The following is an excerpt from Foreign Agents: The American Israel Public Affairs Committee From the 1963 Fulbright Hearings to the 2005 Espionage Scandal
Martin Indyk, an Australian and naturalized US citizen, is the former deputy director of research at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Indyk helped establish the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) in 1984 with the support of AIPAC board member and activist Barbi Weinberg. Weinberg “had for over a decade privately wrestled with the idea of creating a foreign policy center.”1 After the establishment of WINEP, Indyk stated that he was still dissatisfied and wished to establish an institution capable of escaping AIPAC’s reputation as a “strongly biased organization.”1 Indyk would later go on to found the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. The center was initially funded by a $13 million grant from Israeli dual citizen and television magnate Haim Saban,2 famously quoted by the New York Times as saying, “I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel.”3 He also funded and established the Saban Institute for the Study of the American Political System within the University of Tel Aviv.4
WINEP’s role within the AIPAC power constellation is clear. While AIPAC lobbies with brute force for yearly aid allocations and enforces adherence to Israeli doctrine in Congress, WINEP polishes and shines Israeli policy objectives as pure expressions of US foreign policy interests. AIPAC is secretive about its internal deliberations and activities, but the highly sociable WINEP cultivates the image of a serious group of objective “scholars and wonks” deliberating Middle East policies in a rigorously academic fashion. WINEP not only hosts symposiums and conferences, but also conducts closed-door meetings with US politicians and distributes books and other publications rich in toned-down AIPAC ideology.
While AIPAC officials are loath to do live media events, especially with call-in or other potentially interactive audience segments, WINEP analysts and authors are omnipresent across major news- and policy-oriented programs. However, media announcements rarely mention WINEP’s overlap with AIPAC and other members of the Israel lobby or its close connections to Israel, although this would provide listeners and viewers with useful context for understanding the organization’s sophisticated positions. WINEP is also a place for grooming future presidential appointees, and it is perceived as a less controversial and more credible stepping stone to power than AIPAC.
Although AIPAC does not list WINEP as an affiliate in its IRS filings, in 2004 26% of AIPAC’s board of directors were also trustees of WINEP.5
WINEP’s ability to place stories that sway American public opinion toward supporting Israeli objectives is quantitatively revealed by analyzing the number of print media stories developed from WINEP content and analysts over a period of five critical years. Access, rather than merit or quality of content, drives WINEP’s news media success, according to former Middle East Studies Association President Joel Beinin:
While Aipac targets Congress through the massive election campaign contributions that it coordinates and directs, Winep concentrates on influencing the media and the executive branch. To this purpose it offers weekly lunches with guest speakers, written policy briefs, and “expert” guests for radio and television talk shows. Its director for policy and planning, Robert Satloff; its deputy director, Patrick Clawson; its senior fellow, Michael Eisenstadt, and other associates appear regularly on radio and television. Winep views prevail in two weekly news magazines, US News and World Report and The New Republic (whose editors-in-chief, Mortimer Zuckerman and Martin Peretz, sit on Winep’s board of advisers). The views of Winep’s Israeli associates, among them journalists Hirsh Goodman, David Makovsky, Ze’ev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari, are spoon-fed to the American media.6
An analysis of major print coverage of WINEP-attributed content between the years 2001 and 2006 reveals that WINEP is not always engaged in a full-on media blitz. Rather, its media power is exercised cyclically as initiatives are strategically “brought to market.” In 2002, WINEP went on the offensive, tying the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US to Israel’s own efforts to subdue Palestinians and making a broad and vitriolic call for a greater US military role in the Middle East. Using the ProQuest print media database citations as an index, WINEP boosted war messaging media placements by 7%. In 2002-2003, AIPAC went into overdrive, secretly working Congress to support the ill-fated invasion of Iraq based on “weapons of mass destruction” and other pretexts. WINEP “analysts” began an all-out media blitz to “substantiate pretexts” and urge a hasty US military invasion of Iraq in the face of global opposition. Dennis Ross, the ubiquitous director of WINEP, eloquently appealed for public rejection of containment and other measures short of immediate US military invasion in a typical Baltimore Sun op-ed on March 13, 2003:
Sooner or later, Mr. Hussein, with nukes, would miscalculate again, making the unthinkable in the Middle East all too likely.
