WASHINGTON (JTA) — Two top Jewish groups are urging the Justice Department to reconsider its prosecution of former AIPAC staffers Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman.
"The prosecution creates a chilling effect on legitimate speech," American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris in a statement Wednesday. "Based upon the facts that the government has divulged thus far, we hope the Department of Justice will take a close look at this case and reconsider whether it should be pursued further."
After the AJC statement was issued, the Anti-Defamation League released a letter it had sent privately last September to the deputy attorney general to "review the charges, the investigation, and the prosecution of this case."
Their letter said that the "prosecution of this case endangers core First Amendment protections not just for AIPAC, but for the media and anyone who, in the course of their work, discusses with government officials something that a prosecutor later decides was protected national defense information."
"We are mindful of and fully support our government’s need to protect sensitive national security information," said the letter. "This prosecution, however, is not necessary for such protection."
The ADL said it had asked AJC to sign on to that letter, but the group had declined.
AJC spokesman Ken Bandler responded, "The important thing is we are on the record with the statement we issued today urging the Justice Department to reconsider the case."
Rosen and Weissman have been charged with illegally passing on classified information under the 1917 Espionage Act. American Jewish groups have generally refrained from much public comment on the case, although the AJC was the first group to break that silence two years ago when it praised the trial judge for rebuking the prosecution’s failure to try the case expeditiously.