America’s Defense Line:
The Justice Department’s Battle to Register the Israeli Lobby as Agents of a Foreign Government
by Grant F. Smith
(Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy, Washington, D.C., 2008)
Hardcover ISBN: 0-9764437-2-4
Paperback ISBN: 0-9764437-5-9 (only available from Middle East Books)
Grant Smith’s latest book, America’s Defense Line: The Justice Department’s Battle to Register the Israel Lobby as Agents of a Foreign Government, combines probing investigative journalism with newly released documents to produce a searing expose of the Israel lobby’s1 invasive osmosis into the seams of the US government. Readers of Smith’s previous book Foreign Agents (see review) will find it segues smoothly with his new work.
Smith filed Freedom of Information Act requests with numerous government agencies and was rewarded with over 1000 pages of formerly classified documents. He has used these to produce a well referenced book and incorporated many previously unpublished documents in its rich appendix.
While Smith focuses on the genesis and development of the Lobby in the US, his account also encompasses the rise of Zionism under Theodor Herzl and its entrenchment in historical Palestine under Chaim Weizmann, David Ben Gurion and other prominent leaders. Nonetheless, Smith only skims the surface definition of what Zionism actually is, preferring to instead reveal how it created “facts on the ground” in the Middle East and the United States. This is accomplished by relating the story of Isaiah L. “Si” Kenen, the father of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). This approach allows readers to glean deeper insights into the roots of Zionism in America and what propels the Lobby today.
It is the book’s foreword by journalist Philip Weiss that drives home what Zionism entails from a human rights perspective: “[I]t is undeniable that AIPAC has played a calamitous part in American politics by guaranteeing official indifference to Palestininan suffering and by underwriting the occupation and disastrous role in fostering the occupation and colonization of the West Bank…” Insouciance toward injustice meted out to fellow human beings may not stir some consciences, but the machinations of the Lobby extend beyond inflicting suffering on Palestinians. As Smith warns, US interests are imperiled at home in many areas: democracy, commerce, rule of law, security, addressing terrorism at root causes in addition to questions of international reputation.
Smith’s history avoids stereotypes or broad brush statements about “world Jewry.” He provides references throughout America’s Defense Line that, contrary to the core proposition of the Lobby, Jews are not a monolith and questions the ongoing myth of a “Jewish vote.” The book also highlights an all but forgotten battle pitting Zionist Jews against eloquent anti-Zionist Rabbis and business leaders. One was the chairman of Sears, Roebuck and company and benefactor of the National Gallery of Art. Smith’s quotation of the American Council for Judaism ‘s Lessing J. Rosenwald is telling: “We seek one thing only for Jews: a status of equality of rights and obligations throughout the world.” Nonetheless, despite ongoing productive dissension, Zionists carved out the more powerful and vocal niche of influence in US politics. The enabler was the takeover of American Jewish relief fundraising in the United States explicitly directed by David Ben-Gurion in a key meeting.
Smith delineates how campaign contributions secured an early hold on American presidential politics with the Lobby’s quiet financial backing of Harry Truman. In the 1948 presidential election, Truman was trailing the favored Republican challenger Thomas Dewey. With the backing of New York magnate Abraham Feinberg, an early “contributions bundler” who tapped into Zionist dollars, Truman became president. It was with Truman that quiet influence buying at the executive level for critical political appointees and policy formulation was firmly established in Washington. It continued into the administrations of John F Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson to steer administration policy away from questions over Israeli nuclear weapons development and peace initiatives involving compensation and repatriation of expulsed Palestinians. It remains ensconced as Democratic and Republican presidential aspirants genuflect before AIPAC conventions and vetting councils.
Cash flow has never been a purely unidirectional motivation—Feinberg personally benefited both financially and in terms of political power for his services to Israel as Smith quotes him, “My path to power was cooperation in terms of what they needed–campaign money.” Analysis of the Truman administration’s internal correspondence reveals intense Zionist lobbying and how Truman personally acceded to demands for recognition of the Jewish state in historical Palestine, despite strong opposition from relevant US government agencies.
Along with lobbying, terrorism and arms smuggling have long been major, hidden and effective tactics of Zionist operatives. Much of it is carried by US based entities claiming to be charities. Smith points to their involvement in post WWII surplus arms theft and smuggling by operatives—some posing as US military personnel in Europe—first among the many false flag operations by Israel. The use of nonprofit charitable corporations to smuggle arms and launder money continues to this day—White House lobbyist Jack Abramoff channeled sniper equipment through the tax exempt “Capitol Athletic Foundation” to West Bank “settlers” before he was convicted. Smith adds to an irrefutable and growing body of research showing how such money laundering for colonization and arms smuggling generates terrorism and blowback against the United States.