Some might reasonably argue that there are better ways to ensure he does not acquire nuclear weapons. Enhanced containment, with open-ended and intrusive inspections, could prevent Mr. Hussein from acquiring or developing these weapons. True, but is such a regime realistic? When the Bush administration came to power, the existing containment regime was fraying.
The alternative of war has made France a convert to enhanced containment for the time being. It has also provided Mr. Hussein an incentive to grudgingly, and always at the last minute, take the minimal steps required to keep us at bay.
Does anyone believe that in the absence of more than 200,000 U.S. troops in the area Mr. Hussein would be taking even his minimal steps? How long would he continue to “cooperate” if the troops weren’t there? How long would the French insist on intrusive inspections if we weren’t on the brink of war? And how long can we keep such a large military presence in the area?
The unfortunate truth is that we cannot maintain a war footing indefinitely. The paradox is that our large-scale military presence creates the potential to contain Iraq, but it is sustainable neither from our standpoint nor from the standpoint of the region. Either we will use it to disarm Mr. Hussein or we will within the next few months have to withdraw it. And once we began to remove it, several new and dangerous realities would emerge.7
The WINEP media placement index reveals a jump from 611 to 672 between the year 2002 and 2003 — a 10% increase in mainly Iraq-invasion-focused media placements.
In the post-invasion fallout after public discovery that weapons of mass destruction were not the imminent threat to the US that had been portrayed by WINEP and many other operatives, WINEP saw no need to maintain a “surge”-level media blitz. The mission of getting US troops into Iraq, mirroring Israel’s own occupation of Palestinian territories, had been accomplished.
However, the post-invasion index jump from 430 to 630 indicates that WINEP is again on a mission. It is no secret that the new military objective is Israel’s arch-nemesis, Iran. Although the US public is vastly more skeptical about the claims of war partisans, the 47% increase in Iran-centric WINEP media placements should be understood as a leading indicator of military conflict in 2008 if WINEP and AIPAC meet their objectives. Given the elite status and political muscle of WINEP trustees, the efforts of AIPAC’s think tank should not be underestimated, especially in an election year. WINEP meets before the entry of a new president to debate and draft the administration’s Middle East “blueprint.” Many WINEP trustees believe that this policy mandate affecting all Americans is the prerogative of its handpicked commission members, including officials of the Israeli military establishment. Brian Whitaker of The Guardian questioned whether any other foreign principal could accomplish the same maneuver.
The Washington Institute is considered the most influential of the Middle East think tanks, and the one that the state department takes most seriously. Its director is the former US diplomat, Dennis Ross.
Besides publishing books and placing newspaper articles, the institute has a number of other activities that for legal purposes do not constitute lobbying, since this would change its tax status.
It holds lunches and seminars, typically about three times a week, where ideas are exchanged and political networking takes place. It has also given testimony to congressional committees nine times in the last five years.
Every four years, it convenes a “bipartisan blue-ribbon commission” known as the Presidential study group, which presents a blueprint for Middle East policy to the newly-elected president.
The institute makes no secret of its extensive links with Israel, which currently include the presence of two scholars from the Israeli armed forces.
Israel is an ally and the connection is so well known that officials and politicians take it into account when dealing with the institute. But it would surely be a different matter if the ally concerned were a country such as Egypt, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.8
AIPAC’s influence in the US news media leads to curious and generally unnoticed subsidiary alumni reunions. On June 14, 2007, following a Hamas takeover of Palestinian installations in Gaza, Wolf Blitzer invited Dennis Ross into the CNN situation room to give his perspective on the instability. Customarily, Dennis Ross’s new book and WINEP affiliation were mentioned; AIPAC and the pervasive Israel connection were not. Equally unmentioned were Wolf Blitzer’s former career as a reporter and editor of the Near East Report (AIPAC’s newsletter) in the 1970s or his authorship of a comprehensive apologia downplaying the damage caused to the US by Jonathan Pollard’s spying for Israel in his book Territory of Lies.9
Although WINEP’s media influence is growing, compared to other think tanks, AIPAC’s ability to place public policy messages in the news media through WINEP was comparatively limited until 2002. Thanks to a timely “acquisition,” AIPAC and WINEP can now count on broader promulgation of AIPAC policy ideas through the Brookings Institution, one of the oldest and most highly regarded public policy think tanks in the United States.
