June 12, 2005

Dual-loyalty bias worries US Jews

By URIEL HEILMAN
NEW YORK

When the American Israel Public Affairs Committee brought 5,000 supporters to its annual policy conference in Washington two and a half weeks ago, the organization sought to demonstrate publicly that its work would not be hampered by the controversy surrounding the two ex-AIPAC officials caught up in a spy scandal.

And to all outward appearances, it seemed that AIPAC was not suffering much fallout from the disclosure that Pentagon analyst Lawrence Franklin shared top secret intelligence information with two high-level AIPAC staffers, research director Steven Rosen and Iran analyst Keith Weissman. AIPAC had moved quickly to fire the two, paid for lawyers to defend them against any possible espionage charges and announced to conference delegates that, in the words of executive director Howard Kohr, "Your presence here today sends a message to every adversary of Israel, AIPAC and the Jewish community that we are here and here to stay."

But behind this veneer of strength, officials at Jewish groups that work with Capitol Hill say they are monitoring closely a situation that could change if Rosen and Weissman are indicted. There is some concern that if the former AIPAC staffers are criminally charged, a high-profile espionage trial could stoke fears among some in America, including US officials, that American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the United States.

"Things did not turn out exactly as predicted," said Neil Goldstein, executive director of the American Jewish Congress. "They said there is nothing to it; it'll all go away. Clearly, they've taken actions now that belie that, and clearly there are things that are still going on."

"What can I tell you? It has us all nervous," said David Zweibel, executive vice president for government and public affairs at Agudath Israel of America, the fervently Orthodox group.

"It is in general a time of some nervousness about our relationships on Capitol Hill and, more generally, in federal Washington," Zweibel said. Nevertheless, he allowed, "There has not yet been any tangible sign of pulling back or reluctance or anything in terms of ongoing relationships."

For now, Jewish organizational officials insist that AIPAC's troubles have not really affected them or their work.

"We have not been impacted, to the best of our knowledge," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "Nothing has changed vis--vis Congress. We meet on many issues, including the Middle East."

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, echoed that sentiment. "Operationally, I would say that it has not impacted in any way that we can discern," he said.

"I think the community should stand by AIPAC and Rosen and Weissman, who have served the community and made great contributions," Hoenlein added. Even if the two are indicted-which some news reports based on anonymous sources have suggested is imminent-that should not change anything, he said.

"Indictments are not convictions," Hoenlein said. "From what we know, it would be very hard to convict somebody for what has been said so far."

Underlying Jewish groups' continued support for AIPAC is the conviction many share that Rosen and Weissman were set up in an FBI sting operation that hinged upon the cooperation of a Pentagon analyst who already was in trouble with the law for disclosing top secret information related to America's national defense.

The analyst, Franklin, was arrested in May, posted bond and had a preliminary hearing in his case on Thursday.

He is charged with leaking top secret information to two men-said to be the AIPAC staffers-at an Arlington, Virginia restaurant on June 26, 2003, as well as with breaking FBI rules on the handling of classified documents. The information Franklin allegedly shared with the AIPAC staffers-who are not mentioned by name in any of the indictments against Franklin-related to potential attacks on US and Israeli agents in Iraq by Iranian-backed forces.

While Franklin, a 25-year veteran of the Department of Defense, seems to have broken the law by disclosing classified information that could be used "to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation," it is not at all clear that Rosen and Weissman broke any laws by receiving it. Even though they reportedly relayed that information to an Israeli Embassy official-so far, the most damning piece of information against them-they also notified the White House and reportedly have said that they were unaware the information was classified.

AIPAC officials say they have been reassured that the organization is not being investigated.

"It's been told consistently it's not a target of this," said Nathan Lewin, the Washington lawyer AIPAC hired to deal with the case. "Whatever the government does with regard to this investigation, it is not directed at AIPAC."

Some Jewish officials are more concerned about the US authorities' apparent interest in snaring two AIPAC staffers who, it seems, had no history of questionable behavior, than with the future of AIPAC or their own efforts in Capitol Hill.

"There are a lot of questions to ask: Why all this energy, all this effort?" said the ADL's Foxman. "It's a very broad investigation in terms of the persons interviewed. Why engage in a sting vis--vis Jewish institutions? There are a lot of questions unanswered."

Foxman suggested that the FBI's interest in AIPAC may point to underlying bias, and a suspicion among US authorities that Jews in America are more loyal to Israel than to the United States. That is especially troubling to the ADL, because the dual-loyalty charge carries with it anti-Semitic overtones for many American Jews.

"One out of three Americans believes that American Jews are more loyal to Israel than the United States. That's a classic anti-Semitic attitude," Foxman said. "Washington is not immune."

Indeed, Foxman and Hoenlein suggested, this might factor into decisions to reject US Jews for foreign-service jobs-something American Jews have complained about for some time.

Hoenlein said he gets complaints all the time from Jews claiming they've been denied access to security-sensitive posts because they are Jewish.

"There have been reports of people being denied security clearance again, and whether it's related to this or not we can't tell," Hoenlein said.

The FBI did return calls seeking comment for this story.