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AIPAC's annual conference opened this week to the auspicious news that the US Justice Department will drop its case against two former AIPAC employees on espionage-related charges based on a 90-year-old statute. But the original charges brought against Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman left some friends of Israel uneasy over the calumny of American Jews' "dual loyalty." In recent weeks, the case escalated with accusations that Congresswoman Jane Harman, a strong congressional friend of Israel, attempted to influence the case.
In March the queasiness was widespread in the pro-Israel community after Charles "Chas" Freeman claimed that the Israel lobby torpedoed his appointment to head the US National Intelligence Council. "The aim of this lobby," Freeman told reporters, "is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views." One result, he continued, is "the inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any option for US policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling faction in Israeli politics."
Freeman's complaints echo the widely-criticized 2007 book, The Israel Lobby by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, in which the authors claim that the Israel lobby's core consists of "American Jews who make a significant effort in their daily lives to bend US foreign policy so that it advances Israel's interests."
And all this came after former president Jimmy Carter published his anti-Israel screed, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid in 2006.
BY NO MEANS should anyone ignore or minimize the Washington leaks and attacks against AIPAC, the American Jewish community or Israel. But it should be understood that these actions are part of a historic, decades-long, beneath-the-surface low-intensity war in Washington to weaken US-Israel relations. Not much has changed since an Arab propagandist in the US, Muhammad Mehdi, proclaimed some 40 years ago, "The road to the liberation of Palestine leads through Washington."
In more than 35 years of my involvement in US-Israeli relations, I have seen the ebbs and surges of various anti-Israel campaigns. Once the anti-Israel crusade was led or conducted by senator J. William Fulbright and congressman Paul Findley, assisted by Jewish anti-Zionists like Elmer Berger and the apostate Alfred Lilienthal, and supported by Arab propagandists and oil interests. In the 1960s and '70s the legislators charged that American policy in the Middle East was too pro-Israel and that Congress was corrupted.
In 1962 Fulbright launched an investigation of foreign lobbyists in Washington, attempting to force AIPAC to register as an agent of Israel rather than a domestic American lobby. His chief investigator was a journalist named Walter Pincus. (Today, Pincus, The Washington Post's veteran national security reporter, helps cover the Jane Harman story and the Rosen-Weissman trial.)
"Israel controls the United States Senate," Fulbright told Face the Nation in 1973. "Around 80 percent are completely in support of Israel; anything Israel wants it gets. Jewish influence in the House of Representatives is even greater." (Years later, after retiring from the Senate, Fulbright registered as a foreign agent for Saudi Arabia.)
Freeman, Walt, and Mearsheimer are but parrots of Fulbright and under secretary of state George Ball who wrote a 1977 Foreign Affairs article, "How to Save Israel in Spite of Itself." Ball declared more than 30 years ago, "How far should we go in continuing to subsidize a policy shaped to accommodate understandable Israeli compulsions which do not accord with the best interests - as we see it - either of Israel or the United States, but are a threat to world peace?... Because many articulate Americans are passionately committed to Israel, the slightest challenge to any aspect of current Israeli policy is likely to provoke a shrill ad hominem response. To suggest that America should take a stronger and more assertive line in the search for Middle East peace is to risk being attacked as a servant either of Arab interests or of the oil companies, or being denounced as anti-Israel, or, by a careless confusion of language, even condemned as anti-Semitic."
In the mid-1970s, secretary of state Henry Kissinger, frustrated by Israel's tough negotiating position and encouraged by Ball, pushed president Gerald Ford to conduct a "reassessment" of relations with Israel. After AIPAC rallied strong congressional opposition to the administration's proposed policy change, AIPAC was investigated by the Justice Department to see if it should register as a foreign agent of Israel. The investigators concluded, "There is not one shred of evidence that AIPAC should be registered as a foreign agent."
AS RONALD REAGAN's vice president, George H. Bush reportedly led the efforts to embargo F-16 aircraft shipments to Israel after the bombing of the Iraqi reactor in 1981. In 1991 as president, Bush went toe-to-toe with the American Jewish community when he sought to tie loan guarantees, which Israel needed to provide housing for the massive aliya of Soviet Jews, to restrictions on the building of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. When Jewish organizations went up to Capitol Hill to lobby for the aid, Bush went on national TV, pounded his fists and declared that he was "up against some powerful political forces... I heard today, there were something like a thousand lobbyists on the Hill working the other side of the question. We've got one lonely little guy [the president] down here doing it."
Bush went on to chip away at public support for Israel by claiming that American soldiers had "risked their lives to defend Israelis" in the Gulf War and that "despite our own economic problems the United States provided Israel with more than $4 billion in economic and military aid, nearly $1,000 for every Israeli man, woman and child."
Bush's speech unleashed a flurry of anti-Semitic comments in the US to an extent that the White House felt it had to react. "I am concerned that some of my comments at the Thursday press conference caused apprehension within the Jewish community," Bush wrote to American Jewish leaders. "My references to lobbyists and powerful political forces were never meant to be pejorative in any sense."
