AIPAC: Fighting for Survival

NEWS, 22 Nov 2010

MJ Rosenberg – Al Jazeera

With the flailing lobby distracted by a legal battle with a former employee, peace may just have a chance.

The latest Aipac (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) scandal has not found its way into the mainstream media, although the Jewish media has done a great job in highlighting this very explosive story. (LATE UPDATE: The Washington Post is now reporting on the story.)

The good news is that it does not much matter whether the New York Times runs the story or not. The Rosen vs. Aipac case is grinding its way through the courts and could well destroy the lobby without ever making its way on to the front page. Aipac is under siege, and is spending millions to stay alive.  But that will not be easy – even if Steve Rosen ultimately accepts a payoff from the organisation and refrains from telling what he knows.

There is no need to recapitulate the story here. Nathan Guttman in the Forward explains it well. The bottom line is that Steve Rosen, Aipac’s former #2 guy, who was indicted under the Espionage Act and then fired, is now suing the organisation for $20mn.

Ironically, the organisation spent $4.5mn to save their former employee from imprisonment (and more money than that to save itself). In the end, the government dropped the case probably because it believed it would not prevail in court, especially with Aipac’s buddies in congress breathing down the justice department’s neck.

Nonetheless, Rosen, off the legal hook, was furious. How could Aipac have fired him when, in the end, the government could not prove its case? His life was in tatters thanks to being terminated, in his opinion, without cause.

Aipac argues it had cause. In fact, in a 2008 New York Times story, it stated that Rosen was fired because his behaviour “did not comport with standards that Aipac expects of its employees”.

But Rosen maintains that everything he did, or was accused of doing, was standard operating procedure for Aipac. It fired him not because he did anything of which Aipac disapproved, but as a peace offering to the government: take Rosen and leave us alone.

Personal attack

I doubt there is a single person who knows Rosen and/or Aipac who does not believe Rosen is telling the truth about simply doing his job. I know Rosen and I know Aipac. And if there is any daylight between the two, I have never seen it.

Unfortunately for Aipac, Rosen has 180 documents which could prove that Howard Kohr, Aipac’s executive director, and probably the Aipac board as well, knew exactly what Rosen was doing. Worse, Rosen is now in court demanding that Aipac pay him $20mn or he will release everything he has.

The ugliest aspect of the case so far is that Aipac has decided to win by destroying Rosen personally. I have no use for the guy and consider him to have been, in his time, instrumental in helping to destroy Israel’s chances at achieving peace with the Palestinians. Rosen was so effective as a peace-wrecker that in 1992 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin himself told Aipac to fire Rosen. He did not want Rosen to be in a position to thwart Israel’s efforts to make peace with its neighbours. In the years since, he has been a key advocate of war with Iraq and, even now despite his disgrace, is an agitator for war with Iran. He is also an extreme Islamophobe, now teamed with Daniel Pipes at his anti-Muslim hate organisation.

Nonetheless, I think Aipac’s game here is pretty despicable. Desperate that its true modus operandi not be revealed, Aipac has set out to silence Rosen by exposing his sexual activities. (Rosen notes, in response, that Howard Kohr is no choir boy either.) This is causing great merriment throughout Washington, but the merriment should not just be over the “dirty parts“.

Cause for celebration

There is great cause for celebration in Aipac’s fight to stave off extinction because a bleeding, flailing Aipac is far less dangerous than an Aipac riding high (which is where it usually rides).

Here is what Aipac would like to be devoting its energies and financial resources to right now. One, making sure that President Obama is unable to pressure Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to freeze settlements and move to final status negotiations. And, two, boxing the president in so that he has no choice but to either strike Iran’s nuclear facilities or, more likely, let Israel do it. In fact, it is already planning its huge spring “policy conference,” slated to be devoted to warmongering over Iran followed by congressional passage of Aipac-drafted Iran-must-be-stopped resolutions.

These are immense undertakings and they take lots of money and lots of time.

But, thanks to Rosen, Aipac is spending $10mn of its donors’ money on legal fees. Its top people are working with lawyers virtually nonstop. And the whole place is in the grips of fear – fear that one former employee who has the goods on Aipac will bring the whole house down.

Fighting for its life was not what Aipac expected to be doing in 2011. But that is precisely what it will be doing, taking precious time away from its regular agenda.

At long last, Aipac, in its own way, is giving peace a chance. Congress may just have to start figuring out the Middle East on its own.


MJ Rosenberg is a senior foreign policy fellow at Media Matters Action Network. The above article first appeared in Foreign Policy Matters, a part of the Media Matters Action Network.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

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