Scandal Grows: AIPAC Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith Spy Ring Replaced Jonathan Pollard
By Allan C. Brownfeld
It has been widely reported that the FBI is investigating the possibility that Lawrence Franklin, a Pentagon analyst, passed classified material to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which then handed the information over to the Israeli Embassy in Washington (see November 2004 Washington Report, p. 26).
Reported the Sept. 4 Economist: “The unfolding saga surrounding Lawrence Franklin is...that he gave classified documents on Iran to Israel. But there is growing speculation that the FBI investigation of Mr. Franklin is the tip of an iceberg. The reported anger of federal agents at the leaking of the story indicates a bigger probe that may have been under way for at least a year...Mr. Franklin allegedly passed draft documents on American policy toward Iran to AIPAC, a hugely influential lobbying group in Washington, which in turn allegedly passed them to Israeli officials. Both AIPAC and Israel have denied any wrongdoing. The Israelis maintain that they have been ultra-careful since the huge embarrassment in l985 when Jonathan Pollard, an American intelligence analyst, was caught spying for Israel...The scandal is difficult for Israel, which wields considerable influence on American foreign policy...It is hard to put a positive spin on a spy in the Pentagon, even if he is talking to your friends.”
Janes Intelligence Digest noted on Sept. 10 that, “Shortly before he retired in June as CIA director, George Tenet alleged on more than one occasion that an Israeli agent was operating in Washington. Tenet was challenged to identify the agent, but for reasons that were never explained he did not do so. Nonetheless, the episode underlined growing unease in some quarters in Washington about the influence Israel’s right wing has in the Bush administration through the pro-Likud neoconservatives—largely in the Pentagon—and the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its associated organizations such as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.”
The document alleged to have been passed to AIPAC and the Israelis relates to U.S. policy toward Iran. According to Jane’s, “U.S. officials are concerned because that document was being debated by policymakers at the time, possibly putting the Israeli government lobbyists in a position to influence the final directive. U.S. policy toward Iran is crucial to the Israelis, who have drawn up plans to launch pre-emptive strikes against Iran’s nuclear installations to prevent the Islamic Republic acquiring nuclear weapons that could be used against Israel.”
Four of the leading neoconservatives have been accused in the past of illegally providing classified information to Israel.
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, wrote in the Oct. 11 issue of The American Conservative that, “The Franklin case stems from investigations of Israeli diplomats that developed from the prosecution of spy Jonathan Pollard. Pollard’s conviction in l987 provided little in the way of a resolution: the Israeli government never cooperated in the inquiry and did not provide an inventory of the documents that Pollard had stolen. The FBI also knew that a second spy, believed to be in the Pentagon, passed Pollard classified file numbers that were desired by the Israelis. Hoping to catch the second spy, the FBI continued its probe. Two years ago, the investigators began to suspect that highly sensitive National Security Agency documents were winding up in Israeli hands, possibly with the connivance of AIPAC. In the judgment of counterintelligence specialists, the Israelis did not wish a repeat of the Pollard case, so they decided against recruiting another U.S. official and turning him into a salaried spy. Instead, they opted to establish relationships with friends in the government who would voluntarily provide information...AIPAC would have served as a useful intermediary or ‘cut out’ in such an arrangement, limiting the contact between the American government official and the Israeli Embassy.”
Four of the leading neoconservatives have been accused in the past of illegally providing classified information to Israel, though none was ever prosecuted. In l970, the FBI recorded Richard Perle discussing classified information with an Israeli Embassy official. Stephen Bryen, then a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff member and later Perle’s deputy at the Department of Defense, narrowly avoided indictment in l979 after he was overheard offering classified documents to an Israeli Embassy official. Douglas Feith, who in a position paper prepared for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a “clean break from the peace process,” was fired in l982 from the National Security Council on suspicion of passing confidential documents to the Israeli Embassy. He was immediately re-hired by Richard Perle at the Pentagon. Paul Wolfowitz was investigated in l978 over charges that he had provided a classified document to the Israeli Embassy by way of AIPAC.
While AIPAC has long been viewed as one of Washington’s most effective lobbying groups, it has become increasingly controversial, both within the Jewish community and in the larger society. Many have objected to its close ties to the Likud Party. In one widely publicized exchange, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin asked AIPAC to concentrate on lobbying Congress and leave policymaking and the White House alone.
