A Cautionary Tale

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Just in time for the annual AIPAC conference, the US Justice Department announced last week it is dismissing its charges against former AIPAC staffers Keith Weissman and Steve Rosen. Their prosecution, and what it exposed about the nature of AIPAC, and the position of Israel, and of pro-Israel Jews and non-Jews in America must serve as a cautionary tale for Israel and its American supporters.

A brief summary of the now five-year-old affair is in order. In August 2004, just as the question of how the Bush administration should contend with Iran's nuclear weapons program was becoming the issue of the day, CBS news reported on an "Israeli spy scandal." According to that report, AIPAC lobbyists were working with a pro-Israel, neo-conservative hawk in the Pentagon and the Israeli embassy in Washington to try to force the Bush administration to adopt a more confrontational policy towards Iran due both to its nuclear weapons development program and to its central role in fomenting the insurgency in Iraq.

At the time, as a New York Times report noted, the Bush administration had yet to adopt a clear policy on Iran. As one government source told the newspaper, "We have an ad hoc policy [on Iran] that we're making up as we go along." The idea behind the AIPAC spy scandal story then was that these nefarious pro-Israel forces were being used by Israel to compel the Bush administration to adopt Jerusalem's preferred policy on Iran.

The truth however, was far less impressive. In the event, Rosen and Weissman were approached by Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin (who happens to be Catholic, not Jewish). Franklin asked them to use their connections with the National Security Council to make then-president George W. Bush aware of Iran's central role in the insurgency in Iraq and of its swift progress in its nuclear program. He felt that this information was being obfuscated by the CIA and the State Department in their briefings to the president.

After that meeting, Franklin was approached by the FBI, which had been wiretapping his conversations, and was compelled to entrap Rosen and Weissman in a sting operation. He was given false information relating to a supposed imminent threat to the lives of Israeli agents operating in Iraqi Kurdistan which he passed to Weissman and Rosen, who in turn, passed it on to Naor Gillon then serving at the Israeli embassy. It was this incident that spurred the CBS report and the accusations that Weissman and Rosen were Israeli spies.

ROSEN AND WEISSMAN were indicted under the 1918 Espionage Act – a law that had not been enforced since World War I – and accused of "conspiracy to communicate national defense information to people not entitled to receive it." The maximum penalty for this offense is ten years in prison.

Franklin, for his part was sentenced to 12 years in prison for mishandling classified information. For similar offenses, prominent Democrats like former national security advisor Sandy Berger and former CIA director John Deutsch were dispatched with misdemeanor convictions and slaps on their wrists from friendly prosecutors. Franklin's lawyer is now seeking to overturn his conviction.

The decision to prosecute Weissman, Rosen and Franklin was clearly political – and deeply discriminatory. In speaking to Franklin and acting on the information he provided them, Weissman and Rosen did nothing that lobbyists and journalists in Washington don't do every day of the year. By selectively choosing to enforce an arguably defunct law against them – and against no one else – the FBI and the Justice Department and whatever forces in the State Department the CIA and elsewhere that supported them made clear that the US government will treat pro-Israel forces in Washington differently than everyone else.

This politically motivated prosecution was wildly successful. No, it didn't lead to Rosen and Weissman being convicted of anything. But that was never the point. The prosecutors – and those faceless bureaucrats pulling the strings – managed to drag not only Weissman's and Rosen's names through the mud for five years, they managed to cast a pall of criminality and treason on the whole pro-Israel community and the hawks in the Pentagon that tended to agree with it on matters of national security policy.

And having accomplished this goal, the forces behind the Rosen-Weissman-Franklin persecutions went on to intimidate AIPAC into firing Rosen and Weissman. In an act of disgraceful cowardice, AIPAC not only fired the men, they refused to pay their legal fees and so cast them adrift as millions of dollars in legal bills began piling up.

