WASHINGTON (Oct. 13)
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has been vigorously asserting this week that it does not participate in partisan political activities as part of its lobbying on behalf of Israel.
AIPAC is seeking to counter a report on CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes,” due to be aired in coming weeks, which charges that it directs pro-Israel political action committees in their contributions to candidates running for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
Despite the fact that “PAC” forms part of AIPAC’s name, the organization is not a political action committee. PACs donate money to political candidates. AIPAC is a non-partisan, registered foreign lobby for Israel in Washington.
The “60 Minutes” report, by Mike Wallace, is expected to focus on the Senate race in Rhode Island, where Richard Licht, the Democratic lieutenant governor, is running against the incumbent, Sen. John Chafee, a Republican. Money from pro-Israel PACs has gone almost exclusively to Licht.
Wallace apparently has an internal memo from AIPAC that he says proves the organization has been urging financial support for Licht. The memo, which has been made public by the Washington Jewish Week and The Washington Post, also reportedly urges reporters to ask the Rev. Jesse Jackson if he has had extramarital affairs.
In addition, Wallace also reportedly has been drawing attention to attacks on Chafee led by Morris Amitay, a former executive director of AIPAC and a member of its executive committee.
‘WE DO NOT ENDORSE CANDIDATES’
Amitay, a pro-Israel lobbyist and treasurer of the Washington Political Action Committee, has criticized Chafee’s record on Israel and arms sales to Arab countries, both in interviews and in a column he writes for Jewish weekly newspapers.
Asked in a telephone interview whether AIPAC has urged him to make such attacks, Amitay responded: “Do you think I have to get guidance from anyone?”
Noting that he has been involved in pro-Israel causes on Capitol Hill for 20 years, Amitay said, “I know the people intimately,” as well as their voting records.
Rabbi Israel Miller, an AIPAC vice president interviewed by Wallace, said in a telephone interview that he told the CBS journalist AIPAC does “not coordinate PACs, we do not rate candidates, we do not endorse candidates.”
What AIPAC does is to provide information on incumbents’ voting records on issues of concern to the Jewish community, Miller said.
“We are not anti-Chafee,” Miller maintained. He said AIPAC has merely put Chafee’s votes on the record. He noted that while the senator from Rhode Island has voted for Arab arms sales, he also has voted for aid to Israel.
When Wallace asked Miller about the $170,000 in pro-Israel PAC funds that have gone to Licht, Miller said he replied that “Licht has many friends in the Jewish community.”
“We deal with a very politically aware and sophisticated audience,” Miller said he told Wallace. “Our people make up their own minds.” He said the Jewish community is not monolithic. Everyone does not think alike, nor do they vote alike.
Miller conceded that AIPAC was concerned about the upcoming “60 Minutes” program, as would be any individual or organization targeted by the hard-hitting investigative program.
NO HARD EVIDENCE
Toby Dershowitz, AIPAC director of media relations, said “60 Minutes” has no evidence that AIPAC coordinates or directs pro-Israel PACs. Instead, she charged that all it has is previously published allegations.
The memo that “60 Minutes” obtained was dated Nov. 3, 1987, and was written by Brenda Pearson, a junior member of AIPAC’s political department, to Barbara Amouyal, who was media relations director at the time. Both Amouyal and Pearson have since left AIPAC.
The memo urges that reporters for Jewish papers generate stories to get the Jewish community interested in Licht’s race and to raise questions about Jackson’s fidelity.
According to AIPAC officials, Amouyal asked Pearson for a memo in order to suggest news stories to journalists she accompanied on an American Jewish Press Association trip to Israel.
The memo listed Licht and the Republican and Democratic candidates for president who were running at the time. It suggested that they be asked about their positions on the Middle East.
‘SPILL THE BEANS ON JACKSON’
The part on Jackson reportedly says AIPAC has enough information to “spill the beans on Jackson’s extramarital affairs and finances of his PUSH operations.” But it also cautions journalists not to solicit this information.
Amouyal reportedly did not use the memo on the trip. Now a reporter for Defense News, she was on assignment in Texas this week and could not be reached for comment.
Thomas Dine, AIPAC’s executive director, issued a statement saying that “no one in a position of responsibility approved the memorandum in question.” Other AIPAC officials said no top leader of AIPAC knew of its existence until it became public.
This was confirmed by Rabbi David Saperstein, Washington representative of the Union of America Hebrew Congregations, who was in the AIPAC office when its leading officials learned of the memo and began searching for it.
He said that “unless they were putting on a charade for my benefit,” they had no idea the memo existed. He said they spent a hectic two hours searching for it during a time when the office was very busy.
In his statement, Dine declared that “AIPAC has not, does not and will not engage in attacks on the personal lives of political candidates or anyone else.”
He added that Jackson’s “personal life is not and never has been the subject of discussion or action at any decision-making level of our organization.”