Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December/January 1992/93, Page 69

Jews and Israel

By Sheldon L. Richman

AIPAC President Resigns

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 on Middle East Affairs, 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.

AIPAC told the Times that Steiner's statements were untrue, that it had no role in any deal with Baker, and that it was not negotiating with Clinton about administration appointments. Steiner issued a brief statement when he resigned. "In an effort to encourage and impress what I thought was a potential political activist calling on the telephone," he said, "I made statements which went beyond over zealousness and exaggeration and were simply and totally untrue. I apologize to Governor Clinton, Chief of Staff Baker, and AIPAC for these actions."

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.

Although AIPAC disavowed Steiner's statements, a source close to AIPAC told the Times that the lobbying group has promoted former Rep. Stephen Solarz as secretary of state but "they know they aren't going to get him." Solarz has been mentioned as a possible ambassador to the United Nations. Columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak reported that AIPAC official Steven Rosen tried to keep Warren Christopher, named by Clinton as director of the transition, from being appointed secretary of state. Christopher was deputy secretary of state under President Jimmy Carter, whose Middle East policy is regarded by pro-Israel activists as having been too sympathetic to the Arabs. The Los Angeles Times also reported that American Jewish leaders were trying stop a Christopher appointment. AIPAC denied the report, and other Democrats, including Solarz, defended Christopher.

In a related report, Forward said the Jewish Election Committee has urged Clinton not to appoint Christopher as secretary of state. Ruth King, spokeswoman for JEC, criticized Christopher for not wanting to confront Ayatollah Khomeini during the Iran hostage crisis. The JEC called on Clinton to give Vice President-elect Albert Gore, Jr. "the special responsibility for handling Middle East affairs."

Shift at AIPAC

The Washington Jewish Week reported that last month AIPAC made a major personnel shift by taking day-to-day responsibility away from Executive Director Thomas Dine and giving it to Deputy Director Howard Kohr. Dine will continue to be in charge of policy. Meanwhile, perhaps to indicate that the rift with Israel's prime minister is not permanent, AIPAC announced that Rabin would speak at its annual conference in March.

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.

Sheldon L. Richman is a Washington, DC-based regular contributor to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.