Picking on AIPAC?

Republicans and Democrats seek to outdo each other when it comes to praising and defending Israel, particularly during election years. The mainstream media likewise marches in lockstep, burying stories critical of Israel within a day or two after they first appear. Even in the blogosphere, Israel has many friends, at least some of whom are Israel Defense Forces soldiers fluent in English tasked with presenting a rebuttal whenever a critic surfaces. Israel has no shortage of allies, but most would agree that its principal supporter in the United States is the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as AIPAC.

AIPAC is generally regarded as one of the three most powerful lobbies in Washington. Unlike most other major lobbies, which engage on a variety of issues, AIPAC has only one objective: strengthening American support for the state of Israel through creation of a "special relationship" between the two countries. AIPAC’s support is uncritical, no matter what Israel does and no matter what the impact on the U.S. might be. Because Congress and the White House are fearful of confronting AIPAC, it enjoys a unique status. Even though it acts as a foreign lobby, it has not been required to comply with the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Not having to register is significant, as it means that AIPAC’s sources of income and its disbursements are not a matter of public record.

AIPAC has had a free ride in the media and the government for many years, but that is beginning to change. A majority of Americans now favor a more evenhanded approach to the Palestinian issue, even if the politicians have not yet figured that out. Criticizing AIPAC and Israel’s actions has been largely confined to so-called paleocons, libertarians, and traditional antiwar leftists, groups that mainstream politicians feel they can safely ignore. Most other Americans would call themselves supporters of Israel, though the support is probably a mile wide but only an inch deep, since most Americans really don’t care about what happens in the Middle East. Those calling themselves Republicans are disinclined to criticize Israel and the Israel lobby for ideological or theological reasons, while liberals, though normally opposed to the sort of large-scale human rights violations taking place on the West Bank and in Gaza, are particularly uncomfortable when called on to confront Tel Aviv. This nervousness is partly due to fear that such criticism will lead to bogus charges of anti-Semitism from the likes of Alan Dershowitz and Abe Foxman, but it is also undeniably connected to an understandable desire not to offend Jewish Americans. The Holocaust has also been exploited by the Israeli government and AIPAC to create a sense of collective guilt and is invoked as needed, particularly relating to the drive to disarm Iran.

Web sites like Antiwar.com that frequently criticize AIPAC’s disproportionate influence over U.S. foreign policy are sometimes attacked for "singling out" Israel and holding it to a higher standard than other regimes with shaky human rights records. This complaint fails to take into account Israel’s unrivaled ability to shape U.S. policies through AIPAC, something that despotic regimes in places like Zimbabwe and Myanmar cannot do. Because of AIPAC’s power, much criticism of Israel might more accurately be viewed as part of the debate on a proper global role for the United States.

There are three major reasons why critics of the Israel lobby must continue their fight to expose AIPAC and its activities. First is the fact that Israel’s lobby is the real party of war in the United States. The Iraq war, which continues to bedevil the U.S., would likely not have taken place without the advocacy of Israel’s government and its friends in high places. The enabling role of Israel in the march to war is not just an isolated or crank opinion. It is a view shared by Gen. Anthony Zinni, Rep. Jim Moran, former senator Ernest Hollings, and former executive director of the 9/11 commission Philip Zelikow, among many others. If critics of the Israel lobby do not keep the heat on by exposing the role of AIPAC and the Israeli government, there will almost certainly be a war with Iran. The AIPAC-supported Iran Diplomatic Enhancement Act of 2009 (HR 1905) making its way through Congress authorizes cutting off imports of refined petroleum products to Iran, an act of war. Meanwhile in Israel the most right-wing government in the country’s history is committed to no compromise with the Palestinian majority that it rules over, and it regularly threatens Iran, Syria, and Lebanon. Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and AIPAC want the United States to attack Iran, and Congress has been more than willing to support the effort. Only an informed public aware of how AIPAC and Congress work together on behalf of Israel can stop the march to war.

The second reason to criticize AIPAC is its completely false argument that U.S. and Israeli foreign and security policies should be essentially the same. This argument has been pushed by AIPAC and the various pro-Israel think-tanks with a flood of "position papers" produced by the Lobby. The United States under George Bush completely bought into Israeli policies regarding terrorism and the Middle East, with AIPAC frequently drafting the bills coming out of Congress supporting Israel and attacking countries such as Iran. Most recently, a May 12 bipartisan draft letter by House Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Republican Rep. Eric Cantor emphasizing that Washington must be "a devoted friend to Israel" was determined to have been drafted by AIPAC.