AIPAC was not alone in abandoning these men to their fates. Aside from some lone voices – almost never heard above a whisper – the organized American Jewish community lost its voice when it came to the AIPAC scandal. While behind closed doors everyone was quick to shake their heads and acknowledge the obvious fact that these men were being railroaded in a scandalous abuse of legal power, in public everyone was mute. There were no angry letters to the White House and the Attorney General's office demanding an explanation of how these prosecutions came about. There were no demonstrations outside the Justice Department demanding that the charges be dismissed. There was no media campaign to discredit the decision to abuse legal tools to weaken the pro-Israel community and specifically, to weaken the anti-Iranian hawks in the US. There was silence.

In a perfectly fair world, where people care about both process and outcome, the human rights and specifically the first amendment crowd at places like the American Civil Liberties Union and likeminded institutions, could have been counted on to stand up and denounce the abuse of executive power that stood at the heart of the AIPAC scandal. After all, in transferring a classified memo on Iran to Weissman and Rosen, Franklin was doing something that the ACLU generally supports.

At one of its major 2008 conferences, for instance, the ACLU invited Daniel Ellsberg, the former Rand Corporation official who leaked the top secret Pentagon Papers regarding US involvement in Vietnam to The New York Times in 1971 to serve as it keynote speaker. Both in photocopying the documents and in transferring them to The New York Times, Ellsberg committed serious criminal offenses. And yet, because he was doing so to advance the cause of the anti-war movement, groups like the ACLU worked to discredit his prosecution. Charges against Ellsberg were dropped in 1973. Ever since, he has enjoyed hero's status in left-wing, first amendment circles in the US.

But then, apparently, process is not important. For like the organized American Jewish community, the ACLU, The New York Times, The Washington Post and all the other outspoken champions of free speech were silent on – if not supportive of – the Justice Department's case against Franklin and against Rosen and Weissman.

THIS ENTIRE STORY, in all of its disparate parts, holds some very sad lessons for supporters of Israel in the US and beyond as well as for the government of Israel. First, AIPAC's cowardly decision to abandon Weissman and Rosen and the willingness of the overwhelming majority of the organized Jewish community to mutely endorse the move exposes an unpleasant truth about the nature of the American Jewish community. Simply stated, the majority of American Jews are either indifferent to the treatment of Israel and its supporters, or are too frightened to express their concerns.

Second, the fact that the AIPAC scandal unfolded during the Bush administration's tenure shows that even when administrations friendly to Israel are in office, a persistent, powerful group of bureaucrats in the federal government remains ready and able to persecute pro-Israel activists and policymakers. Moreover, members of this group are willing to abuse executive power to achieve their aim of weakening the standing of both
Israel and its supporters in the US capital.

One of the disturbing aspects of the AIPAC scandal was the readiness of pro-Palestinian Jewish organizations like the Israel Policy Forum and J Street to defend the persecution. As James Kirchick from The New Republic noted over the weekend, M.J. Rosenberg, the Director of Policy Analysis for the IPF, wrote recently that "as a guy on trial for espionage," Rosen had no right to point out that Charles Freeman, US President Barack Obama's initial choice to serve as Director of the National Intelligence Council, had a record of egregiously anti-Israel behavior and action. What the behavior of the likes of Rosenberg shows is that anti-Israel forces in the federal bureaucracy can depend on having an anti-Israel American Jewish amen corner backing any decision they take to persecute Israel's supporters.

The silence of the human rights and free speech crowd also provides food for thought. The fourth lesson of the AIPAC affair is that Israel and its supporters can expect to receive absolutely no backing from this policy community. As is the case with the US feminist movement's silence on the plight of women in the Muslim world, and the US human rights community's silence on the plight of human rights activists in places like Iran and Syria, Israel can expect that the American Left – both Jewish and non-Jewish – will be silent about any actions taken against the human rights of Israelis and the civil rights of Israel's supporters in the US.

It is important that these lessons be properly understood by pro-Israel activists in the US. And it is imperative that they be internalized by the Netanyahu government as it crafts its strategy for contending with an openly hostile Obama administration in the months and years to come.

