Malcolm Hoenlein and AIPAC

Thursday, January 26, 2006 9:40 AM

To understand why the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, and why there was a relentless program of economic sanctions leading up to it under George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton; to understand why Hamas has just defeated the more moderate Palestinians in elections in the occupied territories; to understand what is behind the current "crisis" with Iran; to understand all these things and more, you really should take a few minutes to read the short article below from the June 10th, 2002 issue of the American liberal magazine, The Nation.

In it you will discover a man named Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice-chairman of an organization called The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. It seems there are 52 of them.

Yasir Arafat is gone, perhaps poisoned by the Mossad; Ariel "the bulldozer" Sharon is in a deep coma due to overwork and overweight; Tom "the hammer" DeLay has finally been unmasked and is headed for jail; Senator Ernest Hollings of South Carolina has retired, but not before letting the cat out of the bag by announcing that Bush Jr. (programed by Karl Rove & Dick Cheney) invaded Iraq to steal Jewish votes and money away from the Democrats; Andrew Card is still chief of staff at the dysfunctional Bush Jr. White House; and Senator Joe Lieberman is still urging that more U.S. ground troops be sent to the Iraq inferno. And Malcolm Hoenlein, who was ranked by The Forward, the N.Y. Jewish weekly newspaper, as the most important American Jew in 2002, is still running the "Conference of Presidents" from his corner office in New York City.

Hoenlein, by the way, was to be found in the suburbs of Tel Aviv last weekend, attending the "Herzliya Conference", which touts itself as "the annual 'summit meeting' of the most influential Israeli and international leaders." That description is not hyperbole. Never heard of it? You weren't invited? What a shame.

You missed rubbing shoulders with some of the luminaries: Carl Bildt, former PM of Sweden; Ambassador John "Bully Boy" Bolton of the UN; President Jimmy Carter; Professor Alan "Chutzpah personified" Dershowitz from Harvard; Laurent Fabius, former PM of France; Josef Joffe of Die Zeit; Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, or "Bibi Nut & Yahoo" as I sometimes call him; Ehud Olmert, acting PM of Israel, standing in for war criminal Sharon; Ambassador Dennis Ross, chairman of something called the "Jewish People Policy Planning Institute" and who, according to the Herzliya website, served as "the U.S. [sic] point man on the Middle East peace [sic] process in both the George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations"; Lord George Weidenfeld, the publisher from England; Mort Zuckerman, owner of U.S. News & World Report and the NY Daily News. The chairman of the Herzliya Conference is Professor Uzi Arad, who served 25 years in the Mossad and is the foreign policy advisor to Netanyahu. That's a small sample of who you missed.

Hoenlein gave a speech at this event last Sunday afternoon, in which he closed with the following words about the AIPAC spy scandal in Washington:

"The threat to Israel and Jews worldwide is obvious, but we must illustrate the acute threat to US Western democratic interests. We must choose carefully our actions and words—especially our public words. I can't conclude without a word regarding the Franklin's case in Washington. We don't know all the details, but the fact that this climate can exist in the capital of the US is appalling. The people involved are two Jews who did nothing to compromise their country's security. We must seriously look at the public scrutiny and humiliation to which they have been subjected. In this week's Torah portion, we read the story of Shifra and Pu'ah—two Jewish midwives from the lowest stratum, who changed the course of Jewish history. They were able to stand up against Pharaoh, who was convinced by their actions that the Jewish resistance must be great. We will overcome the Pharaohs of our day as well."

Get the picture? As with the communist movement in days of yore, it all depends upon who is doing the spying, on behalf of what noble cause. Besides, how could spying for Israel in the U.S. be bad, right? Hoenlein and the rest of the heavy-weight attendees at this Tel Aviv summit conference, Jews and Gentiles alike, did not waste time talking about the rights of the dispossessed indigenous population of Palestine, encamped not too far away behind walls and barbed wire. Instead, everyone was obsessed with how to further augment Israel's "security". There was nothing mentioned about the actual reasons for the conflict, which has caused this insecurity, resulting in bloodshed on all sides, including the atrocities of 9/11.

The Israel Lobby


[from the June 10, 2002 issue of The Nation]

On May 2 the Senate, in a vote of 94 to 2, and the House, 352 to 21, expressed unqualified support for Israel in its recent military actions against the Palestinians. The resolutions were so strong that the Bush Administration--hardly a slouch when it comes to supporting Israel--attempted to soften its language so as to have more room in getting peace talks going. But its pleas were rejected, and members of Congress from Joe Lieberman to Tom DeLay competed to heap praise on Ariel Sharon and disdain on Yasir Arafat. Reporting on the vote, the New York Times noted that one of the few dissenters, Senator Ernest Hollings of South Carolina, "suggested that many senators were after campaign contributions."