AIPAC can make sure that only its friends become powerful in Washington. The independent-minded Chas Freeman was derailed as head of the National Intelligence Council because he was critical of Israel. Freeman knows, as does anyone who has studied the issue, that the U.S. is a target of terrorism largely because of the Israeli-crafted slant in foreign policy and uncritical support of Israel in world forums. Israel is in fact the source of the two most pernicious national security doctrines of the past eight years: the global war on terror and democracy promotion. Washington’s "all terrorists are the same" security paradigm, which conveniently consigns national-liberation groups like Hamas and Hezbollah to the same category as al-Qaeda, was crafted in Tel Aviv. Israel’s enemies thereby become America’s enemies, even when they are not. The U.S. adoption of made-in-Israel counterterrorism policies also guarantees that the war against so-called Islamofascism will go on forever.

Israel and AIPAC are also the chief promoters of former Israeli government minister Natan Sharansky’s argument that the free world must insist on promoting democracy for all oppressed people, a thesis that explicitly excludes the Palestinians and is particularly ironic as it ignores that Israel is itself an apartheid state. Sharansky admirers George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Condi Rice transformed his book The Case for Democracy into the democracy-promotion agenda, which has been embraced by interventionist Democrats and Republicans alike. In reality, the democracy agenda has been a complete failure, only serving to marginalize and destabilize Israel’s Muslim neighbors.

The third reason to oppose AIPAC is the corruption of the U.S. political system by the Lobby’s money and power, resulting in a bought-and-paid-for Congress and a rule of law for everyone except those guilty of crimes on behalf of Israel. Even when one is caught red-handed and confesses to spying for Israel, it is apparently no big deal, aside from the cost of a lawyer. Israel runs an extremely aggressive espionage program inside the United States involving hundreds of operatives and agents, but the only Israeli spy to be arrested, charged, and imprisoned is Jonathan Pollard, and that was over 20 years ago. Even Larry Franklin, the Pentagon "Iran expert" who spied for Israel because he believed AIPAC would get him a better job on the National Security Council, is not actually in jail in spite of his 12-year sentence. He is reportedly free due to his service as a witness in the recently terminated AIPAC Steve Rosen-Keith Weissman espionage trial.

Ben-Ami Kadish, former engineer at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, who was part of the same network that recruited Pollard, pleaded guilty to reduced charges in December after supplying advanced nuclear and ballistic technology to Israel. He was supposed to be sentenced in February. That did not take place, and there have been repeated delays in his court appearance. He is now supposed to be sentenced later this month, but prosecutors reportedly will not demand any jail time. He will go free, as have Rosen and Weissman, after a politically tainted prosecution that wasted millions of dollars and went nowhere. It is undeniable that the two men passed information that they knew to be classified to the Israeli embassy. Former government officials Kenneth Pollack and David Satterfield, who were identified in the indictment as having also passed classified information to AIPAC, were not even charged with a crime. Pollack, formerly on the National Security Council, is the director of research at the Saban Center of the Brookings Institution. The media suspended its coverage of the AIPAC story two days after the dismissal of charges.

Another AIPAC favorite, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), was caught on the phone trading favors with an agent working for Israeli intelligence. Her misbehavior has been completely free of consequence. A cooperative media dropped the story five days after it surfaced, and neither Democrats nor Republicans seem interested in one of their own who may have been spying for Tel Aviv. The only congressional anger over the incident is being directed at the FBI, which is in the hot seat for its alleged violation of Harman’s privacy through its completely legal wiretap. Harman has even turned the incident into a joke, running as part of a team called "Tapped Out" in an annual three-mile race for members of Congress.

While some might argue that critics of AIPAC have gone too far, it is equally possible to argue that they have not gone far enough. It is time for the American people to demand that AIPAC be registered as a foreign lobby and cease and desist from its interference in U.S. politics. Neither America nor Israel is well served by having a United States Congress, White House, and media so cowed by AIPAC that they will endorse anything the corrupt politicians in Tel Aviv choose to do. It is time for Washington to return to a foreign policy based on the United States’ national interest, not Israel’s.

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Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.