Lurid tales about AIPAC: will they have an impact?

Well, it’s lurid enough, but I can’t exactly see how this week’s revelations that a former high-ranking AIPAC official looked at pornography on his office computer and that some of his colleagues may have done the same will make much of a difference in the big pro-Israel lobby group’s political muscle.

According to JTA’s Ron Kampeas, who knows more about the now-dropped case against former AIPACers Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman under provisions of the Espionage Act than anybody on Planet Earth, “AIPAC officials acknowledged in depositions [in Rosen’s defamation lawsuit against AIPAC, which fired him in 2005] that the organization only recently adopted a stated policy forbidding the receipt of classified information. The depositions also produced claims regarding the viewing of pornographic materials on office computers.”

The second part of that paragraph is what produced yesterday’s headlines, but it’s the first part that’s more interesting –  the focus of Ron’s story, unlike almost everything else that’s appeared on the subject.

Given that foreign policy lobbies routinely deal in information that comes close to the line on questions of government secrecy and that administrations are increasingly fanatic about keeping information about its foreign policy decisions under wraps, it’s astonishing AIPAC didn’t have clearly stated policies on the issue a long time ago.

But the whole espionage flap is ancient history except in the minds of AIPAC’s most fervent opponents. I haven’t seen any sign the controversy has weakened the group, except maybe among journalists who felt bloodied by it’s bash-them-over-the-head mode of crisis press relations.

And the sex stuff? Will it damage AIPAC’s credibility and clout?

Nah. The sex charges are embarrassing, but who really cares?

The New Jersey Jewish News’ Andy Carroll, who has good reason to remember Steve Rosen and AIPAC, recalled in his blog  lurid reports about AIPAC goings-on in the late 1980s – a controversy first reported by the Washington Post to the great amusement of people who follow these things and which had absolutely no impact on AIPAC’s steady growth in influence.

This is Washington, after all,  and AIPAC’s clout is based on the practical realities of big-league politics, starting with its ties to broad networks of pro-Israel funders and its ability to influence perceptions about which politicians are “pro-Israel” and which are not. It’s also based on AIPAC’s teams of lobbyists who understand the intricate world of legislating and how to influence it and its grassroots activists who connect with national politicians before they are national politicians.

None of that will really change if it turns out some AIPAC bigwigs liked to look at dirty pictures. Embarrassing? You bet. Will what Andy Carroll called the “icky details” in these court documents make a difference in the group’s standing as a powerhouse lobby? Don’t count on it.

A much bigger problem for AIPAC and every other mainstream pro-Israel group is the growing polarization of the pro-Israel world, which threatens to make a shambles of the big-tent bi-partisanship that AIPAC’s founders saw as one of their top goals.  I don’t see AIPAC or any other group confronting this problem head on, and sometimes they seem to encourage it.

That’s a problem, not guys sitting at their computers looking at nekkid ladies.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.