Two documents reported on this week shed a troubling light on the US government’s attitude toward Israel.
The first is a 27-page FBI search warrant affidavit from 2004 targeting then-senior AIPAC lobbyist Steve Rosen, published Wednesday in The Washington Times.
The second is WikiLeaks’ leaked secret State Department cable from October 2008 signed by then-secretary of state Condoleezza Rice directing US officials to spy on Israel.
Both indicate that in certain quarters of the American government, Israel is viewed as at best a banana republic and at worst an enemy of the US.
The text of the FBI affidavit directed against Rosen makes clear that the FBI had no particular reason to suspect that he was an Israeli agent or was harming US national security. Rosen’s activities during his tenure as AIPAC’s senior lobbyist as described in the affidavit – meeting with government officials, journalists and Israeli diplomats – were precisely the type of activities that lobbyists in Washington routinely engage in.
Despite this, the FBI followed Rosen for five years and indicted him and his AIPAC colleague Keith Weissman on felony charges under the all-but-forgotten 1917 Espionage Act. The FBI probe and subsequent trial harmed AIPAC’s reputation, destroyed both men’s careers, and did untold damage to the reputation of both the State of Israel and its American Jewish supporters. That it took five years for the Justice Department to drop these outrageous charges is a testament to the strength of the FBI’s commitment to criminalizing American Jewish advocates of a strong US-Israel alliance.
And then there is Rice’s secret cable. Just days before the 2008 presidential elections, the secretary of state instructed US diplomats in Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well as the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA to conduct a massive espionage operation against Israel. The sought-for information covered all aspects of Israel’s political system, society, communications infrastructures and the IDF.
Regarding the IDF, for instance, among other things, diplomats and spies were asked to gather intelligence on planned Israeli military operations against the Palestinians, Lebanon and Syria, and to probe the attitudes of military commanders.
They were also told to gather information on “IDF units, equipment, maintenance levels, training, morale, and operational readiness[;] IDF tactics, techniques and procedures for conducting conventional and unconventional counterinsurgency and counterterrorist operations[; and] Israeli assessment of the impact of reserve duty in the territories on IDF readiness.”
As for political leaders, among other things, Rice instructed diplomats and spies to provide detailed information about government plans; influences on politicians; how politicians decide to launch military strikes; what Israel’s leaders think about the US; and much more.
Rice also sought information about various aspects of Israeli society. She instructed US diplomats and spies to gather information on everything from “Information on and motivations for any increased Israeli population emigration from Israel” to detailed information on Israeli “settlers” in Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights.
Regarding the “settlers,” among other things, Rice wanted information on “Divisions among various settlement groups[;] details on settlement-related budgets and subsidies[;] settlers’ relationships with the Israeli political and military establishment including their lobbying and settlement methods.”
Rice expressed deep interest as well in all details related to Israel’s military and nonmilitary communications infrastructure. For instance, she directed US officials to gather information on “Current specifications, vulnerabilities, capabilities, and planned upgrades to national telecommunications infrastructure, networks, and technologies used by government and military authorities, intelligence and security services, and the public sector.”
Finally, Rice wanted personal data on Israeli leaders. She asked for “official and personal phone numbers, fax numbers, and e-mail addresses of principal civilian and military leaders.”
Taken side-by-side, the first striking aspect of the US’s fabricated Israeli spy scandal on the one hand and its massive espionage operation against Israel on the other hand is the shocking hypocrisy of it all.
But hypocrisy isn’t the real issue. The real issue exposed by the documents is that the US is carrying out a deeply hostile policy against Israel in the face of massive public support for Israel in the US.
That is, whereas two-thirds of Americans support Israel, a minority constituency in the US government treats Israel with scorn and hatred.
And the question that arises from this is how is this minority able to get away with it? Part of the answer was exposed this week in the aftermath of Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s move on Monday morning to break ranks with the Labor Party. To understand how the two issues are related it is important to understand the plight of Labor since the demise of the peace process with the PLO in 2000.
Despite the fact that its policies are hugely unpopular, two factors have enabled Labor to continue to present itself as a mainstream ruling party.
The first factor has been the media. As has been their practice since the birth of modern Israel, since the demise of the peace process, the media have helped the likes of Labor by demonizing the Right, and rightist politicians and particularly the Likud. Working hand in glove with leftist politicians, the media have implemented the politics of personal destruction against right-wing leaders. By demonizing the likes of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, they have rendered the social cost of supporting Likud and the Right too high for many Israelis to bear.
