Date Posted:09:31:26 12/24/08 Wed Author:The Whistler Subject: HILLARY CLINTON (OBAMA'S PICK FOR SECRETARY OF STATE) & THE AIPAC VULTURES
July 4, 2005
THE NEW YORKER
Letter from Washington
REAL INSIDERS - A pro-Israel lobby and an F.B.I. sting.
by Jeffrey Goldberg
Several years ago, I had dinner at Galileo, a Washington restaurant, with Steven Rosen, who was then the director of foreign-policy issues at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The group, which is better known by its acronym, AIPAC, lobbies for Israel’s financial and physical security.
Like many lobbyists, Rosen cultivated reporters, hoping to influence their writing while keeping his name out of print. He is a voluble man, and liked to demonstrate his erudition and dispense aphorisms. One that he often repeated could serve as the credo of K Street, the Rodeo Drive of Washington’s influence industry: “A lobby is like a night flower: it thrives in the dark and dies in the sun.”
Lobbyists tend to believe that legislators are susceptible to persuasion in ways that executive-branch bureaucrats are not, and before Rosen came to AIPAC, in 1982 (he had been at the RAND Corporation, the defense-oriented think tank), the group focussed mainly on Congress. But Rosen arrived brandishing a new idea: that the organization could influence the outcome of policy disputes within the executive branch—in particular, the Pentagon, the State Department, and the National Security Council.
Rosen began to court officials. He traded in gossip and speculation, and his reports to AIPAC’s leaders helped them track currents in Middle East policymaking before those currents coalesced into executive orders. Rosen also used his contacts to carry AIPAC’s agenda to the White House.
An early success came in 1983, when he helped lobby for a strategic coöperation agreement between Israel and the United States, which was signed over the objections of Caspar Weinberger, the Secretary of Defense, and which led to a new level of intelligence sharing and military sales.
AIPAC is a leviathan among lobbies, as influential in its sphere as the National Rifle Association and the American Association of Retired Persons are in theirs, although it is, by comparison, much smaller. (AIPAC has about a hundred thousand members, the N.R.A. more than four million.)
President Bush, speaking at the annual AIPAC conference in May of 2004, said, “You’ve always understood and warned against the evil ambition of terrorism and their networks. In a dangerous new century, your work is more vital than ever.”
AIPAC is unique in the top tier of lobbies because its concerns are the economic health and security of a foreign nation, and because its members are drawn almost entirely from a single ethnic group....
AIPAC’s leaders can be immoderately frank about the group’s influence. At dinner that night with Steven Rosen, I mentioned a controversy that had enveloped AIPAC in 1992. David Steiner, a New Jersey real-estate developer who was then serving as AIPAC’s president, was caught on tape boasting that he had “cut a deal” with the Administration of George H. W. Bush to provide more aid to Israel.
Steiner also said that he was “negotiating” with the incoming Clinton Administration over the appointment of a pro-Israel Secretary of State. “We have a dozen people in his”— Clinton’s —“headquarters . . . and they are all going to get big jobs,” Steiner said. Soon after the tape’s existence was disclosed, Steiner resigned his post.
I asked Rosen if AIPAC suffered a loss of influence after the Steiner affair. A half smile appeared on his face, and he pushed a napkin across the table. “You see this napkin?” he said. “In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.”
It hasn't been a banner year for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
After coming out the loser in a public collision with President Bush over loan guarantees for Israel, being dressed down by Israeli Prime Minister Rabin, and facing revelations by a former employee first aired in the Washington Report that AIPAC runs a stealth operation to discredit American critics of the Jewish state, Israel's Washington, DC lobby ended the year with the resignation of its president, David Steiner, for, as his colleagues tell it, exaggerating AIPAC's influence both with Bill Clinton and with former Republican Secretary of State James Baker III.
The day after Clinton's election to the presidency should have been a joyous one for AIPAC. But instead, AIPAC's leaders awoke Nov. 4 to a page 3 story in the Washington Times announcing that Steiner, AIPAC's unpaid president, had resigned after being caught telling a prospective political donor on the telephone that the lobbying organization was "negotiating" with Clinton over whom the Democratic candidate would appoint as secretary of state and as his national security adviser should he win the election.
When asked if AIPAC would participate in the selection of the new secretary of state, Steiner said, "We'll have access."
Steiner told this to Harry Katz of New York City on Oct. 22, not knowing that Katz was taping the conversation. He turned the tape over to the Washington Times. The tape's authenticity is not in dispute. (See the transcript of the phone conversation on page 13.)
"We have a dozen people in (the Clinton) headquarters. And they are all going to get big jobs," Steiner, a trustee of the Democratic National Committee, told Katz, who had said he wanted to donate $100,000 to AIPAC-supported candidates.
Katz told the Washington Times that he taped the conversation because "as someone Jewish, I am concerned when a small group has a disproportionate power. I think that hurts everyone, including Jews. If David Steiner wants to talk about the incredible, disproportionate clout AIPAC has, the public should know about it." Katz has a history of suing Jewish groups. He has been a low-level AIPAC donor...
The Jewish weekly Forward said in a page-one story that Steiner's resignation "means that backers of a strong relationship between America and Israel will have a harder time than ever helping shape decisions about key foreign policy posts in the incoming Clinton administration. . ."
Aside from the obvious embarrassment for AIPAC, the matter also touched the sensitive issue of whether the organization abides by the laws governing lobbying.
AIPAC may neither raise money for federal candidates nor recommend candidates to potential contributors. The Federal Election Commission has investigated alleged wrongdoing by AIPAC, but has not found sufficient evidence of violations. Steiner told Katz that he was expressing only his personal choices in discussing races in several states and that AIPAC does not rate or endorse candidates...
JEWISH LEADERS CONGRATULATE CLINTON
Morton Mandel, National Jewish Democratic chairman, credited the American Jewish community with sealing Clinton's victory, which he called a "tremendous achievement."
American Jewish Congress President Robert Lifton and Executive Director Henry Siegman, in a congratulatory telegram to the president-elect, said they were pleased that Clinton and Gore were committed to the separation of church and state and to support for the Arab-Israeli peace talks.