The current affair, wrote Ori Nir in the Sept. 3 Forward, “has cast light on the fine line that AIPAC walks between advocating a strong American-Israeli alliance and as acting as the representative of a foreign government. Both activities are legal, but serving a foreign government requires registration with the Department of Justice and entails severe legal restrictions, not applied to pro-Israel groups, including AIPAC.…AIPAC enjoys the support, admiration and even awe of Jewish organizational officials, many of whom raced to AIPAC’s defense. Still, some pro-Israel activists in Washington are privately suggesting that the current scandal provides AIPAC with a chance, in the words of one communal official, for ‘some soul-searching and reappraisal’ regarding its general modes of operation.”
According to Nir, “Critics also have accused AIPAC of adopting an agenda that too clearly mirrors the hawkish agenda of neoconservatives in the Bush administration, thereby fueling conspiratorial notions that President Bush was duped into invading Iraq in order to advance Israeli interests. Now, critics say, with its increasing focus on Iran, AIPAC risks fueling the claims of those who would accuse the Jewish community of working with Washington neoconservatives to convince the White House to pursue regime change in Tehran.”
Several Jewish communal leaders complain that AIPAC officials have not done enough to maintain a clear wall between the lobbying group and Israel. AIPAC officials have left the organization to serve in the Israeli government. Lenny Ben-David, formerly known as Leonard Davis, for example, worked at AIPAC for 25 years—first in Washington, then in Jerusalem—before he was tapped by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in l998 to be the deputy chief of mission in Israel’s Washington Embassy.
AIPAC and some of its supporters have suggested that the FBI and the CIA are pursuing a vendetta against Israel, the Pentagon, neoconservatives, and possibly Jews in general. The neoconservatives have lashed out in a memo drafted by Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute, alleging that the probe is motivated by anti-Semitism. The memo criticizes the White House for not refuting press reports on the FBI investigation. “If there is any truth to any of the accusations, why doesn’t the White House demand that they bring on the evidence? On the record,” the memo stated. “There’s an increasing anti-Semitic witch hunt.”
Continued Rubin, a former member of the Pentagon’s policy planning staff who dealt with Iran policy: “I feel like I’m in Paris, not Washington. I’m disappointed at the lack of leadership that let things get where they are, and which is allowing these bureaucrats to spin out of control.”
The role played by AIPAC has produced some soul-searching within the organized Jewish community. “Several Jewish activists, speaking on condition of anonymity, cautioned against what they described as a defiant reaction on the part of some communal leaders who raised the specter of anti-Semitic conspiracy,” the Sept. 10 Forward reported. “‘If every single time we get into trouble we cry anti-Semitism, no one is going to believe us when we confront the real problem of anti-Semitism,’ a senior official of a Jewish organization said. Another organizational official said: ‘It’s ridiculous to react like that before you know what happened there. In the absence of accurate knowledge, any comment is just silly.’”
The fallout for AIPAC, wrote Doug Bloomfield in the Sept. 9 Washington Jewish Week, could be serious: “There have been persistent charges...that AIPAC directs the network of pro-Israel political action committees (PACs), campaign finance bundlers and individual contributors. AIPAC has successfully fought such accusations all the way to the Supreme Court to avoid being designated a PAC because of the impact that would have on the way it operates and raises money. The current probe could renew calls from the organization’s critics for new investigations by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) and demands to know what has been uncovered by the FBI...There will be questions about AIPAC’s operations and internal accountability. A penchant for hubris and institutional mindset of secrecy—reflected in its hostile and contentious relationship with the media—add to the suspicion that there is something to hide...”
The problems facing AIPAC come not only from its enemies, argued the Sept. 3 Forward, but also are “partly a result of shortsighted strategic decisions by Israel’s advocates. Faced with a shifting landscape, they have gambled on a risky strategy that may be blowing up in their faces. For years, Israel’s friends in this country have operated on the principle that Israel could not be held responsible for its troubles. They have maintained that whatever Israel’s mistakes, Palestinian hostility could not be blamed on Israel’s policies. More recently, they’ve broadened the principle to insist that Arab and Muslim hostility to the U.S. cannot be blamed on its support for Israel. Both positions are becoming hard to maintain. Growing numbers of Israelis, up to and including the military chief of staff, are openly acknowledging that Israeli actions can raise and lower the level of Palestinian rage and violence. As for the global terror war, the idea that it is related in part to America’s relationship to Israel is now thoroughly mainstream. You can read it in the report of the 9/ll Commission...As the urgency of discussion grows, resentment seems to mount against those who declare the discussion illegitimate. It’s a dangerous position to be in.”
