Israeli leaders to address AIPAC

Leaders of Kadima, Likud, Labor to address Washington conference Sunday.

olmert 298 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
olmert 298 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The leaders of Israel's three main political parties will speak this week to the participants of the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), but no senior Israeli officials will attend the event due to the upcoming elections in Israel. The conference, which opens Sunday at the Washington Convention Center, will feature all three leading Israeli politicians - Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz and Binyamin Netanyahu - separately, via satellite from Israel. This is the second year in a row that AIPAC is holding its annual policy conference under the cloud of the investigation into accusations that two senior employees received classified information from a Pentagon analyst and passed it on to Israeli diplomats, journalists and other AIPAC staffers. The jury trial of former employees Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman is scheduled to begin in late April and is expected to raise difficult questions for the pro-Israeli lobby. Though AIPAC has distanced itself from Rosen and Weissman and has stated that their actions were not authorized by the organization, the defense will try to establish in court that high-ranking AIPAC officials were aware of the actions of Rosen and Weissman and that receiving classified government information was a common practice in the work of the lobby. The trial might also raise questions regarding the relationship between AIPAC and the State of Israel. AIPAC is an American organization, but if evidence in the trial suggests that the organization had too close a relationship with Israel, this might prompt calls to declare AIPAC a foreign agent, which would be subject to strict regulations set out by the Department of Justice. Since the scandal broke out, AIPAC has not suffered any decline in its membership or contributions, and in the past year it reached a record $45 million in funds raised in the US. Yet several major donors have expressed concern over the dispute between AIPAC and Rosen and Weissman over the question of covering the legal expenses of the two former employees. Prior to the annual conference there will be a meeting between the major donors and AIPAC executives in order to discuss this issue. Vice President Dick Cheney will represent the administration at the conference and is expected to speak on Tuesday. The administration has always made it a point to dispatch senior officials to the event, and in the past years AIPAC conferences were attended by President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her predecessor Colin Powell. The main issue on the agenda will be the call to isolate the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. AIPAC is supporting tough legislation in Congress, intended to cut off direct financial aid to the PA and to limit the possibility of supplying humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. A non-binding resolution with similar language has already been approved overwhelmingly by both chambers of Congress. The binding bill is expected to be voted on in the next weeks. AIPAC is also working tirelessly to promote legislation against Iran and to make sure that the administration and Congress remain firm on their opposition to an Iranian nuclear program. The conference is not expected to touch directly on the FBI investigation or the upcoming trial of Rosen and Weissman. This week, the US court in Alexandria, Virginia, denied a request of a journalist right's group to file a brief in support of Rosen and Weissman. The group, Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press, claimed that prosecuting the two under the espionage act is a freedom of speech issue that might affect negatively on the work of the press. Judge T.S. Ellis refused to allow the brief and ruled that the lawyers for the defendants could raise this issue on their own.