Large congressional junkets to Israel have become such
fixtures in Washington, DC, that few Americans now question their curious
These periodic pilgrimages were once contentious and of such
dubious legality for AIPAC�s founder he had to tread a cautious line between
Congress, the Executive, the State Department, and US Department of Justice
Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) enforcement section.
FARA was passed in 1938 to protect Americans from undue
influence over Congress by foreign lobbies. It netted up assorted Communists
with Soviet connections and Nazis corresponding with the Reich in the 1940s. They
were prosecuted not for their activities, but rather their failure to properly
notify Americans of their true foreign government sponsors, and required
disclosures at a public FARA office visited often by reporters.
Isaiah L. Kenen, the founder of the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee, had to tread especially carefully. In the early 1950s, he
was still on the payroll of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, running a
propaganda outfit called the Israel Office of Information. Though he
occasionally lobbied for arms and money in Washington while still registered as a
foreign agent for the Israeli government, Kenen wanted to break away from all
31, 1951, Kenen left the employment of the Israeli government to
lobby for AIPAC�s parent organization, the American Zionist Council according
to his book, �Israel�s Defense Line�:
On January 31, 1951, it was decided
that I should leave the Israeli government and spearhead the lobbying campaign
for the Zionist Council.
On February 13,  I notified the Department of Justice that I was withdrawing as an agent of a
foreign principal, and I then filed with the Clerk of the House and the
Secretary of the Senate in conformity with domestic lobbying law.
In November of 1951, Kenen traveled to Israel where the
government paid him $2,518 to receive and give tours to a visiting delegation
of US congressional representatives who had just passed a $65 million aid
package for Israel. According to Kenen�s book �All My Causes,�
During ensuing weeks I continued to
escort visiting Congressmen: Ribicoff, Fugate, Keating, O�Toole, Barrett and
Fein . . . It soon became evident to me that I could be more useful in
Washington than in Israel.
Kenen claimed in a letter to the Department of Justice that
he left the employment of the AZC (American Zionist Council) but that he was
also not acting as a paid foreign agent of the Israeli government for the trip.
Kenen immediately returned to the AZC and took up lobbying. In the early 1960s,
a Senate inquiry into the activities of US agents of foreign principals
found Kenen never really left the employment of the Israeli government. Kenen
was paid the equivalent of $38,000 from the quasi governmental Jewish Agency to
publish and distribute his lobbying newsletter, the Near East Report. The
American Zionist Council received the equivalent of $35 million in foreign
funds to start Israel lobbying groups across America to press Capitol Hill for
ever more arms and aid to Israel, and to isolate Arab regimes.
Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy ordered the AZC to
register as a foreign agent, and that it begin publicly filing required
disclosures of all of its activities. The AZC was apoplectic. Simon Rifkin, the
AZC�s legal counsel pleaded to the Justice Department that such registration
would �eventually destroy the Zionist movement.�
After JFK�s assassination, the DOJ effort to publicly
register the AZC quietly disbanded. AZC folded lobbying efforts into AIPAC,
which continues to resist registering as an Israeli foreign agent, despite its
office in Jerusalem
and close coordination with the Israeli government. After the AZC showdown,
there was a movement to toughen FARA to encompass offshore lobbying activities
directed at Congress members. FARA instead gradually fell into malaise. The DOJ
prosecutes only the most blatant violations and disenfranchised violators. Soon,
the FARA enforcement unit marketed itself not as a key public nexus of foreign
lobbying disclosure but as a �solution provider� helping to keep foreign
lobbyists out of trouble.
Today, AIPAC�s nonprofit affiliate conducts lobbying tours
much in the style of Isaiah Kenen -- no scrutiny, no accounting for funds spent
or promises made, and completely beyond the reach of American constituents
sitting patiently in town halls across the nation, eagerly awaiting the return
of their representatives.
Copyright � 2009 IRmep
F. Smith is director of the Washington, DC-based Institute for Research: Middle
Eastern Policy and author of the book �Foreign Agents: The American Israel
Foreign Affairs Committee from the 1963 Fulbright Hearings to the 2005