Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 1992, page 65
Jews and Israel
By Sheldon Richman
A personnel shakeup at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has observers wondering if the pro-Israel lobby has decided to adopt a less confrontational and more ecumenical strategy. The polemical editor of AIPAC's weekly Near East Report, Mitchell Bard, has been replaced by Rafi Danziger, the lobby's director of research. Bard will reportedly become a research assistant under Danziger but will not be involved in presenting AIPAC's views to the public, according to a source quoted in Washington Jewish Week.
AIPAC said the move was merely meant to integrate the newsletter, which was independent until 1988, into the rest of the organization. There was no other official comment on the event.
But the move has been interpreted by Jewish leaders and people close to AIPAC as part of an effort to tone down AIPAC's recent confrontation with the Bush administration and to attract the dovish parts of the Jewish community, which have been repelled by the lobbying organization. There also has been speculation that the change reflects an internal view of how the Israeli election would come out. Danziger is pro-Labor and used to work for the dovish American Jewish Congress.
Near East Report under Bard, with a circulation of 55,000, energetically fought the Bush administration's refusal to grant unconditionally $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel for immigration absorption. The administration insisted on tying the guarantees to a cessation of settlement construction in the occupied territories, something Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir refused. It was AIPAC's biggest setback in years. AIPAC Executive Director Thomas Dine's reaction has been, at different times, both conciliatory and condemnatory.
One former AIPAC official told WJW that Bard had to get everything in the newsletter approved by superiors and was not out of step with the organization. Thus the change could represent a reconsideration at AIPAC's highest levels of its relationship with the Bush administration. WJW quoted Morris Amitay, director of Washington PAC, a leading pro-Israel political action committee, saying, "This is an administration [AIPAC] wants to do business with, and AIPAC felt this was a time to use Mitchell Bard as an opportunity to send a signal to the administration." Some leaders of the Jewish community suspect that Republican sympathizers within AIPAC (for example, former presidents Robert Asher and Meyer Mitchell) encouraged Bard's ouster.
In contrast, the Forward quoted a Republican source who saw Bard's removal as "signaling their [AIPAC's] determination to defeat Bush and their preference for [Israeli Labor Party leader Yitzhak] Rabin over Shamir. It's a scorched-earth policy to defeat Bush at all costs." Bard worked for Bush aide Robert Teeter in the 1988 presidential campaign. According to WJW senior writer Larry Cohler, a Jewish official who would allow himself to be identified only as an "authorized source" said that the Near East Report under Bard gave the mistaken impression that AIPAC supported Likud's opposition to territorial compromise and its aggressive settlement campaign. The source told WJW, "We don't take stands on issues on which the pro-Israel community is divided...And we should not directly or indirectly speak in a language which leads people to think we are taking stands on those divisive issues." The source said the shakeup did not signal a move away from Likud and Shamir.
Indications that a change was in the offing came in April when Bard criticized an article by Theodore Mann, a former president of the American Jewish Congress and former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. In an April 16 article in Washington Jewish Week, Mann, who now heads the dovish Project Nishma, wrote that "American Jews should remember that it will be Israel's loss and our loss if we 'throw out the baby with the bathwater' by attacking the administration's efforts to advance the peace process, or if we persist in trying to shield Israel's settlement policy from all criticism or consequences." He also wrote that "most of our anger should more appropriately be directed at [Israeli Housing Minister Ariel] Sharon, who repeatedly tweaked the nose of the American secretary of state, and who now says Israel can get along without the $10 billion in American guarantees. He is dangerous. He has already dragged Israel into a disastrous war. If unchecked he could do so again."
In WJW and Near East Report, Bard said Mann was wrong because American Jews should not tell the Israelis what to do; it is they who must live with the consequences, Bard said.
Mann told WJW that Steve Rosen, AIPAC's director of foreign policy, apologized to him for Bard's response. Rosen said, according to Mann, "In any event, AIPAC is trying to broaden the tent." Mann was also told that Bard had violated a rule against ad hominem attacks on Jewish leaders, although Mann said he did not regard the attack that way.
The story is complicated by the fact that some Likud officials think AIPAC has not been aggressive enough in defending Israel's interests. On the other hand, some Laborites, including Rabin, believe the lobbying organization is too pro-Shamir.
AIPAC Under Inspection
The Federal Election Commission is considering whether AIPAC improperly provides information on candidates for federal office to other pro-Israel organizations. Incorporated membership organizations may engage in such a practice as long as they do not help their members make contributions to candidates. An FEC letter to AIPAC reportedly stated that the lobbying organization publishes information about candidates "in a manner which suggests persons support the candidates financially or otherwise." According to Washington Jewish Week, the FEC's office of general counsel has reportedly recommended that the commission rule that AIPAC is not a membership organization under FEC standards.
Bush Responds to Foxman
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, recently told a news conference in Israel that President Bush is not an anti-Semite. In response to Foxman's statement and to attacks by Likud ministers Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu, Bush wrote a letter to Foxman in which he promised to "set things right" with Israel after its June elections. According to the Forward, Bush wrote:
"Dear Abe,...We are not adversaries of Israel. You are right. I saw the Olmert and Netanyahu personal attacks but I will not respond. After the June elections, whoever wins, I'll make a renewed effort to set things right."
Schifter to Head American Jewish Committee Council
Former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Schifter, who left the State Department to protest the Bush administration's Middle East policy, will chair the American Jewish Committee's National Advisory Council. The council, which has been largely inactive recently, brings together Washington experts to advise the committees on politics and policy, according to Jason Isaacson, Washington representative. President Alfred Moses was quoted as saying that the appointment of Schifter "definitely raises our profile in Washington."
Sheldon Richman is the senior editor at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC.