If you’re like me, you find Sy Hersh a bracing, but alarmist and perhaps hyperbole-prone analyst of U.S. policy. I feel likewise about those who propound theories about Israeli penetration of U.S. political, military and security circles. But lately, I’m changing my tune on this.
It began with the Aipac spying scandal involving Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman as the tip-of-the-iceberg conspirators, along with Israeli embassy staffer, Naor Gilon and Pentagon specialist, Larry Franklin. My anxiety level has been ratcheted up a notch or two by the report of Jane Harman’s collusion with what the N.Y. Times calls an “Israeli intelligence operative,” to intercede with the Bush administration to mitigate the charges against the Aipac Two.
It is no secret that Israel maintains one of the most ambitious and energetic spy operations in this country, perhaps second or third only to Russia or China. In this post, I will reveal some not quite so ordinary collusion between the American Jewish community’s leadership and Israeli embassy staffers to monitor the travels and views of a House member they deem to be hostile to Israel’s interests. This isn’t even espionage in the standard sense of the term. More like what the Don used to call: “Keep you friends close, but your enemies closer.” And it still stinks.
Earlier this month, a senior official of Israel’s D.C. embassy contacted a Minneapolis Jewish communal staffer, to inform him about a D.C. meeting between Congressmember Keith Ellison and deputy chief of mission, Jeremy Issacharoff. Ellison, you’ll recall, is the first Muslim-American elected to Congress. He also led a mission a month or so ago to Gaza with Washington State Congressmember Brian Baird.
You can bet your bottom dollar that both local Jewish communal and embassy staff want to monitor Ellison’s every move. Ellison traveled to Saudi Arabia on a state trade mission, which is of course what members of Congress do on a regular basis to drum up business for their state. But that’s a no-no as far as Israel is concerned and grounds for further suspecting Ellison’s motives.
Though the latter’s actual views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are quite moderate (especially considering he is Muslim), my source tells me that the embassy staffer during the conversation only gave Ellison credit for attempting to appear balanced concerning Israel during his meeting with Issacharoff. In fact, the embassy staffer found it so unusual that Ellison didn’t mention war crimes accusations that had surfaced concerned IDF behavior in Gaza, that he noted this in his conversation with the Minneapolis staffer.
Minneapolis seems to be a hotbed of pro-Israel communal activism. A local Aipac activist once accused Cong. Betty McCollum of supporting terrorism because she would not support an Aipac congressional resolution. The local JCRC also encouraged a local college to cancel a speech by Nobel Prize winner Desmond Tutu, falsely claiming that he’d likened Israel to Hitler. It should be no surprise then that local communal staffers are such willing handmaidens to the intelligence work of the State of Israel. And perhaps no surprise that there may be others with a conscience in Minneapolis or in D.C. who find this behavior reprehensible.
The life of an Israeli embassy staffer appears to be little more than that of a glorified baseball statistician. They do head counts of who’s pro-Israel in Congress and who’s not. They meet with their friends on the Hill to thank them for flacking, er, speaking on Israel’s behalf and they meet with their perceived enemies to distribute Israeli talking points which somehow will miraculously persuade them of the error of their ways.
In an unrelated matter, almost everyone knows that Israel is desperate to advance the notion of an Iranian existential threat to Israel. That country’s intelligence apparatus attempts to insert this narrative into U.S. political discourse every chance it gets.
I’ve been informed by a confidential source that in September 2008, before one of the presidential debates, an Israeli operative attempted unsuccessfully to meet with a debate panelist in order to plant a question about war against Iran: would the candidates take military action against that country or accept a nuclear armed Iran? The Israelis did NOT want any question that asked what the candidates might do if Israel attacked Iran. This is probably because they want to plant in the minds of Americans that war with Iran may be necessary. That way, if Israel does attack, the news will not be such a shock. But they do not want Americans to think too long and hard about Israel being the initiator of such a conflict. That would give them time to think about the reasons why this might not be such a good idea.
There is probably nothing illegal in anything I’ve described. Indeed, Israel’s supporters will argue that I’ve only described Israelis and American Jews doing their jobs. But I have a different take: why do American Jewish leaders and the Israeli embassy need to have such a symbiotic relationship? Why should American Jews be providing intelligence to Israel about a U.S. congressmember doing his job on behalf of his constituents? At the least, it’s unseemly and doesn’t speak well for those who (like me) argue against the notion of dual loyalty.
And why should Israeli intelligence attempt to intervene so overtly in an American presidential campaign? I wonder what an Israeli voter might think if he or she discovered that U.S. intelligence operatives were planting questions during Israeli election debates.
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.