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Special Reports Last Updated: Aug 21st, 2009 - 00:57:00

The first congressional junket to Israel
By Grant F. Smith
Online Journal Guest Writer

Aug 21, 2009, 00:23

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Large congressional junkets to Israel have become such fixtures in Washington, DC, that few Americans now question their curious origins.

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 such transparency.

On January 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, [1951] 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

Grant 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 Espionage Scandal.�

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