The Saban Center for Middle East Policy
Brookings Institution Middle East policy research was placed under the direction of former AIPAC deputy director for research Martin Indyk in May of 2002. In an Internet video presenting the Saban Center, Indyk vastly understates both Haim Saban’s biography and his contribution to Brookings by referring to it as merely the “generosity of a Los Angeles businessman.” In 2006, Forbes magazine more accurately described Saban as the 98th richest person in America and the “Egyptian-born, Israeli-raised, now-American cartoon king.”10Indyk does not, however, understate how assembling hand-picked researchers to produce tightly messaged policy research can be thought of as “a business” in his Saban Center introductory video.
Haim Saban, a, uh, businessman in Los Angeles, came to Brookings with a desire to see us do more work on the Middle East issue. On the issues of the peace process, and terrorism, and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and energy issues. And, uh, was prepared to put up the funds to get the center started. Through Haim Saban’s generosity, we are now able to launch a much larger effort to promote innovative policies, research and analysis that brings together the best minds in the business.11
It is useful to carry Indyk’s “business” analogy a bit further. In 2003, Haim Saban led the $5.7 billion purchase of Kirch Media Group; in 2001, News Corporation and Saban sold Fox Family Worldwide for $5.1 billion. Saban was part of an investor group that won the bid for Univision, the biggest Spanish-language media corporation in the United States, in June of 2006. Financially speaking, Saban’s $13 million Brookings investment secured control over one of the most financially robust as well as influential policy think tanks. In 2005, the Brookings Institution’s net assets totaled $269,660,363.12 From Saban’s perspective as a savvy media player concerned with promoting the policies of Israel’s government, taking over Brookings Middle East policy by launching the Saban Center in 2002 was yet another sound and extremely timely business investment — this time, in the marketplace of ideas. According to 2002 research by media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Brookings led think tanks in total US media influence, measured by the number of policy analyst and report citations appearing in major US media.
By targeting and taking over Middle East policy at Brookings in 2002, Saban and Indyk were able to “leapfrog” AIPAC messaging from second to last in the think tank market (WINEP had only 2%) to first place. Taking over Brookings also made it appear to Americans that there was now an “expert consensus” from “right to left” on the key Middle East policy issue of the year: the US invasion of Iraq on weapons of mass destruction pretexts. Brookings is often portrayed as a “centrist to left think tank” in the corporate news media. According to FAIR, “Progressive or Left-Leaning” media citations were a small but important segment of the marketplace of ideas, but combined with “centrist,” they represented the majority. For Saban and Indyk, taking over Brookings Middle East policy in 200213 meant penetrating the 63% of the marketplace of ideas that was generally not beating a drum for war in Iraq.
The arguments in favor of the Iraq invasion in the many Saban Center articles appearing across major newspapers, such as “Lock and Load” by Martin Indyk and Kenneth M. Pollack, Director of Research at Saban, did not differ in message from those of AIPAC’s own Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Dennis Ross. It would have been odd if they did, since, like Indyk, Kenneth Pollack worked at WINEP as a “research fellow” specializing on Iraq.14
Rather, the Bush administration could take the time it needs to “study” the Iraqi declaration, discussing its falsehoods and fabrications with allied governments until it has lined up all the necessary political and military ducks. Once the best case has been made and the preparations completed (probably in a few weeks), President Bush could announce that, in accordance with United Nations Resolution 1441, we and our allies have concluded that Iraq is in material breach of the 1991 cease-fire resolution and therefore the U.S. will lead a coalition to disarm Iraq by force.
If there must be war, this is the best way. The problem with allowing the inspections to play themselves out is that it is a policy based on hope, and as Secretary of State Colin Powell is fond of saying, “hope is not a plan.”
