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The Egos at AIPAC

In the official indictment of ex-AIPACers Steven Rosen and Keith Weisman and their Pentagon contact Larry Franklin, there is a tidbit that hints at the role of egos and self-aggrandizement in the lobby’s day-to-day activities. This topic is related to something I discuss in my book, which conveys how AIPAC and the conventional Israel lobby prop up the perception that they have extraordinary power and limitless resources, a perception that is not always grounded in reality.

What I did not mention was that the management of perceptions occurs not only when people involved with Israel present themselves to public officials; it also happens when they present themselves to other Jews.

That is part of what energizes the machine, an unabashed, exaggerated advertising of personal clout and personal connections. That happens everywhere, of course. But when it happens in AIPAC, it concerns issues of great importance to national security.

By all accounts, Steven Rosen was a dedicated practitioner of this craft of personal power puffery. The indictment provides an example. It asserts: “On or about August 5, 2002,” Rosen called an unnamed Defense Department employee and “asked for the name of someone” in the Pentagon’s Internal Security Affairs office “with expertise on Iran.” He “was given the name of Lawrence Franklin.”

Isn’t that odd, given his reputation? With all of the organization’s supposed tentacles into the Pentagon, and with Iran policy reportedly a longtime personal obsession of Rosen, it seems curious that he had to act like a graduate student trolling the bureaucracy and searching for a proper source for a thesis.

But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his insider status, because we don’t know precisely what he said when he requested the expert on Iran. He finally got hold of Franklin and they made an appointment, which was canceled and rescheduled in a series of phone calls. If anything important was discussed in those initial phone calls, surely it would have been prominently displayed in the indictment. But we aren’t told much about what they discussed and apparently they were innocuous conversations about scheduling. So Rosen could not have known what Franklin could do for him until they actually met.

Yet, on February 2, 2003, while driving to his first meeting with Franklin, he told someone on the phone in the AIPAC office that he was “really excited” to meet with a “Pentagon guy” who was a “real insider.”

Franklin was one of 1,400 people who worked for Douglas Feith, the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. He was about five steps below Feith in the hierarchy, barely qualifying as a mid-level bureaucrat. How could Rosen have known that meeting Franklin was an “exciting” opportunity or that Franklin was a “real insider?” Yet he felt compelled to boast and seem impressive before he had any idea of what Franklin could bring to the table.

This was hardly the first time he engaged in that kind of self-branding. Former AIPAC Executive Director Tom Dine told reporter Lawrence Cohler-Esses that:

…federal agents investigating Rosen unearthed a memo from 1983, soon after Rosen’s arrival at AIPAC, in which Rosen boasted about his access to a comprehensive, classified review of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Rosen then wrote about his discovery in a memo to Dine and one of the lobby’s prominent supporters.

…Dine’s account indicates that…Rosen explicitly informed his boss — the lobby’s top staff official — of his success in obtaining such information in writing.

Asked his reaction to the memo at the time, Dine said his impression was that Rosen had not actually laid his hands on the classified document itself but had obtained intelligence on it in the draft stage…

..Another source who has seen the memo said, “He [Rosen] was bragging, ‘I got access to this classified document that shows us where U.S. policy is going. And I’m working to influence it.'”

So it’s unclear whether the actual document was classified or not, but Tom Dine didn’t think so. Yet Rosen used it to begin building his reputation within AIPAC.

Such braggadocio was hardly limited to Rosen within the culture of AIPAC. Douglas Bloomfield, who worked there in the 1990s, told me that one of the organization’s presidents once informed him, “I am the most politically astute guy in the country.”

When AIPAC began its executive lobbying operation in the 1980s, Bloomfield said the operation was created in part to puff up the egos of “affable millionaires who expected to get access. At first, they would meet with Members in the House but soon that wasn’t important enough. Then meeting with Senators wasn’t important enough. Then Assistant Secretaries of State weren’t important enough…They ended up going up the chain of command and having strategic conversations about topics they knew nothing about. Steve [Rosen] adroitly played to their egos.” {That quote is in a chapter of my book entitled “Lamp Salesmen and Secretaries of State.”)

The best known example occurred a month after Bill Clinton’s election in 1992, when then-AIPAC President David Steiner spoke to New York City businessman and AIPAC donor Harry Katz, in what turned out to be a taped phone conversation. Steiner said American Jews with connections to AIPAC had played a role in Clinton’s campaign and there was an expectation that they would get “big jobs.” He said “we’re negotiating” with the Clinton people on who might be Secretary of State….He also said he had personally met with outgoing Secretary of State Baker and “cut a deal with him” for extra aid to Israel.

When the story broke, Steiner quickly resigned, after admitting that he had lied through his teeth and was just trying to impress a donor. Most of what Steiner said is preposterous. For one thing, an outgoing secretary of state, especially someone like {“F&*# the Jews”) James Baker, who had not had cordial relations with AIPAC, does not “cut a deal” with one American Jew on aid packages for Israel; those are carefully negotiated with Israel and Congress, with the conventional Israel lobby and others weighing in. Still, that incident was in the Walt-Mearsheimer book and is prominently displayed in the many blogs that claim that the Zionists control America.

As I noted, personal power puffery happens everywhere. It has been on display in every company I’ve ever worked in and in my teenage daughter’s Model UN meetings. But it appears to play an outsized role in AIPAC’s operations. The group’s board members and staffers are indeed powerful, but one gets a sense that some of them are happiest when they believe in their own exaggerations about themselves. Keep that in mind when you read about the power puffery on display at the AIPAC policy conference, which begins on May 3rd.

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