The animosity toward Israel and the American Jewish community expressed by the president was probably shaped in part by his national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and shared by other senior staff. Scowcroft continues today to play an "elders" role in Washington, encouraging a change in policy toward Israel.
In 1991, Bush's chief of staff, John Sununu, was under fire for using military and corporate aircraft for personal trips. According to press reports at the time, Sununu, a Lebanese-American, believed that the attacks against him were generated by pro-Israel groups motivated by his ethnic background and because his positions were "not fully supportive of Israel's demands on the United States." Sununu later sought out Jewish leaders to mollify them and deny that he made the charge.
Bush's secretary of state James Baker was infamous for his enmity toward Israel. His purported remark, "F*** the Jews! They don't vote for us anyway," probably marks a low point in contemporary American Jewish history.
ADMINISTRATIONS' POLICY differences with Israel and legislative challenges on Capitol Hill championed by AIPAC were often met in Washington by anti-Israel leaks to the press or by actions by counterintelligence officials. During the period 1977-1982 AIPAC led challenges on Capitol Hill against major US aircraft sales to Jordan, Egypt and particularly Saudi Arabia. On three occasions in those years I was approached at AIPAC by individuals offering classified information they claimed was important for Israel's security. Once, a man offered to provide blueprints of an air base being built in an Arab state. On another occasion, two men, claiming that their pastor encouraged them to help Israel, wanted to provide information on American military supplies to the Middle East. In the third case, information on US-Saudi ties was going to be provided.
In all cases, I assumed that the men were part of counterintelligence "sting" operations, and I sent the suspected agents provocateurs packing. The third individual, by the way, was named Jonathan Pollard. I was wrong about his intentions, but AIPAC was spared.
Ultimately, such a sting operation - without the transfer of any documents - was used to entrap the two AIPAC employees in 2005.
Counterintelligence agencies in the US - and there are several - have long suspected that Jonathan Pollard had an accomplice, Agent X, and that American Jews may be guilty of dual loyalties. In 1997, phone taps of Israeli Embassy lines purportedly picked up a conversation about obtaining a document from an American mole code-named "Mega." No such spy existed, Israel insisted. One overzealous official who worked at both the CIA and FBI, David Szady, was involved in the AIPAC arrests as well as the hounding of an entry-level Jewish attorney at the CIA who had visited Israel as a teenager. Another case of clear anti-Semitic persecution involved a Jewish engineer at a tank facility in Michigan. In all cases, the investigations were finally dropped.
Press leaks about Israeli spying, illegal weapons sales and the theft of military technology spout almost like clockwork during periods of tension between the two countries. The charges include claims that the Israeli Python air-to-air missile was based on Sidewinder technology, that the Lavie jet and Harpy drone technologies were transferred to China, and that Patriot anti-aircraft missile technology was compromised. No one should have been surprised, therefore by the most recent leak about Congresswoman Harman on the eve of the AIPAC Policy Conference and as the case against Rosen and Weissman crumbled. (Will there ever be an investigation launched to see who leaked details of a secret US government operation in which Harman was taped? Probably not.)
Today's anti-Israel cabal of Walt, Mearsheimer, Freeman, and columnists Roger Cohen and Nicholas Kristof have the luxury of several Jewish commentators and organizations that support them. Incredibly, the Jewish spokesmen claim to be pro-Israel, but their actions betray their claim. The spokesmen have recently defended Chas Freeman, praised the Walt-Mearsheimer book, lobbied Congress against supporting Israel's actions against Hamas in Gaza and called for the recognition of Hamas.
Some of the spokesmen for this appeasement lobby appear to be the disciples and descendants of Rabbi Elmer Berger of the now defunct American Council for Judaism who raised funds at a Beirut dinner after the 1967 war where he likened Israel's nationalism to South Africa's apartheid. (Note that the apartheid falsehood heard so often at the Durban conferences goes back more than 40 years.) The appeasement lobby's hero, Stephen Walt, by the way, just published an eight-point "user's guide" on how the United States can "put pressure on Israel."
AS THE 6,500 AIPAC conference attendees leave Capitol Hill and head back to their homes this week, they should be proud of their efforts.
I still recall the words of former vice president and senator Hubert Humphrey, responding to the detractors of the pro-Israel lobby at the time of the Ford "reassessment" in 1976, telling some 450 AIPAC conference attendees that "columnists, editorial writers have warned us about ethnic lobbies. We've heard careless, and I think, reckless things being said about the powerful Jewish lobby. As if somehow or another, it was against the law in this country to speak up for what you believe in.
"It is good for the basic democratic process," Humphrey continued, "that people who have convictions about what American public policy should be take time to get their fellow Americans and their public officials to understand what they believe and to urge their support. That's what we mean by free speech in this country. I say it will be a sad day for this country when its citizens stop using the precious guarantees in the first amendment to petition their government.
"So I say, there is nothing new about lobbying on behalf of causes in foreign places. It's as American as a hot dog or apple pie, spaghetti, gefilte fish or Polish sausage."
That sounds like a delicious menu.
The writer served in AIPAC offices in Washington and Jerusalem for 25 years. Later he served as a senior Israeli diplomat in Washington. He blogs at www.lennybendavid.com.