A beleaguered American Israel Public Affairs Committee emerged bruised but standing after its bout Sunday night with CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes.”
AIPAC said in a statement Monday that Mike Wallace’s report on the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group attempted to depict its influence as “something negative or sinister.”
But while agreeing with AIPAC that the program lacked balance, leaders of American Jewish organizations for the most part felt its charges were tame, compared to what had been feared in the weeks prior to the broadcast.
Those had been trying weeks for AIPAC, which is the most powerful voice in Washington on behalf of Israel and one of the most influential of all American lobbying groups.
AIPAC attempted to deflect ahead of time Wallace’s charges that it “sets the line” for some 80 pro-Israel political action committees, in violation of federal laws governing PACs.
But then last week, the group was placed on the defensive after three major Jewish agencies were reported to have criticized AIPAC for acting “out of step with the consensus of the organized Jewish community” on at least three recent issues related to Israel.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations held an emergency meeting Monday to discuss the fallout of the “60 Minutes” broadcast.
‘INNUENDOES AND INACCURACIES’
The meeting, at which members of the umbrella organization agreed that the report was “filled with distortions, innuendoes and inaccuracies,” was the second in a week called to discuss criticism of AIPAC.
The central theme of Wallace’s report was that AIPAC has exerted undue influence to ensure that Israel receives $3 billion in U.S. foreign aid, with little or no congressional debate. The report appeared to charge that AIPAC has engineered the defeat of U.S. senators and representatives because of their poor voting records on foreign aid and arms sales to Arab countries.
The report said that AIPAC had instructed pro-Israel PACs around the country to contribute money to the senatorial campaign of Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Richard Licht. Licht, who is Jewish, is challenging the incumbent, Republican Sen. John Chafee, who is seen as less sympathetic toward Israel.
AIPAC officials have said that while the group is prohibited from coordinating the activities of PACs, it often provides information at the request of AIPAC members who are involved in the political process.
The report also included criticism of AIPAC by former Undersecretary of State George Ball and one-time Sen. Charles Percy (R-III.).
Ball served in the State Department from 1961 to 1965 and was described by AIPAC Monday as “a longtime critic of U.S. policy toward Israel.”
In the “60 Minutes” report, Ball called AIPAC’s influence a corruption of the American democratic process,” without specifying where AIPAC had either acted illegally or unethically.
Percy, who blames his defeat in 1984 in part on AIPAC influence, asked rhetorically, “Who is running our foreign policy?”
Wallace also quoted a CBS poll in which 630 people were asked, “Do you think it is right that the United States gives more money in foreign aid to Israel than any other country?” Wallace said 13 percent said yes, 72 percent said no and 15 percent did not know.
‘SOMETHING NEGATIVE AND SINISTER’
In its statement Monday, AIPAC said that in virtually every public opinion poll, “the American public has consistently reaffirmed the strong support for Israel as a friend and ally of the United States.”
AIPAC said that U.S. foreign assistance to Israel is based on Israel’s role as a “critical United States ally, a full-fledged democracy, struggling to survive in a hostile and unstable part of the world.”
The lobbying group said “60 Minutes” has attempted to depict lawful participation in the political process as “something negative and sinister.”
AIPAC said it is preparing a more detailed refutation of Wallace’s charges.
The Conference of Presidents also said in a statement Monday that AIPAC had used no other means to further the American Jewish community’s interests on Capitol Hill than those allowed under U.S. law.
In a separate statement, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith reiterated its support for AIPAC and said “60 Minutes” had failed to show that its success stems “not so much from lobbying but the commitment of Jews and non-Jews all over the country who are dedicated to the well-being of relations between the United States and Israel.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.