Due to the excellent shoe leather journalism of Mordecai Specktor of American Jewish World in Minneapolis, the local Jewish Community Relations Council has confirmed that it regularly monitors the activities and schedule of local House members like Rep. Keith Ellison, who Israel considers hostile to its interests, on behalf of the Israeli foreign ministry.
Yesterday, Specktor and I had a long discussion about my recollection of conversations contained in surveillance transcripts I read. After approaching the JCRC regarding this, Specktor drew a denial from JCRC director Steve Hunegs that it dealt with the Israeli embassy in Washington. But then I recalled a tremendous amount of activity in the transcripts concerning the Israeli consulate in Chicago (which diplomats confirmed would become a key diplomatic outpost because it was the home of the new president and incoming Conference of Presidents leader). When Spektor returned to the JCRC and asked whether it had had such conversations about Ellison with the Chicago consultate, Huengs released this statement:
As part of our work fostering a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, the JCRC communicates from time to time with the Consul General’s office in Chicago. As you might imagine, some of our conversations necessarily concern federal legislation and policy towards Israel and the Middle East. Accordingly, the JCRC’s conversations with the Consul General’s office have included discussions about members of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation, including Representative Ellison.
The transcripts showed that JCRC staff and consular officers evaluated Ellison as hostile to Israel’s interests. They specifically pointed to his planned trip to Gaza with fellow House member Brian Baird (who formerly represented a hometown Seattle district) just after Operation Cast Lead and to his recent hosting of a trade delegation to Saudi Arabia. They compared Ellison unfavorably to another new member of Congress who was also an African American Muslim, Andre Carson. Carson was someone who, as Margaret Thatcher said about Gorbachev, “we can do business with.” In other words, Carson was a “good Muslim,” Ellison not.
It appears from Hunegs statement that he’s attempting to put his best foot forward and suggest that the Jewish community’s interests overlap those of Rep. Ellison and his constituents. I applaud this. Let’s let the JCRC go back to doing what they do best, which is representing local Jewish interests. If we put Israel above those local interests we will only make enemies, and unnecessarily.
If you read between the lines of Huneg’s statement above, you will find a confirmation of the monitoring the local Jewish community was offering as a service to the Israeli foreign ministry on behalf of Israeli interests. One has to ask, if this type of activity is standard for the Minneapolis JCRC and presumably others across the country, where do the interests of Israel and those of the U.S. diverge? Or do they at all? Is it the role of the official representatives of the American Jewish community to consult with Israeli government officials about local Representatives who Israel (and they) feel are “bad for Israel?” Is it right to peruse Congressmember’s travel schedules to inform the Israeli government when local Representatives may be taking trips deemed harmful to Israel’s interests?
Look, I hate the dual loyalty charge. I think it’s a load of malarkey. But when our Jewish federation staff members essentially collude with Israel’s official representatives on behalf of explicitly Israeli interests, it’s much harder to defend against this charge.
We have to understand as American Jews that there are times when American interests are different from Israeli. When Israel asks us essentially to inform on our elected officials that’s not right and not in our interests as Americans. And I’m not just including this specific incident. The transcripts revealed that American Jewish leaders were willing to sign their names to ghost written op-ed pieces (written largely by embassy or consular staff) in the Boston Herald attacking Iran. They revealed that Aipac and the foreign ministry were sponsoring “bash Iran” conferences in major cities throughout the country (as they did here in Seattle). They revealed intense coördinated lobbying by Israeli diplomats and American Jewish leaders on behalf of harshly punitive legislation against Iran.
This isn’t right. It isn’t kosher. And it isn’t American. I should make clear that I’m not opposed to American Jews lobbying on behalf of American Jewish interests. I’m not opposed to American Jewish lobbying on behalf of a strong, safe Israel. But I am opposed to crossing the red line so that we become mere extensions of Israel’s interests in this country. I am opposed to those such as Aipac who claim that there is never such a distinction. This is wrong and this is pernicious both for Israel and American Jews.
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.