Background: Not AIPAC's first controversy
CALEV BEN-DAVID, THE JERUSALEM POST Aug. 29, 2004
"A lobby is like a night flower; It thrives in the dark and dies in the sun."
So wrote Steven Rosen, AIPAC director of foreign policy issues, in an internal organizational memo several years ago.
Unfortunately for the influential pro-Israel lobbying group, this new affair is turning far too much of the media spotlight on an organization that prefers to work behind the scenes on Capitol Hill. But it is hardly the first time AIPAC has found itself at the center of public controversy, although never in such a serious matter as receiving classified security material.
In 1988, the investigative show 60 Minutes ran a critical piece on AIPAC using information supplied by its former communications director (and ex-Jerusalem Post reporter) Barbara Amouyal. Among the material supplied by Amouyal was an internal memo suggesting that the media be fed stories regarding Jesse Jackson's private life.
Also included in the 60 Minutes report was another internal memo which seemed to direct how political action committees should donate money to specific pro-Israel candidates, a possible violation of federal law forbidding lobby groups such as AIPAC from directly involving themselves in elections. A subsequent investigation by the Federal Elections Commission cleared AIPAC of any violations.
Nonetheless, AIPAC continues to face accusations that it unduly interferes in the electoral process, especially from politicians who credit their defeats at the polls to the organization's efforts. The most notable example in recent years was the 2002 congressional race, in which two Georgia Democrats, incumbents Cynthia McKinney and Earl Hilliard, were defeated in party primaries by contenders perceived as more pro-Israel. McKinney subsequently commented: "Despite the fact that I easily won the Democratic vote, 40,000 Republicans maliciously crossed over and overtook the Democratic Primary. And because AIPAC had telegraphed in newspaper articles that they were going to target both Earl Hilliard and me, the Democratic Party was paralyzed."
AIPAC has sometimes even found itself on the receiving end of criticism from the Israeli governments whose positions it is charged to support. This was especially so during the early years of the Oslo Accords, when an organization viewed by many on the Jewish left as traditionally more right-leaning, seemed slow to adjust itself to Israel's sudden political shift.
In 1992, newly elected prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, in a closed-door meeting with AIPAC leaders in Washington, reportedly told them in harsh terms they had gone too far in antagonizing the Bush administration in the battle to gain loan guarantees sought by the previous Shamir government. The next year AIPAC vice-president Harvey Friedman referred to deputy foreign minister Yossi Beilin in the presence of a reporter as a "little slimeball," after Beilin had complained that Friedman had spoken approvingly of transferring the Palestinians. Friedman subsequently left AIPAC as the organization sought to improve ties with the Rabin government.
AIPAC's efforts to keep a low media-profile have also led to accusations that it has put undue pressure on journalists, especially from the Jewish press, who cover it critically. Among them is Washington Jewish Week reporter Larry Cohler, who earlier this year told an Internet site: "Their mission statement doesn't say anything about them mucking around in Jewish newspapers.
AIPAC tried to get me fired, [and editor] Andy [Silow-Carrol] fired [from The Washington Jewish Week in 1992]." (AIPAC has denied those charges.)
Given its task, it is inevitable that AIPAC will serve as a perennial whipping-boy for anti-Semitic Jewish conspiracy theorists, and as the phantom spoiler by disgruntled anti-Israeli politicians who fall short at the ballot box. But its reported involvement in the Pentagon-leak story will force it to handle mainstream-media damage control of the like the organization has not yet known.
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