The case revolves around allegations that the two senior staffers for AIPAC solicited classified information from an acquaintance at the Department of Defense, and then passed it on to journalists and Israeli diplomats. Larry Franklin, the government employee charged as the leaker, agreed last week to testify against Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, the two former AIPAC officials. But although the initial leaks (no doubt from publicity-hungry prosecutors) spoke of Israeli espionage, what's in question here are informal communications among lobbyists, government officials and journalists that are standard operating procedure in Washington.
Even stranger is the fact that the main issue presented by the federal prosecutor involves a "sting" operation, in which Franklin passed false information to Rosen and Weissman that dealt with specific threats to Israelis working in Iran. That this "intelligence" was then passed on to people who might help save those presumably in danger seems to be the main crime heaped on Rosen and Weissman.
Leaving aside the question of whether this constitutes entrapment - or whether there was even a shred of criminal intent - the oddest thing about this case is why the government has pursued it with such vengeance. The Department of Justice literally spent years investigating, and then attempting to incriminate, two persons who were carrying out the perfectly legal mission of informing members of the administration and Congress about issues relating to Israel. It may be that they are guilty of things that we know nothing about. The law must be respected and enforced, of course, but why AIPAC staffers - among all the many organizations that lobby in the capital - should be singled out for doing what so many others commonly do remains puzzling.
The government has said that AIPAC is itself not a target of prosecution. Rosen and Weissman have been fired, and they face the music alone (though the organization is picking up the tab for their defense). In the aftermath of the scandal, the group is working hard to ensure that its message is still heard. Fortunately, the White House, the State Department and the leaders of Congress continue to work with AIPAC and to praise it for its professionalism.
So it seems that AIPAC is serving as a punching bag for anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists, who see the organization's efforts to promote the truth about the Middle East and to further the American-Israel alliance as a page out of the mythical "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." Unfortunately, the government case resonates with those who promote the canard that supporters of Israel are guilty of disloyalty to the United States. But nothing in AIPAC's mission or its actions can justify such false charges.
AIPAC also takes a great deal of flack from Jewish critics, from both the left and the right, who complain that it follows the views of the Israeli government too slavishly. But those who criticize the organization forget that it was created as a way of coordinating the efforts of the many diverse groups that speak out on behalf of Israel.
We don't know what the outcome of Rosen and Weissman's trial will be, but we do know that - no matter the verdict - AIPAC remains the voice of a united American Jewish community. Its outstanding efforts have helped create a broad, bipartisan coalition in support of Israel. As such, AIPAC is a literally irreplaceable resource for those who care about the Jewish state and its people. u