of senators and representatives has no bearing on American foreign policy, this despite the multitude of platitudinous declarations of U.S.-Israel friendship. It has much to do with how Jews and Israel are perceived because the message being sent is that this is the most powerful lobby under the sun.

It should not be difficult to understand that exhibitionism is not influence, that most often it is a display of immaturity and lack of confidence. Those who have influence go about their work quietly. AIPAC makes noise to call attention to itself because its large army of mini-machers are more likely to contribute when there is hoopla, when they believe that they are rubbing shoulders with the powerful. According to Newsweek, in mid-September while she was under investigation, Representative Harman hosted a dinner at her home for over 120 "top financial backers" of AIPAC that included a panel discussion with John Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence, and Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff. The event had no bearing on U.S. policy and everything to do with demonstrating AIPAC's alleged clout to the affluent attendees.

Let's face it. We want AIPAC to be regarded as powerful and then without batting an eye we throw a fit when AIPAC is accused of wielding power. Nor are we willing to ask the tough question of whether AIPAC is worth the cost, whether the message being sent to Americans is that Jews have great influence. The Forward reports that half of the respondents to a Zogby International survey believe that "the Israel lobby" has been "a key factor" in American actions in Iraq and the confrontation with Iran. True, the question was of the "when did you stop beating your wife?" variety. Even so, we should be concerned.

In response to AIPAC's overreaching and exhibitionism we do not need a new group that will take an ultra-liberal, anti-Administration tack along the lines suggested by George Soros. He is a fabulously wealthy man who has never displayed any caring for Israel or Jews. What we do not need is a competing lobby but an intelligent examination of whether our lobbying strategy is an asset or deficit. We need to explore whether AIPAC's perhaps inevitable tendency to provide support for those who are in power may work to Israel's disadvantage, as I believe we have seen in Iraq.

Doubtlessly, AIPAC and its supporters prefer to ignore these questions and it will be business as usual. The group is likely to raise more money and add to its instinct for exhibitionism. It remains, however, that while the band plays on, AIPAC continues to be investigated. This should concern us, not for the sake of an organization mired in self-promotion, but for the sake of American Jewry. I am a strong disbeliever in conspiracy theories, yet when we consider what has transpired over the past three years and also in light of the Jonathan Pollard affair, there are reasons to believe that there is an anti-Israel cabal embedded high up in the U.S. government.