AIPAC’s role has been controversial for many years. In l995, Jonathan Mitchell, regional vice president for Southern California AIPAC, chastised a senior Israeli official for arguing that Congress and American Jews should not concern themselves with Palestinian behavior. Mitchell called Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin “absurd and arrogant” for comments he made in Jerusalem at a meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Beilin countered by accusing Mitchell of “trying to be more Israeli than the Israelis.” Beilin was critical of those who urged an end to aid to the PLO, and said, “It is not the business of Jewish organizations, not AIPAC’s, not the American Jewish Congress’ and not of any other country in the world except the State of Israel. The kind of people who are trying to be more Israeli than the Israelis themselves are causing damage to the pure national interests of the State of Israel.”
In March 2003, about 5,000 AIPAC activists met in Washington and embarked upon a lobbying blitz against the Bush administration’s “road map” for Middle East peace. AIPAC was not happy with speeches at its meeting by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell declaring that Israel must freeze settlement activity in the territories once the Palestinian Authority takes serious steps to curb terrorism. “Settlement activity is simply inconsistent with President Bush’s two-state vision,” Powell said, drawing jeers from some AIPAC members.
A number of Jewish leaders spoke in support of the Middle East peace plan and in criticism of AIPAC and other groups who were opposing it. In a letter to Congress, these leaders said they wanted to “express our concern over recent efforts to sidetrack implementation of the ‘road map.’ While the plan is neither perfect nor a panacea, as passionate supporters of Israel, we also know that the Jewish state needs this kind of energetic American diplomacy.”
Among those signing this statement were Edgar M. Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, and current past presidents of the national United Jewish Appeal and its successor the United Jewish Communities, including Stanley Chesley, Lester Crown, Irwin Field, Alex Grass, Marvin Lender, Peggy Tishman and Larry Zucklin.
Henry Siegman, once a leader in the American Jewish Congress and now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, charges that many American Jewish organizations, such as AIPAC, have substituted blind support for Israel for the traditional Jewish search for truth and justice.
“We have lost much in American Jewish organizational life,” Siegman says. “I was a student and admirer of Rabbi Abraham Heschel. I read his books. We were friends. We marched together in the South during the civil rights movement. He helped me understand the prophetic passion for truth and justice as the keystone of Judaism. This is not, however, an understanding that now animates the American Jewish community...American Jewish organizations confuse support for the State of Israel and its people with uncritical endorsement of the actions of Israeli governments, even when these governments do things that in an American context these Jewish organizations would never tolerate. It was inconceivable that a Jewish leader in America 20 or 30 years ago would be silent if a political party in the Israeli government called for the transfer of Palestinians—in other words, ethnic cleansing. Today, there are at least three such parties, but there has never been a word of criticism from American Jewish organizations.”
The fact that many Jewish groups and leaders are rushing to AIPAC’s defense before all of the facts are known is hardly unexpected. These same groups have campaigned for many years on behalf of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, whose guilt is well known—and was admitted.
While AIPAC’s guilt or innocence in this particular case remains to be seen, the probe is moving forward. A federal grand jury is expected to begin interviewing people in connection to the investigation. What we do know is that AIPAC has used its considerable influence to shape U.S. foreign policy in a manner that appears to have been harmful to long-term U.S. interests in the Middle East and harmful, as well, to prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Whether AIPAC is guilty of espionage or not, it must bear responsibility for advancing a narrow agenda which may be pleasing to Israel’s right wing, but which misrepresents the views of both the majority of Israelis and the majority of American Jews. American Jewish groups would be wise to wait until all the facts are in before rising to AIPAC’s defense—something they seem reluctant to do. The evidence that AIPAC is not worthy of such support is widespread—and growing.
Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute for Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.