Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 1991, Page 30
Washington Institute for Near East Policy: An AIPAC "Image Problem"
By Mark H. Milstein
If access equals influence and influence equals power, then the Washington Institute for Near East Policy ranks among the most powerful think tanks in Washington.
At the institute's helm are two Jewish activists from different parts of the world who had long nurtured similar desires and who met in Washington.
Martin Indyk, 39, an Australian and a former visiting fellow at Columbia University, began his Washington career as deputy director of research at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the leading pro-Israel lobbying group. Indyk says he was dissatisfied because of AIPAC's reputation as a strongly biased organization. In late 1984 he began weighing whether to return home or to try setting up a think tank. Then he met Barbi Weinberg.
Weinberg, a former president of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles and an AIPAC vice president, said in an earlier interview she had always been fascinated with "thinkers and scholars" and had for over a decade privately wrestled with the idea of creating a foreign policy center.
Setting Up Shop
Setting up shop in February of 1985, The Washington Institute quickly grew from a staff of three to a total of 28 full- and part-time researchers, administrators and fellows. It operates on a yearly budget of nearly three quarters of a million dollars raised from contributions largely drawn from the Jewish community.
Indyk once described a coup caried out in the 1970s by Brookings Institution fellows Zbigniew Brzezinski and William Quandt as the model upon which he and Weinberg based the Washington Institute's debut.
In the mid- 1970s, both Quandt and Brzezinski directed preparation of a report entitled Toward Peace in the Middle East, suggesting a course of action for the incoming Carter administration. In that administration, Brzezinski became national security adviser and Quandt his chief Middle East specialist. Although dramatically changing events required course changes from the original report, in its one term of office the Carter administration brokered an Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement that became a watershed in Israeli-Arab relations.
"The Brookings plan is precisely what we were trying to replicate," Indyk said.
Like Brookings, Indyk and Weinberg's brainchild has its share of scholars and former and future administration officials.
The institute's board of advisers include former Reagan and Carter administration officials identified with strongly pro-Israel views. They include George P. Shultz, Alexander Haig, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Robert C. McFarlane, Stuart Eizenstat, Max M. Kampelman, Samuel W. Lewis, James Roche, Richard Perle, Edward Luttwak and Walter Mondale.
Indyk said the institute tries to inject a "balanced and realistic" voice into policy debates. Other members of similar mindset are US News and World Report publisher Mortimer Zuckerman andNew Republic editor-in-chief Martin Peretz.
Indyk said in an earlier interview that the institute tries to inject a "balanced and realistic" voice into Washington's Middle East policy debates.
"We thought there was a balance problem at the time. There was a feeling that the Arabists were in this heroic phase," Indyk said, and US policy, which he described as one of confronting Israel, " was a mistake.
Indyk and Weinberg's solution was to invite Arabists from State, Defense, Capitol Hill and the White House in once a month to hear speakers and bounce ideas back and forth. Indyk also started inviting the foreign policy press along and soon after began publishing position papers.
The institute's first major foreign policy paper, Acting with Caution: Middle East Policy Planning for the Second Reagan Administration, was written by Dennis Ross. Four years later, another paper, Building for Peace, an American Strategy for the Middle East, was submitted to the incoming Bush administration, with the result that Ross became director of policy planning at the State Department.
The 113-page analysis cautioned against moving too quickly in the peace process, and advised against attempting to force an overall settlement, as former Secretary Shultz sought to do in 1982 with the Reagan Plan for Middle East Peace, which was rejected by Israel within 24 hours.
The Washington Institute report suggested that then-newly elected President Bush try to "reshape the political environment " by urging Israel and the Palestinians to take "confidence-building acts" as groundwork for more in-depth, future negotiations.
Those proposals, in view of the strategy now being pursued by Secretary Baker, should come as no surprise. A number of the people tapped by the Washington Institute to work on the report have moved into policymaking slots around Baker and in the National Security Council.
They include, besides Ross, Aaron David Miller, a top aide to Ross; Lawrence S. Eagleburger, deputy secretary of state; Harvey Sicherman, Secretary Baker's speech writer; Richard Haass, Middle East analyst with the NSC; and Frank Fukuyama, State Department official and former RAND Corporation analyst.
Besides producing position papers and hosting lunches, the institute prides itself on its annual mega-symposium. In late April, the institute held its sixth, entitled "American Strategy After the Gulf War."
Principal symposium participants were Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney, Palestinian economist Hisharn Awartani, Knesset member Benjamin Begin, Kurdish leader Hoshyar Zebari,New Republic senior editor Morton Kondracke, former Egyptian ambassador to Canada and the Arab League Tahseen Basheer, and former Secretary of State Alexander Haig. The symposium was underwritten in large part by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Washington insiders will tell you a think tank's greatest assets are the respectability of its brain trust and the depth of its funding. The Washington Institute is seemingly blessed in the latter regard, but in the former it continues to fight a persistent image problem over its relationship with AIPAC.
Says a recently retired senior State Department official: "Their general reputation is that it is a very pro-Israeli group. That goes without saying. That's what people will tell you. I don't know the reason for that, except that some of the principals there have in the past worked for either Israeli groups or lobbies or things like AIPAC, including Martin Indyk who's the director."
Discussing the institute's close identification with AIPAC makes Indyk touchy. "People will think what they want to think, " he said, after asserting that his organization is not even "pro-Israel, " let alone an arm of AIPAC.
