AIPAC’s Washington policy conference next month is drawing intense scrutiny and unprecedented resistance. AIPAC has worked quietly for years to tripwire the United States into war with Iran. Soon it will “ask” Congress and the president to define “nuclear weapons capability” as the threshold for war, essentially demanding an immediate attack. Because Iran presents no military threat to the United States, many Americans wonder exactly where such costly and potentially disastrous policies are formulated. Recently declassified FBI files reveal how Israeli government officials first orchestrated public relations and policies through the U.S. lobby. Counter-espionage investigations of proto-AIPAC’s first coordinating meetings with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the head of Mossad provide a timely and useful framework for understanding how AIPAC continues to localize and market Israeli government policies in America.
Although AIPAC claims it rose “from
a small pro-Israel public affairs boutique in the 1950s,” its true
origin can be traced to Oct. 16, 1948. This is the date AIPAC’s
founder Isaiah L. Kenen and four others established the Israel Office of
Information under Israel’s U.N. mission. It was later moved under the Israeli Ministry of
Foreign Affairs. The IOI opened offices in New York City, Washington, and
Los Angeles, which became testbeds for working out how Israeli government
leaders would promote lobbying initiatives through public relations
harnessing the power and financial support of American organizations
and supporters. Although the FBI nervously noted IOI founder Kenen
had become a member of the Communist Party in 1937 while working as
a newspaperman at the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, he was never
the subject of a criminal investigation. Only because Kenen interacted
with so many U.S. and foreign nationals who were targets of espionage,
foreign counter-intelligence, and domestic security investigations (such
as super-lobbyist Abraham
Feinberg, Israeli diplomats,
and assorted Mossad officers) did Kenen’s movements appear as cross-references
in hundreds of pages of recently declassified
FBI documents [.pdf].
Isaiah Kenen became a savvy PR operative working as the director of public relations for the Israeli United Nations delegation after he left the Plain Dealer. It is because of Kenen’s public relations acumen and contacts the IOI could insert Israeli propaganda directly into establishment U.S. media. One IOI Public Relations Board meeting held in the Israeli Consulate General in New York on May 9, 1949, pushed U.S. media initiatives aimed at boosting Israel’s economy. The IOI wanted to “place a series of pieces in from eight to twelve top magazines” including Reader’s Digest and Cosmopolitan by “making funds available for important propaganda programs.” New York IOI focused on “U.N., Organizations (Jewish), and the press emanating from New York” while the IOI Washington office covered “other embassies, Congress, Washington Press, and the National Press Club.”
It was during a July 18, 1949, meeting that Israeli Counsel Reuven Dafni informed Isaiah Kenen and others that Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett in coordination with Mossad founder Reuven Shiloah and Israeli ambassador to the United States Eliahu Elath had recently conducted a strategy session about public relations and “thrashed out” everything except for the question of funding. Kenen reported that his New York IOI was ready to go. The FBI description reveals that it was already functioning somewhat like a Mossad intelligence outpost. IOI New York was responsible for receiving information cables from Israel. “One member of the staff spent much of the day decoding and stenciling” the cables. IOI offices established secure communications crisscrossing the U.S. Dafni “reported that his [Kenen’s] office and the Washington IOI worked out a code so that classified messages could be translated.”
It is during 1949 that Kenen drafted
a confidential strategy report about how the Israeli Ministry of Foreign
Affairs could implement Israeli policy initiatives and PR most
in the United States. The “Kenen Report” described how the
New York IOI processed Israeli government information into news
IOI N.Y. “disseminates documents” into the U.S. news stream for
the “general public,” noted the FBI. In September 1949, Kenen initiated
“the distribution of a weekly news service … sent
to Anglo-Jewish newspapers, Jewish organizations, and individuals.” The
FBI noted Kenen’s strategy of having the Israel lobby media apparatus
pay for favorable coverage. “The report further states that frequent
conferences were held with representatives of the Jewish agencies and
the American Zionist Council
to discuss public relations policies and techniques. It states how 104
National Jewish Agencies in New York receive releases and constantly ask
for news editorial advice, feature material, and photographs and had
cooperated in helping produce some of the more important publications by
buying and distributing large quantities.” Kenen described core IOI
while foreshadowing his impending move to Washington. “He
collects intelligence, meeting press attaches of other embassies,
men of national political parties, Congress and government officials….
is a city of personal contact. The Washington office is a goodwill
and intelligence outpost for the government. It is not an office
of information in the sense of production and distribution.”
