Thanks to a confidential source, I’ll be lifting the veil, in this post, on Israeli intelligence gathering regarding members of Congress from the Midwest. Before I do, I want to make clear that what I’m about to describe is not espionage and doesn’t even involve the Mossad, which does operate here in the U.S. This is just run of the mill intelligence gathering. But what makes this especially interesting is that despite the fact that the individuals below are doing nothing illegal, the tone and contents of their remarks are so objectionable, that one wonders what one would find if one knew what the Mossad was up to here.
My source informs me that last month, Israeli diplomats in Jerusalem, Chicago and Washington made a series of calls to review the status of relationships with the Midwest’s members of Congress. Senior diplomats from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained to Israeli diplomatic personnel that the purpose of getting to know these elected officials was to advance Israel’s agenda in Congress. In other words, Israel pursues a diplomatic strategy in this country that involves overt lobbying for Israel’s interests.
I’m not conversant with how other foreign governments handle such activity via their embassies and consulates, but I’d venture to say that if the average American knew that not only were various Israel lobby groups like the Israel Project, Aipac, Stand With Us, and many others advancing a pro-Israel political agenda, but a foreign embassy was doing so not only on its own, but in close collaboration with these domestic Jewish groups–that such campaigning would raise a red flag in the eyes of many.
I repeat something I wrote last night. I detest the accusation of dual loyalty and find it a despicable canard. But in truth, Israel’s government seems only too happy to place U.S. Jews in such a position that this charge becomes credible. And American Jewish groups and leaders are willing participants.
According to my source, the senior representative from the Washington D.C. embassy focussed his efforts of the Chicago consulate because the president hails from the city, as does the new chair of the Conference of Presidents, and Aipac’s incoming president.
In general, Israeli diplomats are most interested in members of Congress who serve on the intelligence, defense, foreign affairs and appropriations committees since those deal with issues of most concern to Israel. This explains peripherally, why they would devote so much time and attention to cultivating Jane Harman, since she stood to become chair of the House intelligence committee if Pelosi had agreed to retain her on the committee (which she didn’t).
The Israeli officials involved in these calls and meetings displayed a combination of chutzpah and arrogance in evaluating their Congressional targets. My informant indicates they were annoyed at their inability to gain access to Sen. Russell Feingold despite the fact that his sister is a rabbi and has visited Israel. Note that a trip to Israel in their view is like a tetanus inoculation bestowing excellent pro-Israel health and antibodies against “pro-Arab propaganda.”
When a diplomat described Rep. David Obey as not a great friend of Israel and borderline hostile, the D.C. embassy representative reminded his staff that they could schedule meetings with staff when Congress members are not available (which presumably would positively influence their boss).
There is a strong underlying theme of Iran as playing an important role in the Israeli diplomatic agenda here in the U.S. My source tells me the Israelis have noted that Sen. John Thune introduced anti-Iran legislation in the last session and that Rep. Mark Kirk planned to introduce new punitive legislation targeting that country. The Israelis sang the praises of Sen. Sam Brownback, who planned a conference that would exert economic pressure on Iran. The D.C. embassy plans to follow up with him to encourage his plans.
Sen. Clare McCaskill is a particular focus of the Israelis because she is a confidant of the president and a member of the armed services and homeland security committees. The Israelis plan to establish close relations with McCaskill and her staff. Another Missouri legislator, Russ Carnahan, receives no such royal treatment. He is viewed, like Obey, as not friendly to Israel. Why? Because during a meeting with him, he highlighted to the Israeli representative his sympathy for the poor people of Gaza. The reason for this sympathy in the eyes of the Israelis? The legislator was poisoned by information from the Arab lobby.
Once again we can see the close coordination between the Israeli government and local Jewish leaders, as when one Israeli diplomat said that members of the St. Louis Jewish community conveyed their “expectations” to Carnahan and reminded him on which side his bread was buttered. It appears that the local community and embassy serve as one-two knockout punches in the face of hostile targets like Carnahan.
My source told me Israeli diplomatic staff have noted a problematic relationship with two Minnesota representatives, Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum. Though they consider Ellison, a Muslim, “not anti-Israel,” they noted he was quite attentive to the Arab lobby. Clearly they were keeping a close eye on Ellison’s schedule as they knew he was receiving an UNWRA briefing that very day about conditions in Gaza.
My source told me further, the Israelis noted with displeasure that Ellison has teamed up with Washington State Rep. Brian Baird (the two visited Gaza together around the time that John Kerry took a separate trip there–the two Congressional visits served to highlight the horrible conditions under which Gazans lived in the aftermath of the war last winter).
My source has learned that the Israelis are monitoring a new Indiana representative, Andre Carson who like Ellison is Muslim. But it seems they playing “good Muslim, bad Muslim,” as Carson, they noted, hasn’t yet taken any “radical” positions and therefore might serve as a counter-weight to “bad Muslim” Ellison.
This is how the Israelis play the game. They’re kicking ass and taking names. They’ll skirt right up to the edge of impropriety and even go over it if they feel they can. The only way to rein them in is by revelations such as the Jane Harman story or the Aipac Two spying scandal. These incidents chasten them for a time–till they are emboldened once again (remember Jonathan Pollard and the Israeli pledge never to engage in domestic U.S. spying?).
The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. In the case of Israel’s domestic intelligence gathering, this is doubly true.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.