AIPAC and Foreign Agent Status?


gideon meir.jpg
(Israeli Ambassador to Italy and former Foreign Ministry Deputy Director General for Public Affairs Gideon Meir: AIPAC can help so much it hurts)
Even the best informed of us can be just real dumb on Friday mornings. I never knew that AIPAC was NOT compelled to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Apparently, the criminal investigation of two AIPAC employees, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, has many in the US-Israel policy community worried that a conviction would compel FARA registration for the organization. I had not seen this debate previously.
One would think that it was obvious that AIPAC was an agent for Israel’s interests and thus would have to register as such.
Then again, to take the alternative position, I guess that there can be “undirected” agents of interest and that AIPAC members are simply advocating policies that they feel are good for the United States with regards to Israel — without direction from Jerusalem.
There is some sense in this. If I wanted to advocate on behalf of smarter U.S. policy towards Cuba, towards Japan, towards Palestine, or towards the United Arab Emirates, then I should be able to do so without a need to register as an agent of foreign interests — particularly since I am taking no direction from those foreign interests.
This is fascinating and explains a mystery that has bothered me for some time.
Pat Choate‘s famous book, Agents of Influence: How Japan’s Lobbyists Manipulate America’s Political and Economic System, has an appendix listing all of the known lawyers and lobbyists operating in Washington on behalf of foreign interests.
But Israel is one of the very few nations not listed. One might have surmised that Pat Choate had enough trouble taking on the Japan lobby at that time that he didn’t want to take on the Israeli lobby as well — but the reason seems to be that AIPAC was not required to file as a foreign agent and thus would not be listed in the book’s appendix.
There are others who can weigh in on whether or not AIPAC is taking instructions from Israel’s government and political leaders. If former Prime Minister Netanyahu is giving orders from his Likud seat, or Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is making requests of AIPAC in its roster of political action efforts, then AIPAC should be registered appropriately. It’s an interesting question.
But one thing that I can report from my trip to Israel last year is that there are some in the Israeli government who do not want to own AIPAC’s actions and advocacy.
Then Israeli Foreign Ministry Deputy Director General for Public Affairs Gideon Meir (and now Israel’s Ambassador to Italy) told me that “AIPAC does not represent the interests of the Israeli government. This organization may mean well but these diaspora organizations — in order to keep and retain their members — present battles in black and white and see only two sides. I have to deal with five sides — or seven sides — to a problem; and sometimes AIPAC and these diaspora groups undermine our efforts.”
This would argue against AIPAC registering as a foreign agent. But if memos came down the pike that Israel is giving AIPAC clear instructions, then the requirement of registration should be implemented.
— Steve Clemons


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