New documentary is blinded by AIPAC’s success

Lenny at impromptu session 1993 Policy Conference
Lenny Ben-David addressing AIPAC's 1993 Policy Conference. Note the dedication from AIPAC's Director, Tom Dine.

How much of the film comes from a very disgruntled former employee? His face is featured on the documentary’s title page.

The “documentary” blurb features MJ Rosenberg staring off into space.

MJ Rosenberg wrote “It’s Time for AIPAC to Register as a Foreign Agent” for The Forward in March 2018, on the eve of AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference. I wrote a response in The Forward, but documentary-maker Mor Loushy must never have seen it. Now with Rosenberg apparently playing a big role in her new “documentary” exposé about AIPAC, “The King of Capitol Hill,” I have decided to re-publish my response.  After all, I am the only former AIPAC staffer who worked for all directors of AIPAC in the course of 25 years – Kenen, Amitay, Dine, Sher, Kohr – but Loushy never spoke to me. I have not seen the documentary yet, only the reviews.

* * *

Rosenberg’s call for AIPAC registering as a foreign agent was an author’s cheap appeal for attention. The article is so factually wrong, it approaches delusional.

And that is sad. I’ve known MJ for some 45 years. We were neighbors and our children played together. We were colleagues at AIPAC, and the organization’s founder, I.L. (Si) Kenen, was our mentor. Then, I fear, Rosenberg hit a serious bump, and our ways went in diametrically opposed paths.  I worked at AIPAC for 25 years and remained a close admirer of the organization after I left in 1997.  Rosenberg’s attitude to the organization and Israel became hateful, full of vitriol, and indeed delusional.

Foreign Agent Delusion

His call for AIPAC registering with the U.S. Justice Department as a foreign agent is an example.  Rosenberg knows that AIPAC’s registering as a domestic lobby is no “legal loophole.”  It’s the law.  The author claims that Kenen’s ploy meant that AIPAC would “not have to reveal its activities.” That’s just not true. As a lobby, AIPAC registers quarterly with the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate. In those years, AIPAC was required to list all donors over $500.  All was transparent.

In the early 1960s, Kenen and AIPAC were harassed, accused of working for Israel, and investigated by the Israel-phobic Arkansas senator, William J. Fulbright, and his aide, a former U.S. Army counterintelligence officer, Walter Pincus, who later became a Washington Post reporter.

Rosenberg knows AIPAC’s organizational history and the fact that AIPAC came out of that investigation clean, as it did in subsequent, perennial Foreign Agent investigations by the Justice Department. “Clean as a whistle,” was the conclusion of then-Justice Department investigator Joel Lisker in a statement to the National Journal in the 1970s.  That is why AIPAC is called “America’s pro-Israel lobby,” and is not known according to Rosenberg’s misnomer, the “Israel lobby.”

Taking Kenen’s Name in Vain

I served as Si Kenen’s intern, to my knowledge the first of AIPAC’s thousands of interns. Our relationship was close, and I co-authored Kenen’s Media Monitor column. I assisted Si write his autobiography.  We remained close after I moved to Israel in 1982.

Si Kenen and Lenny (Davis) Ben-David in AIPAC’s research office in the 1970s. (Courtesy)

I presume MJ Rosenberg also felt close to Kenen; he probably liked Kenen’s wife Beatrice hosting a fundraiser  in her home for presidential candidate George McGovern in 1972.  That liberal connection was the catalyst for the sour relationship between then-Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin and AIPAC. Rabin openly supported Richard Nixon, even flying on his campaign plane at one stage. Rabin’s dislike of American Jewry getting involved in U.S. foreign policy reflected what he learned from Henry Kissinger, who took the soldier newbie-diplomat under his wing, as described in his writings. Kissinger objected to Jewish/congressional interference on issues such as the pro-Soviet Jewry Jackson-Vanik amendment to the U.S. Trade Act. It was a policy that Rabin would adhere to.

The following claim about Kenen by Rosenberg is preposterous and fantasy:

Toward the end of his life, Kenen was outraged by the AIPAC leadership with its unquestioning support of the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade against Gaza, and other right-wing Israeli policies…. By the time of his death, Kenen was thoroughly alienated from the organization.

Shame. Kenen died in 1988, before the Oslo Agreement, before the intifadas and blockades. Moreover, in his last years, the AIPAC founder was suffering from the ravages of dementia. I hosted his last visit to Jerusalem where he was found one night by the police wandering in the shuk. Damage to his room led the King David Hotel management to request that he never return.

Nebuch. By the period described by Rosenberg, Si was thoroughly alienated — from reality.

More Fantasy about Rabin

Rosenberg’s fiction continues: “Of course, when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was actively seeking peace and an end to the occupation, that was the moment AIPAC chose to separate itself from Israel, resulting in Rabin’s blistering exhortation that it gets the hell out of his way.

Balderdash, or as Rabin would have said, “Bablat.”

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Lenny Ben-David entering an AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC (Courtesy)

Just weeks before his murder, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was expressing deep frustration with Yasser Arafat’s conniving and lying.  In his last speech in the Knesset, on October 5, 1995, he said Israel would need to retain the Jordan River Valley and that Jerusalem would never be divided. “The borders of the State of Israel during the permanent solution,” Rabin declared, “will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six-Day War. We will not return to the June 4, 1967, lines. Changes will include the addition of Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beitar and other communities, most of which are in the area east of what was the ‘Green Line,’ prior to the Six-Day War.”

Rabin’s problems with AIPAC, beginning with the McGovern contretemps, were over Congress’ involvement in challenging American arms sales to Arab countries and the Foreign Aid Bill. Showing his Kissingerian training, Rabin objected to Congressional interference in foreign affairs, preferring to deal with U.S. Administrations in one-on-one negotiations. By today’s terms, Rabin was a right-winger on peace issues.

Kenen eschewed lobbying the American Executive Branch with its “Arabist” State Department. He totally placed his trust in the people’s Legislative Branch. AIPAC as an American lobby remains true to Kenen’s winning legacy.

About the Author
Lenny Ben-David served as a senior Israeli diplomat in Washington. He is a public affairs consultant, writer, researcher, and historian of early photographs. Ben-David is the author of "American Interests in the Holy Land Revealed in Early Photographs." He worked for AIPAC for 25 years in Washington and Jerusalem.
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