Many in Jerusalem expressed their disappointment that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decided not to travel to Washington this week to participate in the AIPAC conference but rather delayed his visit to the US for two weeks to better prepare for his meeting with Obama. But what the AIPAC scandal shows is that it may be advantageous that Netanyahu's first visit to Washington as premier not be conducted as part of the AIPAC conference.

The weaknesses of the pro-Israel community – and first and foremost of AIPAC – which the Rosen-Weissman-Franklin affair exposed show that it is unwise for Israel to rely on pro-Israel organizations to sell its policies to the American people and their elected officials. These groups cannot be trusted to help out in a crisis because they may simply not care that much about Israel's security or because they are too frightened of being persecuted to stick their necks out.

Rather than focus his efforts on rallying the likes of AIPAC, Netanyahu would be better served to bring his message directly to the American people. Only by garnering wide-scale, popular, grassroots support for a strong US-Israel alliance will Netanyahu have a chance of maintaining strong ties with Washington under the Obama administration and beyond.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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12 Comments

  • Marc Handelsman, USA 05/04/2009 at 23:48

    Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s rhetorical skills will be very helpful in defending Israel’s right to secure borders. Hopefully, Mr. Netanyahu would be able to address a joint session of Congress during his visit. The good news was that the U.S. Justice Department dropped its charges against Keith Weissman and Steve Rosen. Now it is time for same to happen to Jonathan Pollard who has served his time. Finally, Israel has many loyal American supporters that are God-fearing Jews and Christians, and they are effective lobbyists.

    Reply
  • Joe Strapp 05/05/2009 at 1:38

    So sad yet so true.

    Reply
  • anthony deutsch 05/05/2009 at 8:08

    ditto the sad story of Johnathan Pollard…. I think its called “divide and conquer”… those in prominence seem to abandon all our “troopers” the moment things get a bit “hot”… they call it acceptable loss…. like the last few years in Israel with the missiles from Gaza..

    Reply
  • V.R.Sonti 05/05/2009 at 10:05

    As a fan of Ms.Glick who appreciates the the sharpness and precision of her analyses, I wish she would discuss the future of Israel with more clarity. What worries me is the suspicion that we depend completely upon US support for our Sea to River definition of our boundaries, and yet have absorbed the loss of Gaza without losing a beat.

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  • Marcel Cousineau 05/05/2009 at 13:50

    Dear Caroline,
    Only now you sound the warning against AIPAC ?
    *As ususal you are very late.
    Bush could have stopped this AIPAC witch hunt and released Pollard long ago.
    Why do you completely igonre this evil against Israel at the hands of another Bush presidency ?
    Your mantra of R good D bad needs to change to;
    They’re all bad and worthless idols which Israel must stop serving and groveling to.
    There is no friendly U.S. branch of government or ‘good’ political whores,only lackeys,cowards and powerless dreamers like yourself who protect your soiled idols like Bush at all cost.
    It is those like you who fed this delusion of ‘a president’friendly to Israel’ while he restrained,weakened and hindered Israel, pushed for HIS Palestinian state on Jewish land.
    You keep Israel focused on proven losers (USA) and spineless cowards like Benji the latest recycled Israeli lap dog who only do harm to Am Yisrael and ignore Israel’s only hope.
    Are you capable of snapping out of your delusion,Caroline ?
    * What a difference you could have made if you had the courage to stop carrying water for the first Administration which called for a Palestinian state on Jewish land and your failed god, President Bush and his useless Republican party.
    There is no salvation or hope for Israel coming from Babylon America,only judgment on the fools of Israel who bent their knees to this idol seeking from it what only God can give to Israel.

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  • Ron Grandinetti, USA 05/05/2009 at 14:41

    Caroline, PM Netanyahu was correct in delaying his visit to the US.
    The AIPAC is a weak lobby group that Israel could do without.
    Netanyahu needs to inform the Americans the importance of a one nation in all of Israel.
    The best solution is to convince the Palestinians to leave Israel and join their Arab brothers and sisters in Jordan and Egypt or any other Arab country of their choosing.
    Any funds to be provided to the Palestinians could be used to help them relocate.
    The US Administration needs to recognize this small democracy and peaceful people called Israel is their only trusted friend in the Middle East.
    In this day and age trusted friends are hard to come by so don’t turn your back on those you already have.

