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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September/October 1993, Page 12

The Israel Lobby

Changing the Guard at AIPAC to Please the Rabin Government

By Richard H. Curtiss

"Just as the organization seemed to take a pro-Republican tilt at home during the 80s, it also seemed to stray from its traditional non-involvement in Israeli internal politics toward the pro-Likud tilt that upset Rabin and his labor-led government. "

—Former AIPAC legislative director Douglas Bloomfield,

Washington Jewish Week, July 8, 1993 "Some depicted the contretemps as part of a gap developing between the relatively dovish Labor Party-led government in Israel and a more hawkish American Jewish leadership."

—Staff writer Larry Cohler, Washington Jewish Week, July 22, 1992 "AIPAC President Steven Grossman says that his organization is 'as strong and self-confident as it has ever been. 'It's that self-confidence that gives us pause. "

—Queens (N.Y.) Jewish Week editorial, July 9-15, 1993 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Israel's powerful U.S. Lobby, is searching for a new executive director. To meet requirements expressed by various board members, the successful applicant should be a Democrat who has never said anything critical of Israel's Labor party, be able to get along with Republicans on his board who lean toward Israeli hawks, have Capitol Hill experience, and be a Jew married to the daughter of a Jewish mother. Since the former incumbent was said to have a half million-dollar salary—more than that of the president of the United States—filling the job should be easy. It's keeping the job that's difficult.

In less than a year, AIPAC's president and vice president have been forced to resign, as have its principal editor and executive director, Thomas Dine. Last fall, AIPAC President David Steiner was taped bragging about the organization's clout with Bill Clinton. This summer's victims were 53-year-old Dine, whose reputed salary of $500,000 per year made him one of the highest paid as well as most feared lobbyists in Washington, and AIPAC Vice President Harvey Friedman, one of 26 members of the AIPAC board of directors and a critic of any land-for-peace settlement with Israel's Arab neighbors.

AIPAC's troubles began during Labor Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's first visit to the United States after his June 1992 election victory. Many attributed Rabin's victory to Israeli voter fears that the intransigence of Israel's Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir would provoke then U.S. President George Bush into cutting U.S. aid to Israel. In Washington, Rabin warned AIPAC to confine its lobbying to the U.S. Congress, and leave relations with the White House to him. Rabin made it clear that he believed AIPAC's unwavering support for Shamir had encouraged the Likud intransigence that angered Bush.

Meanwhile, in an article in the July 1992 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, defecting AIPAC staffer Gregory Slabodkin revealed the workings of AIPAC's secret "opposition research" section, which was releasing derogatory (and generally false or misleading) information about American "enemies of Israel" to their rivals in the media and academia. Such revelations and Rabin's condemnation led to the demotion of Mitchell Bard, hard-line editor of Near East Report, the AIPAC newsletter.

Then, last fall, Harry Katz, a Jewish resident of Long Island, NY, apparently alarmed by AIPAC smear tactics and misuse of power revealed by Slabodkin, secretly taped AIPAC President David Steiner boasting about the number of former AIPAC employees who held high positions in the Clinton presidential campaign and who would receive influential positions in the Clinton administration. Steiner boasted that AIPAC was "negotiating" over who would be Clinton's secretary of state.

Although no newspaper would publish the transcript of the tape before the Nov. 3 presidential election, the Washington Times published it immediately afterward and Steiner resigned. He was replaced as president of AIPAC's board by Steve Grossman, who was not tarred by the Likud brush. Although some board members were said to be eager to get rid of Dine as well, he held his ground by citing his friends in high places (he had been a staff aide to Sen. Ted Kennedy) and his undeniable accomplishments since assuming AIPAC's top staff position in 1980.

Dine's AIPAC Achievements

In Dine's 13 years as executive director, AIPAC grew from 24 employees and a budget of $1.4 million to a staff of 158 and a budget of $15 million. Membership climbed from 8,000 to a claimed 55,000 (although the Washington Jewish Week reports that declarations to the post of fice by AIPAC's weekly Near East Report indicate actual paid membership of no more than 40,000 to 45,000). Most important, Dine pointed out, are the huge increases in U.S. financial assistance to Israel brokered by AIPAC.

In 1980, Israel received most of its U.S. military and economic aid in the form of loans, which would have to be paid back. Today Israel's $4.3 billion in military and economic assistance is all in grants, and it is receiving an additional $2 billion in U.S. loan guarantees annually.

Both Dine's and Friedman's forced resignations stemmed from remarks that, if uttered by non-Jews or Jewish "enemies of Israel," would have been attacked by AIPAC as grossly anti-Semitic. Four years ago Dine said in an interview with David Landau, author of Piety and Power—The World of Jewish Fundamentalism: "Idon't think mainstream Jews feel very comfortable with the ultra-Orthodox. It's a class thing, I suppose. Their image is—smelly. That's what I'd say now that you've got me thinking about it. Hasids and New York diamond dealers."

Dine went on to tell Landau that big donors to the United Jewish Appeal did not like to fly on El Al, Israel's national airline, because of "those people." When the book was brought out in the U.S. this year by publishers HiR and Wang, a reporter for the Baltimore Jewish Times called the comments to the attention of AIPAC spokeswoman Toby Dershowitz, who in turn informed AIPAC President Grossman.

In a telephoned 2-1/2 hour conference call with all AIPAC directors, Dine was given 10 minutes to state his case. He pointed out that the remarks did not reflect his own thinking but, as he had told Laudau, the stereotype of Orthodox Jews held by "a lot of people I mix with." The directors then spent the rest of the time deciding whether and how to ask Dine to resign.