January 13, 2005
Investigation of AIPAC Crosses Line
There have been hundreds, even thousands, of articles in the American press regarding an FBI investigation involving the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
While the reports imply or assert various charges, none, in fact, has been lodged, despite an investigation that has lasted more than a year. While information has dribbled out, it's still hard to discern exactly what wrong has been allegedly committed that would justify such a highly publicized case.
Leaders and members of the Jewish community are confident that there is no substance to the allegations, yet their level of concern is increasing. Why?
To fully understand the reaction and emotions evoked we would need to engage in a lengthy sociological, historical and even psychological analysis of the American Jewish community.
I think it's safe to say that American Jews are among the most patriotic and loyal of American citizens. Certainly this is true of those who are the targets of this investigation. As a community, we respect the authority of government and support the rule of law. But historical realities have loaded on us a lot of baggage, so that when a Jew is charged, particularly in such sensitive areas, it is seen as a communal, not just a personal, matter.
When there are doubts about the motivation behind such actions, it raises other specters that have dark roots in our past. In recent months, there have been repeated stories about the "neocons" -- often a code word for Jews -- or widespread canards placing the onus on Jews for everything from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to the war in Iraq.
The implicit references to "dual loyalty" cannot be overlooked, especially when reliable studies show that a significant percentage of Americans still believe this baseless and bigoted idea. American Jews care about Israel and advocate proudly in support of the special U.S.-Israel relationship. So do many other Americans with historical or ethnic ties to other homelands overseas.
The effectiveness of that Jewish advocacy has raised resentment, jealousy and wild mythologies. These are among the factors that set the context for the reaction to the AIPAC investigation.
There are many questions as to why, after such a long period, there have only been selected leaks, and why -- after AIPAC cooperated fully -- it was necessary for seven FBI agents to stage a raid for information that was voluntarily offered, with CNN waiting at the door as they departed.
In fact, the root of the concern harks back to Leslie Stahl's original, breathless report on CBS' nationwide broadcast on Aug. 27, 2004, a Friday night.
That initial account asserted that espionage was involved and that a Pentagon "mole" was working with AIPAC. The CBS Web site carried a headline, "The FBI Believes It Has 'Solid' Evidence That the Suspected Mole Supplied Israel With Classified Materials That Included Secret White House Policies and Deliberations on Iran."
In the following days, the story kept changing -- to the alleged transfer of secret documents, to the mishandling of classified information, to ever-lesser charges. Some immediately likened it to the Pollard affair, while others saw it as part of the administration's internal turf battles.
There were many questions regarding CBS' behavior, the timing of the release -- three days before the Republican Convention -- and the lead investigator's earlier dealings with Jewish employees at the CIA.
There were no official statements from administration sources. Some members of Congress shied away from comment, while many called for investigations of the probe.
Jewish organizations, confident of AIPAC's assurances that there was no substance to the charges, rallied to its support. So did members of AIPAC, in public and private ways.
They were bolstered by the appearances of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice at a major AIPAC event in October, as well as the revelation that President Bush chose to address AIPAC's annual conference a few months earlier, despite the investigation that was already under way.
But damage was done, and the Pat Buchanans of the world rushed to take advantage of it. Buchanan said on a national television show, "We need to investigate whether there is a nest of Pollardites in the Pentagon who have been transmitting American secrets through AIPAC, the Israel lobby, over to the Israel Embassy, to be transferred to [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon]."
He went on to refer to reports about people in the office of Douglas Feith, an undersecretary of defense.
These comments were repudiated by one of Buchanan's fellow panelists, former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich. But another panelist, Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), chose not to respond even when asked by the program's host.
While speculation continues about the true motivations behind the investigation -- whether it's an attempt to take advantage of a sting operation to bring AIPAC down, or force it to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or merely is the result of bungled effort -- it clearly has crossed the line of the acceptable.
The latest revelations by investigative journalist Edwin Black (see page 22) and others suggest that agents took advantage of a scared, lower-level, non-Jewish Defense Department employee to set up AIPAC and others, including former Pentagon official Richard Perle and CBS News producer Adam Ciralsky.
The case already has taken a toll. Jews working in government have told of the pressure they feel and of unpleasant experiences. Those who seek to spread venomous anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views have found temporary camouflage. AIPAC has been forced to divert resources and time from its ongoing work -- and all before a single charge has been brought.
We do not want to cover up; if there was wrongdoing, let it be exposed. We are confident that there was none, and that the allegations will prove false.
We want to see a conclusion to this case and not see it "hang out there" as did "Agent X," the "mole," and other past charges against Israel, which were without foundation but were never repudiated. Periodically they re-emerge from the mouths and pens of the haters.
Neither AIPAC nor the Jewish community will be cowed into silence or in any way lessen our commitment to working on behalf of the interests of the United States and its democratic ally, Israel.
The American people identify with Israel based on common values and world views, and no fabricated charges or allegations can undermine these fundamental bonds or commitments.
I hope that the vindication -- and perhaps the apology -- will be as visible as the charges. But past experience shows that's unlikely.
Malcolm Hoenlein is executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.