After Restructuring, Aipac Plans to Focus on Wider Range of Issues

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is undergoing major restructuring in the wake of recent growth, JTA has learned. The premier pro-Israel lobby is simultaneously expanding its lobbying efforts in Washington, the number of issues it addresses and its outreach to Jewish communities across the United States, according to three sources familiar with the expansion.

The changes have been in the works since 2003, all the sources said, and predate an FBI raid last year that roiled the organization and led to charges against two former AIPAC staffers accused of passing classified information.

Much of AIPAC’s growth has to do with renewed activist interest in Israel since the breakdown of the peace process in 2000 and the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada, according to insiders. The momentum accelerated with the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

AIPAC has expanded its top management team, hired a number of new regional directors and added lobbyists. No one would give specific numbers.

The expansion is of a piece with the organization’s recent membership drives through synagogues and on college campuses. AIPAC officials say the average regional event has ballooned from 200-300 people a few years ago to about 1,000 nowadays.

AIPAC also has added a number of issues to its lobbying agenda, including homeland security, nuclear proliferation and terrorism. Its venture into homeland security is a first dip into domestic issues for the organization, which has made foreign policy its strength. Other groups, including the United Jewish Communities federation umbrella organization, currently lobby on homeland security.

“Given AIPAC’s tremendous growth, both in terms of its membership and overall agenda, we continue to evolve and explore ways we can be even more effective and achieve greater synergy across all areas of the organization,” spokesman Josh Block said.

AIPAC’s membership has almost doubled since 2000, from 55,000 to 100,000, and its annual operating budget has more than doubled, from $17 million to more than $40 million.

It also has established a capital fund and a building fund. By the end of 2007 AIPAC will be housed in its own building for the first time, a few blocks from the Capitol.

One of the hallmarks of the restructuring is that the congressional and executive branch lobbying departments, run separately for years, will be rolled into one outfit. It will be jointly headed by Brad Gordon, who currently runs congressional lobbying, and Marvin Feuer, a senior defense analyst.

Much of the criticism of AIPAC in the wake of the FBI case is that one of the targeted former staffers — Steve Rosen, who was director of foreign policy issues — relied too heavily on the executive branch and allegedly became embroiled in its secrets. Feuer has assumed Rosen’s responsibilities.

All three sources said the plan to combine the two lobbying departments predated the FBI raid. Two of the sources said the circumstances of Rosen’s departure helped shape how the new shop would operate, though they would not elaborate.

AIPAC fired Rosen in April in the wake of the FBI investigation, which AIPAC said uncovered evidence of inappropriate behavior.

Earlier this summer, AIPAC confirmed that it had hired former Justice Department lawyers working for an outside legal firm, Howrey LLP, to review its lobbying practices.

However, the FBI raid and the legal charges against Rosen and Keith Weissman, an Iran analyst, have resulted in increased contributions for the organization, AIPAC lay leaders have said.

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