However, a profile of the institute's board of trustees tells a different story. Of its 100-plus members, 14 sit on AIPAC's executive board, and two, according to Federal Election Commission records, are among the largest individual contributors to political campaigns in the country. A third has contributed more than $250,000 to political candidates throughout the nation. Some are founders or directors of pro-Israel political action committees (PACs) in various parts of the country, and others are listed among major individual contributors to Republican or Democratic candidates (see box).
Asked about the relationship of pro-Israel PACs and individual donations to candidates by some of the PAC officers, Larry Makinson, author of Campaign Secrets, a book about sources of contributions, explained: "One thing we suspect, but haven't been able to prove yet, is that while much of the pro-Israel money is contributed through 61 PACs—$4.5 million in 1989—a lot more than that is being contributed through individuals. There's sort of an unofficial grapevine about who to contribute to."
Obviously some institute directors are part of the circuit. Nor has Indyk himself shunned the fruits of big-league politics. The Washington Times reported in May that he, along with Rep. Les Aspin (D-WI), Aspin's executive staff and three members of the Armed Services Committee flew aboard a military version of a Gulfstream corporate jet, the C-20, on an "official" trip to Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Israel and Bahrain.
First-class accommodations on military planes cost anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 per hour, according to the Times, and the tab is generally picked up by the "military service that provided the travel arrangements, which include [for members of Congress] cash 'per diem' for meals and lodging, ground transportation and incidentals."
Those authorized to make such trips, but on the basis that they must reimburse the government, do so at costs well below commercial first-class travel, usually at standard coach fare.
A spokeswoman for the Air Force, Jerry Woods, said that Defense Department regulations allow guests on military flights as long as "they are authorized to go by a chairman" or someone in a position of authority to approve such trips.
While members of the Washington Institute's board of trustees have no say in the day-to-day operations of the think tank, or even the project-related work of its distinguished fellows or advisers, their seemingly close affiliation with AIPAC puts a question mark after the center's label of objectivity.
"The image I would like to convey is that we are friendly to Israel but doing credible research on the Middle East in a realistic and balanced way," Indyk said.
Mark H. Milstein is a Washington-based journalist who specializes in foreign affairs.
Movers and Shakers in the Washington Institute for Near East Policy
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy denies formal ties with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Israel's principal Washington, DC lobby. A glance at names of its officers and board members reveals, however, extensive overlap not only with AIPAC but also with pro-Israel political action committees (PACs) and other organizations identified with support of the government of Israel and its policies. Examples:
-Martin Indyk, executive director. Born in Australia, Indyk came to the US as a visiting fellow at Columbia University in New York. He began his Washington career as deputy director of research at AIPAC, from which he went directly to the institute.
-Barbi Weinberg, president. A native of Southern California, Weinberg is a former AIPAC vice president and the founder of Citizens Organized PAC, a pro-Israel political action committee. She also is a former president of the Jewish Federation Council in Los Angeles. The Jewish Federation Council is the umbrella organization for Jewish charities and organizations. According to the Los Angeles Times, the federation does not take political stands, and its leaders are forbidden from taking political stands while in office. Her husband, Lawrence Weinberg, is chairman of the board emeritus of AIPAC.
-Walter P. Stern, secretary/treasurer. Stern is chairman of the New York-based Committee on Freedom of Trade with Israel, president of Capital Research, an investment group, a former board member of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith and a trustee of the American Jewish Committee.
-Fred Lafer, member of the executive committee. Lafer is the senior vice president and general counsel of Automatic Data Processing, Inc., Roseland, NJ. Lafer, a campaign supporter of Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), is a former chairman of the United Jewish Appeal of New Jersey and former president of the Jewish Federation of New Jersey.
-Bernard White, member of the executive committee. White is a former AIPAC treasurer and former treasurer of the Zionist Organization of America. He has been an officer since 1987 of Washington PAC, a pro-Israel PAC, and a member of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington.
-Mayer Mitchell, board member. A former president of AIPAC, Mitchell is an Alabama real estate magnate who, along with his brother Abraham, formerly headed up the Altus Bank of Mobile, AL.
-Shaol Pozez, board member. A former vice president of AIPAC, Pozez is a Topeka, KS businessman who is considered by the Federal Election Commission to be one of the Democratic Party's largest individual campaign fund-raisers and contributors. He has been an officer since 1988 of Desert Caucus, a pro-Israel political action committee.
-Cheryl Halpern, member of the board of trustees. Halpern was listed in 1989 by the Republican National Committee as one of its top campaign donors nationwide. The RNC noted that Halpern had donated more than $100,000 to the party.
-Barney Gottstein " member of the board of trustees. Gottstein is an Anchorage, AK food store magnate who, according to the Federal Election Commission, regularly makes its list of top campaign donors nationwide. He has been an AIPAC regional adviser and an officer since 1984 of Washington PAC, a pro-Israel political action committee.
-Max Fisher, board member. A member of the AIPAC executive committee, Fisher is a Detroit, MI millionaire businessman and served as board chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel from 1971 to 1983. Fisher has served as a special counsel in the Nixon White House, was a major contributor for a $340,000 third-floor addition to Vice President Dan Quayle's official residence at the US Naval Observatory, and met with President Bush in October 1990 to repair relations with the Jewish community, following the UN Security Council condemnation of the Israeli killing of Palestinians at the Hararn Al-Sharif in Jerusalem.
-Robert Asher, board member. He is a former long-time president of AIPAC and founder of Citizens Concerned for the National Interest, a pro-Israel PAC.