New Legal Moves Against America's Israel Lobby

Set against last weekend’s Washington jamboree organised by pro Israeli AIPAC, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States, the meeting of senior officials of the United States Internal Security Section with members of a US Middle East think tank, barely registered on the political Richter scale. AIPAC—in full, the America Israel Public Affairs Committee—was in Washington for its annual convention, and half of the United States Congress trooped through its doors to attend the organisation's Gala Banquet.

Speakers included Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who used the occasion to champion the new wave of East Jerusalem settlements, as well as Hillary Clinton and Tony Blair. The AIPAC press releases boasted of "500 lobbying meetings" on Capitol Hill, while the small meeting between the security official and Middle East analysts merely rated a brisk PR Newswire.

AIPAC can boast big clout as Israel’s voice in Washington, and casts a huge influence on US foreign policy—and Treasury gold. For despite the embarrassment caused to Vice President Joe Biden on his recent visit to Jerusalem, with an announcement that illegal settlement build would continue in the Eastern Arabic quarter, Israel is still set to receive a record $3 billion in US assistance next year—up from the current $2.4 billion. But for all that, the latter meeting may yet prove to be something of a tipping point, for it was as clear signal as it is possible to be that the Obama administration has to start exerting real pressure on the Netanyahu Government before any remaining prospects for a two state solution trickles into the Arabian Desert. 

It was no coincidence either that the US administration let it be known that the meeting was actually taking place. This was a short, sharp dig, a reminder that despite all of the warm words from the Obama administration, Netanyahu has to start to give. For the US Department of Justice officials, in a two hour meeting took possession of a 392 page legal filing presented by IRmep, the Institute for Research on Middle East Policy, which formally presented the case for regulating AIPAC as a "foreign agent of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs". It did so on the grounds that AIPAC is a spin off from an organisation that was ordered to register as an Israeli foreign agent back in 1962, and was continuing to act in similar vein to its parent body, the American Zionist Council. It did so also on the basis of de-classified FBI material released two weeks ago that revealed that AIPAC and the Israeli Ministry for Economics were jointly investigated for obtaining classified US economic data to obtain favourable trade benefits for Israel in 1984. In 2005, two AIPAC employees and a Pentagon Colonel, Lawrence Franklin were indicted for obtaining and circulating classified US national defence information to Israeli government officials allegedly in the interests of fermenting US action against Iran. 

The petitioners are clear. They claim that AIPAC remains linked to Israel’s Ministry of Information, and as such Americans should be allowed to look at the organisation’s books, particularly those relating to AIPAC’s publicity campaigns, lobbying expenditures and its "internal consultations with its foreign principals, particularly over such controversial issues as illegal settlements and US foreign aid." 

While it seems highly unlikely that the UN Quartet’s special envoy to the Palestinian territories, Tony Blair, knew of the legal filing meeting that had taken place as the AIPAC convention got underway, it is a measure of the influence of the lobbying organisation in Washington that Blair was there at all. His speech to the AIPAC Convention deserves examination more for what it did not say, than what it did. There was no direct criticism of the new, illegal East Jerusalem settlements, nor was there any remonstration for Israel for its overwhelming use of force in civilian areas of Gaza during last year’s military incursion, despite the evidence amassed in the Goldstone Report for the United Nations. While Blair was praiseworthy for some of the very real economic strides that have been made on the occupied West Bank, under the tutelage of President Abbas, there was not a single reference to the huge number of Israeli military roadblocks that threaten to throttle much of the economic progress of which Blair is justifiably proud. 

And herein lies the question: what on earth was Tony Blair doing speaking at the AIPAC Convention—a body as far removed from the Quartet’s Special Envoy’s job description as is possible to imagine? Unless, of course, Blair does appreciate that there is some truth in the claim that AIPAC is an arm of the Israeli Government, and might just be able to exert some leverage on the Netanyahu Government. 

But perhaps I am reading too much into that.

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