At the same time, the media have colluded with the Left to present leftist leaders as earthy, heroic, sophisticated and responsible statesmen. By keeping the content of their policies firmly out of the discussion and framing the debate instead around personal attacks and symbols, the media have successfully kept rightist leaders on the defensive and shielded leftist politicians from substantive attacks on their radical policies.
The second reason that Labor was able to retain its mantle as a ruling party is that it has enjoyed the energetic support of the State Department and European governments, both of which support its radical policies.
Until the formation of the Netanyahu government two years ago, Labor was the State Department’s favorite political party. Labor leaders from Shimon Peres down were the objects of constant attention and praise. Labor’s leaders in turn were happy to help the Americans and Europeans hide their basic hostility towards Israel by claiming that their anti-Israel policies were actually pro-Israel policies.
So it was that in 2003, Labor leaders actively colluded with the State Department in drafting the so-called road map plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace despite then-prime minister Ariel Sharon’s opposition to the plan.
Labor’s importance took a hit with the formation of Kadima in late 2005. Comprised of newly minted leftists from Likud led by Sharon and veteran leftists from Labor like Peres, Kadima inherited Labor’s mantle as the Left’s new ruling party.
Labor was able to retain its relevance to the US by joining Ehud Olmert’s coalition and advocating even more radical policies than those advocated by Olmert and Tzipi Livni.
But then Likud and the Right won the 2009 elections. Kadima, led by Livni, went into the opposition and Labor, under Barak, joined the coalition.
As head of the opposition, Livni has become ever more vocal in advocating the policies of the radical Left and the Obama administration. Livni has placed the blame for the absence of the peace process and for the Obama administration’s sour relations with Israel squarely and entirely on Netanyahu’s shoulders.
For his part, Barak has been stuck in an untenable situation. To justify his partnership with Netanyahu, he worked closely with the Obama administration and actively lobbied Netanyahu to adopt the US’s favored positions. The Obama administration rewarded him by regularly hosting him in Washington and openly extolling him as its chosen “Israeli foreign minister.”
But given both his own party’s radicalism and the Obama administration’s hostility towards Netanyahu, Barak was never able to fully satisfy either his party or the Americans. He was never able to move to the left of Livni.
According to Haaretz and to Labor leaders who opposed Barak, the end of the line for Barak came in early January with Haaretz’s publication of a report claiming that the Obama administration had soured on Barak due to his failure to convince Netanyahu to extend the Jewish construction ban in Judea and Samaria for an additional 90 days.
Livni, Haaretz reported, had replaced Barak as the Obama administration’s favorite Israeli politician.
Since the article was published, Barak could no longer maintain the contradiction between Labor’s radical policies and its protestations to ruling party status. Without American support, there was no way to keep Labor together.
This is why, when he announced his break with Labor on Monday morning, Barak explained that Labor had become a radical party that was home to post-Zionists who believe that Israel alone is to blame for the absence of peace. The post-Zionists rejected him when he lost his international support.
So he had nowhere to go but into Netanyahu’s waiting Zionist arms.
This is also why Livni and Kadima have so harshly attacked Barak. In an interview with Army Radio on Tuesday, Livni – whose political career owes entirely to her decision to betray Likud voters – called Barak’s split from Labor “the dirtiest act” in history. More importantly, the woman who claims that Netanyahu is solely to blame for the absence of peace with the Palestinians and that he is wrong not to bow to every US demand protested, “For Barak to call whoever wants peace post- Zionist is unheard of.”
This brings us back to the FBI’s anti-Israel witch hunt and Rice’s spy cable.
Barak lost his ability to serve as the puppet of the anti-Israel wing of the US government because he was unable to both serve under Netanyahu and overthrow him. By pressuring Barak to do the impossible, the anti-Israel officials in the US government inadvertently caused the demise of the Labor Party.
However, with Kadima under Livni, these officials can take heart. Their support for Livni makes her powerful. Owing to their support, Livni is able to maintain her control over the largest party in the Knesset.
And as long as Livni remains both powerful and loyal to their agenda, those forces in the US government that despise the Jewish state will be able to rest easy. Although the majority of Americans want their government to support Israel, shielded by Kadima, these US government officials will be able to continue to implement policies that treat Israel with the contempt due to a banana republic.