Home > AIPAC, Iran, Israel, Middle East > Former AIPAC-er Keith Weissman Talks About AIPAC’s Influence on U.S. Policy for PBS’ Frontline

Former AIPAC-er Keith Weissman Talks About AIPAC’s Influence on U.S. Policy for PBS’ Frontline

June 12, 2011
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In a just released interview by Robert Dreyfuss for Frontline’s Tehran Bureau, Keith Weissman talks about his stint at AIPAC.  Weissman and fellow staffer Steve Rosen were indicted for espionage for allegedly passing documents to Israeli intelligence officers.  These charges were eventually dropped – and the whole incident appears to be nothing more than the usual Inside The Beltway exchange of information that goes on 24 hours a day.

In the interview, Weissman paints a very flattering picture of himself and his influence within AIPAC.  The most interesting details concern Iran – his personal point of view along with AIPAC’s: 

The reason why I want to tell this story now is, we may be going down a path, helped along by the American Jewish community, and maybe even Israel, that is going to be worse even than the one we’re on now – some sort of military confrontation with Iran. That worries me. Because they will be able to blame [it] on the Jews, to a great extent,” says Weissman, who worked at AIPAC from 1993 until 2005, much of that time as the group’s deputy director of foreign policy. Though Weissman disagrees sharply with those who say that AIPAC played a critical role in pushing for the 2003 U.S. decision to invade Iraq, he believes a war with Iran — which he says “would be the stupidest thing I ever heard of” — might well be blamed on AIPAC’s leaders and their constituents. “What the Jews’ war will be is Iran,” he says. “Not Iraq.”:

Most of the rest of the information that he reveals isn’t necessary anything new – but does  lend credence to what many observers have already presumed.  One of the most interesting assertions is that following the Oslo peace process, AIPAC moved away from the Rabin government because they did not agree with his movement towards peace:

“Because of AIPAC, with the assistance of the right-wing in Israel, who — even though they weren’t the majority in Israel then — they’d come over and have very close contacts with AIPAC’s leaders, prominent financiers, and donors, in order to influence policy…. It was all because of the money that would go from the American Jewish community to politicians in the United States. The pro-Israel bloc in Congress has nothing to do with parties. It had to do with friendship and loyalty. I learned this over time. This is the secret of AIPAC’s power, its ability to fund campaigns. When people got together, they’d find ways, even if they’d given a ton of money to AIPAC, they’d still find ways to get money to candidates, Republican or Democrat.”

Though the advent of Oslo raised hopes among Israelis and Palestinians alike that a peace accord might work, inside AIPAC there was strong discontent with Oslo and its implications, and a lot of sympathy for hardliners in Israel, including Benjamin Netanyahu, the bitterest opponent of Oslo and its backers, including Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister. As M. J. Rosenberg, a former AIPAC official, has documented, AIPAC moved steadily to the right from the 1980s onward. According to Weissman, that happened mostly because the group’s biggest donors were right-wing American Jews who identified with Likud rather than the Labor Party and other liberal Israelis. Many of its donors and some its staff split from AIPAC during the Rabin-Oslo era to work with more right-wing groups such as the Zionist Organization of America, says Weissman. After Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli extremist opposed to giving up the occupied territories, an increasingly right-leaning Israel and AIPAC moved more and more into sync. As Weissman tells the story:

“So Rabin is shot. I mean, he won Oslo in the Knesset by one vote! You could imagine that in America there was similar opposition [to Oslo]…. AIPAC had spent the last 15 years helping the Likud, so you’ve got people there that were sucking at the teat of Likud, that was how they viewed things. That’s why so many people left AIPAC. A lot of them went to join ZOA and a lot of them also contributed to the work of Daniel Pipes. When Rabin came in, they had taken their money and left, and there was a lot of turmoil. At the time, I remember, they’d send me around the country, to fundraisers, with a lot of older people, and I would be yelled and screamed at, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this!’ Donors were leaving, taking the money, and that’s really their bread and butter, the lay leadership. AIPAC’s donors were very active in the organization. Very. They were major elements in making policy, in determining the agenda, who the leadership was.

[…]

“I tried my best to sell the peace process. But I tried to sell it in the context of what AIPAC was, that this was the way that Israel could become a permanent Middle East country. But the ideological war inside the Israel lobby, collectively, was extremely bitter — and very close, you know, the tally of votes was very close. I would argue that while most American Jews are probably center-left, the rich ones, the ones who give to organizations, the ones who are involved in politics, tend to be more to the right. Those are the ones who were close to the Israeli government when it was run by the Likud.”

Rabin, in his last years, was angry at AIPAC’s obstructionism, says Weissman. (According to M. J. Rosenberg, in New York Rabin met with liberal Jewish donors and asked them to help finance what become the Israel Policy Forum as a very small but not ineffective counterweight to AIPAC.)

“Because of AIPAC, with the assistance of the right-wing in Israel, who — even though they weren’t the majority in Israel then — they’d come over and have very close contacts with AIPAC’s leaders, prominent financiers, and donors, in order to influence policy…. It was all because of the money that would go from the American Jewish community to politicians in the United States. The pro-Israel bloc in Congress has nothing to do with parties. It had to do with friendship and loyalty. I learned this over time. This is the secret of AIPAC’s power, its ability to fund campaigns. When people got together, they’d find ways, even if they’d given a ton of money to AIPAC, they’d still find ways to get money to candidates, Republican or Democrat.”

Read the entire story: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2011/06/aipac-from-the-inside-1-isolating-iran.html

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