Like the AIPAC of today, IOI was highly attentive to Israeli military objectives. In January1950 the IOI strategized how to effectively quash U.S. arms sales to Arab states. IOI Press Relations Board coordinator Moshe Keren “had discussed with Jewish organizations the serious situation arising out of Egypt receiving arms; that the balance of power in the Middle East was completely changed by this move and it would be advisable to contact the major papers.” Kenen agreed with the Foreign Ministry/Mossad strategy but differed on tactics. Kenen highlighted the advantages of a more indirect approach, suggesting that action instead be initiated at the U.N. Security Council or that an explosive news story be leaked that could overturn U.S. arms-sale policy in a way not traceable back to IOI. Kenen thought it might be dangerous to directly fight U.S. Cold War objectives of buying friends in the Middle East through arms sales. According to Kenen, it “would be difficult to get support from the papers since the question of armaments was part of the East-West complications.” The FBI report frankly categorized Kenen’s exchange as an example of “efforts being made by the Israelis to change the policies of the United States State Department.” A crackdown ensued.
The 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act required that Kenen and all other IOI operatives disclose their funding from the Israeli government and major propaganda programs. FARA also mandated that individual communications such as news releases, pamphlets, and even editorials be clearly identified as originating from the Israeli government or their designated foreign agents. The IOI wanted to fly underneath this radar. Beginning in 1948 the Justice Department continually cited IOI for incomplete reports and failing to even disclose the existence of a large IOI operation in California. The FBI forwarded to the Justice Department multiple examples of stealth IOI propaganda pieces that failed to display mandatory foreign-agent declaration stamps. Under pressure, Kenen decided it was time to go off the FARA grid and move to Washington.
Kenen formally negotiated his departure from the Israel Office of Information in 1951 as a bid to begin lobbying entirely through Israeli-financed U.S. citizen-based organizations. The major impetus was to more effectively push aid legislation, according to his autobiography. “Israelis began looking for a lobbyist to promote the necessary legislation … would I leave the Israeli delegation for six months to lobby on Capitol Hill? There were other questions. Should I continue my registration as an agent of the Israel government? Was it appropriate for an embassy to lobby? Embassies talked to the State Department, and American voters talked to their congressmen.” Kenen asked the Justice Department FARA office to de-list him as a foreign agent when he registered as a domestic lobbyist in February 1951.
Kenen ignored a subsequent Justice Department order that he continue registering as an Israeli foreign agent. Throughout the 1950s the Israeli-government-funded Jewish Agency in Jerusalem secretly paid Kenen by financing his newsletter, the Near East Report, which the FBI Washington Field Office characterized as “a violently anti-Arabic, pro-Israel, pro-Zionist publication” of an “obvious propaganda nature” [.pdf]. Under Kenen’s leadership, AIPAC established its own Washington, D.C., New York, and California offices, taking over so many Israeli Foreign Ministry functions that the IOIs became redundant and were eventually shut down. Kenen and Israeli lobbying organizations adopted a tactic of “reconstituting” themselves through new corporate shells in order to continue operations whenever they were threatened by public revelations of money laundering, espionage investigations, and Justice Department orders to register as foreign agents.
AIPAC continues to use many of the indirect public relations tactics pioneered by Kenen, albeit much less skillfully. A 2004 attempt to funnel purloined U.S. classified intelligence to The Washington Post in order to portray Iran as engaged in “total war” against the United States backfired, leading to Espionage Act indictments against AIPAC employees and an embarrassing defamation suit currently in the D.C. Court of Appeals. A former AIPAC public relations director’s stealth attempt to have vocal think-tank critics of the Israel lobby fired also fizzled due to broad exposure of the plot on the Internet. Today the constant reverberations of AIPAC’s drumbeat for war emanating from mainstream broadcast and print media increasingly hit an obstacle course of debunking and outright ridicule on the Internet. The Freedom of Information Act continues to put a steady stream of documents into the public record revealing how — just as in its formative IOI phase — AIPAC continues to function more as an arm of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Mossad than a legitimate charity.
Though they tried, U.S. counter-intelligence and law enforcement officials failed to counteract or properly regulate AIPAC’s stealth foreign agency during the Cold War. Today the lobby’s pursuit of Israeli interests threatens to plunge the entire Middle East into war and burn the delicate tendrils of global economic recovery. Evidence of the Israeli government directing AIPAC today is self-evident as Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu crank AIPAC’s handles to winch themselves uninvited into U.S. election-year politics. It only remains to be seen whether sufficient numbers of concerned Americans will angrily rise from the sidelines to confront AIPAC before its foreign principals maneuver America into a disastrous war for Israel.