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  • Tomer Elias 05/05/2009 at 17:02

    Marcel Cousineau, you seem to live in your own delusion, you are showing the problems but your only solution is god? If god had any deal with all thats going on he wouldn’t be the solution he would give you the tools to do so yourself and a big part of Israels tools are friends around that world that can help strengthen and protect her.
    As much as we might want to we can’t stand alone in this world against the problems we have and from what I see in Caroline’s articles is that she is trying to open the peoples eyes so they see what the problems are and try and understand that something needs to be done and Israel needs there support.
    You also mention Caroline’s support for Bush but forget that she has said many times in her articles that the current way the US treats Israel hasn’t started now but started during the bush administration and if you could suggest a better leader for Israel during this time then PM Netanyahu why not do so? Compared to all the rest who wished to lead Israel he isn’t willing to sell our security for fake peace and is much more capable of leading Israel out of the current global economic crisis.

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  • j mautner 05/05/2009 at 18:17

    Remember “Scooter” Libby.

    Reply
  • Bradford Stephen Kyle, Texas 05/05/2009 at 21:48

    Although severely lacking (more than ever before) with the new US Presidency, Israel deserves unequaled status in the full support and cooperation from The United Sates. But that should work both ways.
    For example, Israel should have reported Pollard immediately before he jeopardized security of both our countries. Although the information that Pollard passed may have helped Israel, Israel, as a trusted friend, should (have) always condemn(ed) the illegal means by which it passed, and should never support clemency for a traitor, Pollard, to both our governments. I suggest that Israel can not be fully trusted by the United States until it turns over all the information it received from Pollard.
    Further, but much more importantly, I highly recommend that Israel not fully trust the United States as long as it supports a Palestinian State nor until a major change occurs in it’s government wherein it adopts an unqualified support of individual rights.

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  • Marcel Cousineau 05/06/2009 at 0:45

    ‘As much as we might want to we can’t stand alone in this world against the problems’
    Tomer ,you sing the same song of the 10 spies.
    The future for grasshoppers in not a good one.
    Compromise,weakness,retreat and appeasment has you standing alone anyways !
    Your way has failed.
    ‘ but your only solution is god? ‘
    YES Tomer, the only solution for Israel is the one that Israel has religiously ignored,God.
    After 8 years of you and most of Israel braying,groveling,begging before Bubba Clinton and chanting he will save us and give us peace and another 8 years of the same with his replacement the phony slimy scum Bush,Israel is deeper in the hole than ever.
    And now Israel is rewarded for all her years of obedience,adoration and loyalty by a new Pharoah Hussein Obama.
    Israel has rejected ‘better’ leaders and picked the worst,faithless appeasers to lead in the same failed direction.
    Israel can only choose grasshoppers to lead them because they want to be like the pagan nations.
    Netanyhu had a golden opportunity to end the game during his first rule as Prime Minister but he proved to be a grasshopper Jew who bends with the prevailing wind.
    As it is with me ,the faithful remnant in Israel are demonized sidelined by the faithless,loser grasshoppers who bring Israel to the abyss.

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  • Will48 05/07/2009 at 10:38

    Netanyahu would do well to study the lesson of Milosevic. Far from being the “butcher of the Balkans” – which in reality were all BUT any Serb who fought against the wild separatism induced by the West – he was the man of the West, doing their bidding in all major agreements.
    For which he was richly rewarded.
    The lesson we all should learn is that when a people is set to failure, as a target of the scheming hidden Empire, cooperation is the last thing we should consider.
    Rather the Resistance, far from being an ideological lunacy, is the only truly Viable and Realist option.

    Reply
  • rod 05/08/2009 at 5:06

    Caroline I recall reading I think it was at Contentions (Commentary) that Aipac later ended up paying or helping raising money for R&W’s defense — maybe it was under pressure ; I don’t know… Is this info. correct/incorrect?
    Thanks for the sharp post.

    Reply

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