Aipac Conference Preview

The leaders of the three large Israeli parties will speak to the participants of the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac). The conference, which will open Sunday at the Washington Convention Center, will feature all three leading Israeli politicians - Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz and Binyamin Netanyahu, which will appear separately via satellite from Israel. No senior Israeli official or cabinet minister will attend the event, due to the upcoming elections in Israel. This is the second year in a row in which 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 stated that their actions were not authorizes by the organization, the defense will try to establish in court that high ranking officials in Aipac 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 will suggest that the organization had too close a relationship with Israel, this might prompt calls to declare Aipac a foreign agent, which is subject to strict regulations set out by the Department of Justice. Since the scandal broke out, Aipac did not suffer any decline in its membership or contributions and in the past year it had 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 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 Bush, Condoleezza Rice and 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 to supply 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 the case in support of Rosen and Weissman. The group - Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press - claimed that prosecuting Rosen and Weissman 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 can raise this issue on their own.