Wall Street Journal – Interesting article

April 17, 2006

In News

By Jay Solomon
15 April 2006

WASHINGTON — The coming trial of two former representatives of the
American Israel Public Affairs Committee for alleged violations of
the Espionage Act is fueling concern among Jewish leaders that
Israel and the Jewish-American community increasingly are being
blamed for the Bush administration’s troubles in the Middle East.

The trial comes amid a furor sparked last month by an article by two
American academics that argues pro-Israel interest groups have
undercut the U.S.’s standing in the Middle East by promoting a
policy line too close to Tel Aviv’s. They argue that the U.S. is too
aligned with Israel in its position on the Palestinian question,
weapons proliferation in the Middle East, and diplomatic ties with a
number of Arab states. Meanwhile, leaders of such groups as the
American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League say they’re
tracking global media that they believe disproportionately focuses
on the role Jewish officials inside the Bush administration played
in building the case for war in Iraq.

A number of prominent strategists overseeing the Iraq invasion
during President Bush’s first term are Jews, such as former Deputy
Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and the Pentagon’s then-No. 3
civilian official, Douglas Feith. Although they have been singled
out for particular criticism, Jewish leaders say critics of the war
often selectively bypass the scores of non-Jewish officials who also
played central roles in developing the Iraq policy.

“Now you have an Iraq war that Americans are turning against, and
you have people saying it’s all a Jewish conspiracy,” says Jack
Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress, which promotes
religious tolerance and the rights of the state of Israel. “But look
at President Clinton’s team: You had many Jews who aggressively
pushed for peace in the Middle East. But these same critics don’t
see this as part of the same conspiracy.”

Despite the criticism of the pro-Israel lobby, many Jewish leaders
in America say they don’t believe their community ultimately will be
blamed for the war in Iraq and unrest elsewhere in the Middle East.
They cite polls showing that America’s support for Israel has grown
in recent years, and note that many indicators suggest that
anti-Semitism in America is declining. While certain officials who
are Jewish may be facing criticism, these leaders say, they don’t
see a wider threat.

“I don’t see a gathering storm” against the Jewish community, says
David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform
Judaism in Washington. “Most people seem to be focusing on
individuals rather than a conspiracy.”

The trial of the former AIPAC lobbyists, Steven J. Rosen and Keith
Weissman, is scheduled to begin next month. The two men are charged
under the Espionage Act with receiving and disseminating classified
information provided by a former Pentagon Middle East analyst.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser
Stephen Hadley are among the witnesses Messrs. Rosen and Weissman’s
defense team has indicated it may call.

The Justice Department’s indictment details how Messrs. Rosen and
Weissman allegedly sought to promote a hawkish U.S. policy toward
Iran by trading information and favors with a number of senior U.S.
officials. Lawrence Franklin, the former Pentagon official, has
pleaded guilty to misusing classified information. Mr. Franklin was
charged with orally passing on information about a draft National
Security Council paper about Iran to the two lobbyists, according to
people familiar with the case, as well as other classified
information. Mr. Franklin was sentenced in December to nearly 13
years in prison, but his sentence could be reduced, depending on the
testimony he provides for the prosecution.

Lawyers for Messrs. Rosen and Weissman, as well as many Jewish
leaders, say the actions of the former AIPAC employees were no
different from how thousands of Washington lobbyists work. They say
the indictment marks the first time in U.S. history that American
citizens — outside government employees or contractors — have been
charged with receiving and disseminating state secrets in
conversations. In court filings, the defense team argues that their
clients couldn’t have known that the information they received was
classified, and they say a conviction in the case could cast a chill
over the U.S. media and political process.

The actions of the men are “what members of the media, members of
the Washington policy community, lobbyists and members of
congressional staffs do perhaps hundreds of times per day,” the
legal team wrote this month in a brief seeking to have the case
dismissed. “These meetings are a vital and necessary part of how our
government and society function.”

Several members of Congress have expressed concern about the case
since it broke in 2004, fearing that the Justice Department may be
targeting pro-Israel lobbying groups, such as AIPAC. These officials
say they’re eager to see the legal process run its course, but are
concerned about the lack of transparency in the case.

“The administration hasn’t been forthcoming on this case,” said Lale
Mamaux, a spokeswoman for Democratic Rep. Robert Wexler of Florida.
Mr. Wexler wrote to the Bush administration seeking more information
on the AIPAC case when it first broke.

The trial is scheduled to begin just weeks after publication of an
article on the pro-Israel lobby by John Mearsheimer of the
University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard University. In the
paper, titled “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” which was
posted on the Web site of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy
School of Government, the authors argue that a bloc of pro-Israel
interest groups, including Jewish-Americans and Christian
evangelicals, have lobbied to align U.S. foreign policy with
Israel’s. They write that this trend has accelerated under the Bush
administration, where neoconservative strategists in the Pentagon
and White House have been ideologically aligned with hawks in
Israel. (Read the paper2.)

Messrs. Mearsheimer and Walt argue that rather than enhancing
national security, America’s ties to Israel have escalated terrorist
attacks against the U.S., undermined moves toward democracy in the
Middle East, and advanced a global race to acquire weapons of mass
destruction. “Other special-interest groups have managed to skew
U.S. foreign policy in directions they favored, but no lobby has
managed to divert U.S. foreign policy as far from what the American
national interest would otherwise suggest,” their paper says.

The authors write that the broader Jewish community in America
appeared to be generally against the invasion of Iraq. But they
emphasize that many pro-Israel lobbying groups and U.S. officials
close to Israel championed the conflict. “The war was due in large
part to the [pro-Israel] Lobby’s influence, especially the
neoconservatives within it.”

Reaction from the Jewish community and from many in the mainstream
press has been strong and swift against the academics. Opinion
pieces in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and The Wall
Street Journal have attacked alleged factual and historical
inaccuracies in the piece. Many Jewish leaders say the article
rehashes centuries-old conspiracy theories about Jewish cabals with
dual loyalties. They say similar sentiment arose during the first
Gulf War, when some critics of the conflict saw it as designed to
protect Israel.

Still, Jewish leaders say that such attacks traditionally have come
from members of the extreme left or right wings, and that they are
particularly concerned to see them presented by academics from such
pre-eminent American institutions. “The notion that there’s a
so-called Jewish cabal continues to surface,” said David Harris,
executive director of the American Jewish Committee. “That it had
currency in Czarist Russia was, tragically, par for the course. …
But at Harvard or Chicago in 2006? That’s truly mind-boggling.”

In their article, Messrs. Mearsheimer and Walt emphasize that the
pro-Israel lobby isn’t a cabal or conspiracy, but rather a loose
coalition of individuals and organizations that operates in much the
same way that other U.S. interest groups do. Mr. Walt also said in
an interview that the main aim of the article was to stimulate
debate on an important foreign-policy issue.

Harvard, which left the article on the Web site but removed the
Kennedy School’s logo from it, has stressed that the paper reflects
the authors’ personal views and not that of the university. In a
statement, Harvard said that “the Kennedy school does not restrict,
interfere with, or take a position on the research conclusions
reached by individual faculty members.”

Trying to stifle a debate on Washington’s relationship with Israel,
or the pro-Israel lobby itself, could prove damaging to the Jewish
community longer term. “It’s bad for Jews in America if it’s seen
like you can’t talk about this one specific issue,” says M.J.
Rosenberg, who heads the Washington office of the Israel Policy