Aside from that brief reference, however, the Times made no mention of the role that money, or lobbying in general, may have played in the lopsided vote. More specifically, the Times made no mention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. It's a remarkable oversight. AIPAC is widely regarded as the most powerful foreign-policy lobby in Washington. Its 60,000 members shower millions of dollars on hundreds of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. It also maintains a network of wealthy and influential citizens around the country, whom it can regularly mobilize to support its main goal, which is making sure there is "no daylight" between the policies of Israel and of the United States.

So, when Congress votes so decisively in support of Israel, it's no accident. Yet, surveying US newspaper coverage of the Middle East in recent months, I found next to nothing about AIPAC and its influence. The one account of any substance appeared in the Washington Post, in late April. Reporting on AIPAC's annual conference, correspondent Mike Allen noted that the attendees included half the Senate, ninety members of the House and thirteen senior Administration officials, including White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, who drew a standing ovation when he declared in Hebrew, "The people of Israel live." Showing its "clout," Allen wrote, AIPAC held "a lively roll call of the hundreds of dignitaries, with individual cheers for each." Even this article, however, failed to probe beneath the surface and examine the lobbying and fundraising techniques AIPAC uses to lock up support in Congress.

AIPAC is not the only pro-Israel organization to escape scrutiny. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, though little known to the general public, has tremendous influence in Washington, especially with the executive branch. Based in New York, the conference is supposed to give voice to the fifty-two Jewish organizations that sit on its board, but in reality it tends to reflect the views of its executive vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein.

Hoenlein has long had close ties to Israel's Likud Party. In the 1990s he helped raise money for settlers' groups on the West Bank, and today he regularly refers to that region as "Judea and Samaria," a biblically inspired catch phrase used by conservatives to justify the presence of Jewish settlers there. A skilled and articulate operative, Hoenlein uses his access to the State Department, Pentagon and National Security Council to push for a strong Israel. He's so effective at it that the Jewish newspaper the Forward, in its annual list of the fifty most important American Jews, has ranked Hoenlein first.

Hoenlein showed his organizing skills in April, when he helped convene the large pro-Israel rally on Capitol Hill. While the event itself was widely covered, Hoenlein, and the conference, remained invisible. An informal survey of recent coverage turned up not a single in-depth piece about Hoenlein and how he has used the Presidents Conference to keep the Bush Administration from putting too much pressure on the Sharon government.

Why the blackout? For one thing, reporting on these groups is not easy. AIPAC's power makes potential sources reluctant to discuss the organization on the record, and employees who leave it usually sign pledges of silence. AIPAC officials themselves rarely give interviews, and the organization even resists divulging its board of directors. Journalists, meanwhile, are often loath to write about the influence of organized Jewry. Throughout the Arab world, the "Jewish lobby" is seen as the root of all evil in the Middle East, and many reporters and editors--especially Jewish ones--worry about feeding such stereotypes.

In the end, though, the main obstacle to covering these groups is fear. Jewish organizations are quick to detect bias in the coverage of the Middle East, and quick to complain about it. That's especially true of late. As the Forward observed in late April, "rooting out perceived anti-Israel bias in the media has become for many American Jews the most direct and emotional outlet for connecting with the conflict 6,000 miles away." Recently, an estimated 1,000 subscribers to the Los Angeles Times suspended home delivery for a day to protest what they considered the paper's pro-Palestinian coverage. The Chicago Tribune, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Miami Herald have all been hit by similar protests, and NPR has received thousands of e-mails complaining about its reports from the Middle East.

Do such protests have an effect? Consider the recent experience of the New York Times. On May 6 the paper ran two photographs of a pro-Israel parade in Manhattan. Both showed the parade in the background and anti-Israel protesters prominently in the foreground. The paper, which for weeks has been threatened with a boycott by Jewish readers, was deluged with protests. On May 7 the Times ran an abject apology. That caused much consternation in the newsroom, with some reporters and editors feeling that the paper had buckled before an influential constituency. "It's very intimidating," said a correspondent at another large daily who is familiar with the incident. Newspapers, he added, are "afraid" of organizations like AIPAC and the Presidents Conference. "The pressure from these groups is relentless. Editors would just as soon not touch them."

Needless to say, US support for Israel is the product of many factors--Israel's status as the sole democracy in the Middle East, its value as a US strategic ally and widespread horror over Palestinian suicide bombers. But the power of the pro-Israel lobby is an important element as well. Indeed, it's impossible to understand the Bush Administration's tender treatment of the Sharon government without taking into account the influence of groups like AIPAC. Isn't it time they were exposed to the daylight?