There is real risk in allowing the inspections to run on indefinitely. The longer the inspections go on and find nothing, the harder it will be for the U.S. to build a coalition when we finally decide to take action.15
The takeover of Brookings Middle East policy by an AIPAC operative and Israeli-American businessman represents an evolution in AIPAC influence over think tanks. From a business perspective, AIPAC has moved from “investment in startups” to “establishing subsidiaries” to the more recent stage of “corporate takeovers and acquisitions.” AIPAC has evolved strategically as a result of success and failure. Financing Dr. Benjamin Shwadran’s highly academic policy research at the Council on Middle East Affairs with Jewish Agency funding laundered through the Rabinowitz Foundation was problematic and nearly crumbled under the glare of Fulbright’s 1963 Senate probe. Even setting up the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in 1984 with AIPAC donor funds and board member involvement still did not give AIPAC the desired influence level of other less “captive” think tanks, particularly in the US news media. The takeover of Middle East policy at Brookings achieved what AIPAC had long sought in the marketplace of public policy: prestige, ideological spectrum dominance, and the highest level of achievable corporate media placement for its public policy initiatives. The American people are now more susceptible than ever before to AIPAC’s “weapons of mass destruction” propaganda campaigns and other targeted media messages emanating from its right, left, and center public policy “think tanks.” AIPAC and Saban are apparently convinced that the same messages can be effectively rebranded and simultaneously broadcast from both WINEP and Brookings. “Lock and Load” co-author Kenneth Pollack proved this during media appearances on CNN and Fox News in which he was successfully positioned as a liberal Bush Iraq war critic gradually coming to see the wisdom of the US military occupation, as documented by news watchdog Media Matters:
During the July 30 edition of CNN Newsroom, anchor Heidi Collins introduced Kenneth Pollack of The Brookings Institution by saying that Pollack “has been a vocal critic of the administration’s handling of the [Iraq] war, but he says that an eight-day visit has changed his outlook a bit.” Collins also said that Pollack’s “tune is changing a bit” with respect to the war. Pollack went on to discuss how a recent visit to Iraq has left him “more optimistic” about the war. However, while focusing on Pollack’s criticisms of the “handling” of the war, Collins failed to note that Pollack was an influential proponent of the Iraq invasion before it happened, leaving viewers with the impression that Pollack was a war opponent who has become more supportive of the war. Pollack’s 2002 book on the subject was titled The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.16
Saban and AIPAC can be confident that few of the message’s target viewing population knew about Pollack’s record or key financial backer. They can also count on a new generation of eager AIPAC activists to populate think tanks and congressional offices in coming years thanks to “Saban Training” at AIPAC.
This summer GDI is proud to send two of its members to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Saban Training. On July 22, Joshua Sussman and Jen Sovronsky will travel to Washington, DC for 4 days of intense advocacy training.
The Saban conference is AIPAC’s premier student political leadership training seminar, presented through its Schusterman Advocacy Institute, is held twice each year in Washington, D.C. More than three hundred of AIPAC’s top student activists from over 100 campuses participate in three days of intense grassroots political and advocacy training. During this seminar, students meet with top Washington policy makers, elected officials, and Middle East experts.17
However, even as Saban advocacy training and activities continue in Washington, the potentially explosive outcome of a criminal trial across the Potomac in the Eastern District Court of Virginia could change the way many Americans view AIPAC.
- Mark Milstein, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 1991. [↩] [↩]
- Grant F. Smith, “Israel Lobby Initiates Hispanic Strategy.” [↩]
- Andrew Ross Sorkin, New York Times, September 5, 2004. [↩]
- Phyllis Berman, Forbes Magazine, December 8, 2006. [↩]
- AIPAC Board Members on WINEP’s Board as listed in 2004 IRS form 990 filings include Robert Asher, Paul Baker, Edward Levy, Mayer Mitchell, Larry Mizel, Lester Pollack, Nina Rosenwald, Eugene Schupak, Roseelyne Swig, James Tisch, Larry Weinberg, Tim Wurlinger and Harriet Zimmerman. [↩]
- Joel Beinin, Le Monde Diplomatique, July 2003. [↩]
- Ross, Dennis, Baltimore Sun, March 19, 2003. [↩]
- Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, August 19, 2002. [↩]
- Territory of Lies: The Exclusive Story of Jonathan Jay Pollard: The American Who Spied on His Country for Israel and How He Was Betrayed [↩]
- Forbes Magazine, September 21, 2006. [↩]
- Director’s Introductory Video, Brookings Saban Center Website. [↩]
- Brookings Institution form 990 filing for its fiscal year ending June 30, 2005. [↩]
- Brookings Saban Center Website. [↩]
- Profile of Pollack from the WINEP website archive [↩]
- Martin Indyk, Los Angeles Times, December 19, 2002. [↩]
- Media Matters, July 30, 2007. [↩]
- University of Albany community website. [↩]