AIPAC Celebrates 47th Birthday in Court

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) enters its 47th year of existence battling to extricate itself from two highly damaging civil court cases. The more recent is Steven J. Rosen’s defamation suit against AIPAC, which has now entered its most critical phase. The suit claims AIPAC defamed its former research director by firing Rosen after he was criminally indicted for espionage in 2005. Before the government dropped [.pdf] its criminal prosecution in the spring of 2009, Rosen sued AIPAC, its entire board of directors, and an outside public relations firm for $20 million. On June 5, 2009, Rosen’s attorney David H. Shapiro promised AIPAC’s counsel he would be seeking "serious discovery." Rosen’s right to acquire depositions and internal AIPAC documents, some of which [.pdf] he has already begun to expose in his court filings, mirrors the successful "graymail" defense Rosen and Keith Weissman mounted in their criminal defense. The pair threatened to expose so much classified U.S. national security information in court that government prosecutors, possibly under pressure from Obama administration political appointees, simply gave up. Rosen, who knows where many of AIPAC’s skeletons are buried, is demanding a steep price to keep silent about other classified U.S. government information leveraged by AIPAC in service to Israel.

On Oct. 28, 2009, Judge Jeannette J. Clark dismissed [.pdf] Rosen’s complaint against AIPAC’s board of directors but sustained Rosen’s right to have a jury decide whether AIPAC acted with malice when it stated publicly that he did not "reflect AIPAC standards." On Nov. 11, 2009, AIPAC fired back that the rest of Rosen’s complaint should also be barred under the doctrine of "unclean hands" [.pdf], since Rosen had allegedly long been acting unethically while at AIPAC. This curious defense may have legs. The FBI has now begun the long overdue public release of criminal investigation files about espionage and theft of government property during Rosen’s tenure as head of research at AIPAC. But making an argument in open court that Rosen was merely engaged in "business as usual" is clearly unpalatable to AIPAC, which is probably now in serious negotiations over a private financial settlement. A major discovery filing, due in court on Dec. 14, 2009 [.pdf], has not yet been docketed, even as Rosen publicly reemerges to position himself as a credible Middle East policy analyst.

The fast-track pace of Rosen’s lawsuit contrasts with the snail-like progress of a longer-running and far more important civic complaint. In 1988 the Washington Post published confidential internal memos revealing AIPAC was establishing and coordinating political action committees (PACs) to swing elections across the United States in violation of its nonprofit charter. In 1989, after the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) refused to investigate AIPAC’s activities, a group of former government employees filed a complaint. Since then, it has risen through the judicial system to the Supreme Court, which refused to rule on the substance of the case. Two decades later, all final briefs on this matter are now before District Court Judge Richard J. Leon, who must also closely consider a final plaintiff’s motion that he order the FEC to regulate AIPAC [.pdf] as a kind of "PAC of PACs" with the core purpose of getting Israel-lobby-vetted candidates elected to U.S. office.

But as often happens, AIPAC may catch a timely and fortuitous break. In 2009 the Supreme Court suddenly agreed to reconsider a related case about whether it is even legal to restrict corporate contributions to political campaigns. If the Supreme Court rules that nearly 100 years of federal laws restricting corporate campaign contributions are unlawful, it could render any AIPAC ruling by Judge Leon largely moot. This would add insult to injury. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution – the right to meaningfully “petition government for a redress of grievances” – clearly never applied to the remaining plaintiffs (one has died).

AIPAC and other nodes of the Israel lobby have long been able to operate on the principal that crimes committed in the name of Israel, no matter how costly to taxpayers and rule of law, won’t be punished in the U.S. A review of the relevant history reveals they have been largely justified in believing this. Indeed AIPAC only came into existence because its precursor organization engaged in such serious criminal activity in the U.S. that it had to undergo a shell-company reorganization.

AIPAC’s version of its corporate history is that it emerged "from a small pro-Israel public affairs boutique in the 1950s." AIPAC’s leader, Isaiah L. "Si" Kenen, did indeed work a small lobbying shop within a larger "store" called the American Zionist Council. In the 1960s the Justice Department and Senate investigators found that the AZC was laundering millions of overseas contributions from the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency in Jerusalem into the U.S. political system. The AZC used this to fund think-tanks, lobbying efforts for arms and aid, and a sophisticated public relations campaign to take over Madison Avenue, academia, civic groups, and major public opinion-makers. The AZC ran afoul of the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires any individual or group in America acting on behalf of a foreign principal to publicly declare relevant activities. In November 1962, the DOJ ordered the AZC to begin registering as an Israeli foreign agent. Exactly six weeks later, on Jan. 2, 1963, Isaiah Kenen, Isadore Breslau, Joseph Ottenstein, and 30 others jumped the burning AZC ship and incorporated the American Israel Public Affairs Committee [.pdf] in Washington, D.C.

The AZC’s rebirth within AIPAC went entirely unnoticed in America. The Justice Department, facing tremendous political pressures after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, folded its law-enforcement drive and classified all internal files about the AZC incident until 2008. By the 1980s, AIPAC’s illicit stealth PACs allowed it to take over Congress and gather enough political muscle to face down two more major criminal investigations. The success of the Israel lobby’s sophisticated public relations campaigns and influence over the establishment press are now self-evident. Few even batted an eyelash in 2009 as Jewish Agency employee Dennis Ross moved into the U.S. State Department and later into a position at the National Security Council, all without ever filing as a foreign agent. The establishment press has also largely observed a self-imposed ban on reporting these two important legal cases.

But despite the media blackout, Americans are at long last beginning to take notice of AIPAC’s illegal activities. That a warranted espionage trial was replaced by a trivial civil suit over hush money raises important questions about why U.S. criminal justice since the AZC days has been incapable of regulating AIPAC’s foreign agency and illicit activity. Even if Rosen wins a confidential financial settlement, it will be a tacit admission that AIPAC is just as involved in trafficking classified information as its various operatives. Likewise, if AIPAC is not regulated as a PAC despite stunning (but aged) evidence, it may only confirm public suspicions that valid citizen complaints against AIPAC cannot be resolved through the U.S. courts system. It is this larger question that is most dangerous of all. Exactly where do disenfranchised Americans – harmed by AIPAC-driven waste, war, and corruption – seek due remedy once the courts and Justice Department finally prove to be utterly irrelevant?

Read more by Grant Smith