The facilitating strategy for financing and supporting Israel in the United States was and continues to be media manipulation and denying relevant venues to dissenters. Recognizing the influence of the corporate media, the Lobby executed a comprehensive public relations campaign in the 1960s funded by Israeli money involving “cultivation of editors” and public relations professionals, funding elite university professors, book publishing and grassroots local media pressure groups spread across the United States. This short but amazing 1962-1963 public relations document is reprinted in the appendix. Its many vestiges are still clearly visible in US mainstream media today.
The 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) theoretically should have brought Israel’s foreign agents and their propagandizing under the purview of domestic scrutiny and regulation. But the Lobby largely dodged and eluded in-depth examination of its records and activities. Isaiah L. Kenen, formerly in the employ of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, told the Justice Department he severed ties and stopped receiving Israeli government funding when he terminated his FARA registration in 1951. In the same year Kenen formed the nucleus of AIPAC; yet, Smith reveals, he continued to receive both funding and guidance from the Israeli government.
A large number of the declassified documents Smith references deal with the DOJ demand that AIPAC’s precursor register under FARA in 1962. Yet the lobby avoided accountability and disclosure through stalling, regime change in Washington after Kennedy’s assasination, and interminable corporate shell games and reorganizations. The lobby did finally disclose the names of a few individuals and institutions receiving Israeli money to lobby in 1965 but insisted the DOJ not make it available to the public. Smith describes one strategy document as seeming “purpose-built to violate every line of FARA disclosure laws.” The DOJ acquiesced, and the file remained classified until June of 2008.
This secrecy was a coup for Kenen and the Lobby which went on to secure and entrench massive quantities of taxpayer funded US “aid” for Israel. The irony is that Israel used the money contrary to stated US policy, such as nuclear nonproliferation and Middle East peace by not only funding “settlements” in occupied territory but also an arsenal of atomic weapons. In fact, the US taxpayer has, in essence, been paying Israel to lobby the Congress, as Israel laundered tax exempt global donations and commingled Israeli government funds back into Capitol Hill.
The lobby’s attempts to influence US electoral campaigns was not entirely invisible to politicians and has always had the potential to generate resentment. An irate John F. Kennedy is paraphrased as essentially being told by one Zionist funder: “We’re willing to pay your bills if you’ll let us control your Middle East policy.” Obviously Israeli policy would then become US policy.
There is a reason for the existence of all lobbies; simply put, lobbying works. Lobbying and propaganda of the stealth variety is particularly potent, and America’s Defense Line provides plenty of detailed supporting evidence. FARA’s core purpose was to provide domestic oversight of the activities of foreign agents active in the US, and was highly effective until its final showdown with Israel. How did the Lobby evade such oversight? While Smith writes of periods of “FARA malaise” and selective prosecution euphemized within the DOJ as “prosecutorial discretion,” it is the Lobby’s persistent influence over the executive branch that allows AIPAC to elude constitutional mandates that the laws of the land be faithfully executed.
Now AIPAC’s mantra pronounces itself free of FARA and able interface with the Israeli government and the Congress as it sees fit — it engages in precisely the types of activity the law was meant to regulate. As Smith puts it, there is a great deal of confidence “that if an assertion is repeated often and broadly enough, history will be ignored.”
Smith’s solution to severely corrupted FARA oversight is simply to enforce the handful other laws already on the books — the Logan Act, the 1917 Espionage Act, and federal election laws — that tend to improve policy formulation and governance. For people requiring deeper incentives, Smith argues that this is also in Americans’ economic self-interest. Smith cites convincing research that links a decline in governance and rule of law with a commensurate decline in the wealth of the populace. Yet generating warranted law enforcement remains the challenge.
Washington has become ever more resistant to rule of law when applied to entrenched political elites. America’s Defense Line details how certain campaign financing and off the books incentives, much of it now legal, has been used to ensnare politicians willing to sell out their independence and sometimes their political beliefs to foreign interests. This lies behind the recent spate of “executive privilege” and “State secrets” claims being used to extricate criminal wrongdoers from the purview of US courts. This is a topic largely beyond the focus of Smith’s book, but what Smith has pointed out is that stealth foreign lobbies unduly influence the system of politics in the US to the detriment of average Americans. An obvious conclusion would be that lobbying must be regulated through transparency, which is precisely what FARA was originally legislated to do in the US.
But consider the current predicament of the hypothetical politician who aspires to elected office and openly proclaims an even-handed approach to Middle East policy. A lobby essentially financed and created for the benefit of a foreign government will crush them long before election day. From a purely patriotic viewpoint, the renewed regulation of campaign financing and application of law could protect the constitution and average US citizens from this harmful influence. Yet the silence of law enforcement is deafening. This will change. For observant Americans armed with knowledge from this book, any politician’s loud unquestioning support for Israel provides irrefutable evidence of the Lobby making unwitting traitors out of would-be American patriots.
- I submit that the designation Israel lobby is misleading, and therefore, I avoid it. To call it an Israel lobby masks that this lobby does not represent the Palestinians in Israel who constitute about 20% of the population. [↩]