The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has long been the target of conspiracy theories about its influence on American Middle East policies. But even those prone to viewing AIPAC with skepticism must be taken aback by the latest turn in the Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman saga. The government's charges of espionage against this duo, both of whom worked for AIPAC, were dropped a year ago. But the fallout from the case threatens to harm AIPAC badly.
The heart of the matter, at this point, may not be spying, but internal bickering at AIPAC. It turns out to be a far more interesting place than anyone could have imagined. In March 2009 Rosen filed a civil lawsuit alleging defamation by AIPAC, which fired him in 2005. Rosen was not acquited of espionage--prosecutors simply dropped the charges. Rosen says his superiors were aware of his actions and that he shouldn't have been fired. Rosen's defense raises the question of whether, in fact, AIPAC is knowingly engaged in activities that constitute spying--as Grant Smith of AntiWar.com puts it,
If Rosen proves in court that AIPAC has long handled classified information while lobbying for Israel, the worn public pretense that AIPAC is anything but a stealth extension of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs--from which it emerged in 1951--will end forever.
Rosen is demanding no less than $20 million. AIPAC had already spent a bundle--close to $5 million--to defend Rosen in court. AIPAC filed a motion on November 8, 2010 in DC Superior Court asking Judge Erik Christian to dismiss Rosen's claim.
If Rosen, smarting from being fired at AIPAC, is out to pressure his former employer to cough up more millions. AIPAC seems out to follow a scorched earth policy. It's intent on blackening Rosen's name. Rosen, for his part, is making sweeping allegations about the behavior of staffers at the organization. Instead of devoting their energies to promoting Israel, it seems that AIPAC employees had another work occupation--watching pornography. The real danger that AIPAC adversaries may now face isn't that they confront a formidable foe. It's that they may die from laughter after they learn what's really transpiring at the organization.
AIPAC claims that Rosen, who was director of foreign policy issues at the lobby and one of its most senior and well-known employees, had engaged in viewing pornography on AIPAC computers at the lobby’s Washington offices. Partial transcripts of the lengthy videotaped deposition of Rosen, which were made public as part of AIPAC’s motion, show Rosen admitted to surfing pornographic websites from work. But AIPAC’s lawyers
insisted on more details.
“Q: What type of pornography?
A: Sexual pornography.
Q: What type? Man on man, man on woman?
A: Anything. Anything that occurred to me.”
Rosen also added more details than, perhaps, the attorney for AIPAC had bargained for.
“I witnessed [AIPAC executive director] Howard Kohr viewing pornographic material, [Kohr’s secretary] Annette Franzen viewing pornographic material, probably a dozen other members of the staff,” Rosen said in his deposition. He added that, according to a Nielsen survey, more than a quarter of Americans regularly view pornographic websites at their workplace.
Later in his deposition, the former lobbyist also said he had heard from directors at AIPAC about their visits to prostitutes and he claimed executive director Kohr had routinely used “locker room language” at the AIPAC offices.
AIPAC did not seem deterred from getting dragged into a dirty debate. It also chose to include in its court filing an issue relating to Rosen’s personal life with only a vague connection to the lobby’s claim regarding Rosen’s actions being below AIPAC’s standards. AIPAC’s lawyers questioned Rosen in detail about his attempts to find male sexual companions through Craigslist, an act Rosen referred to as “sexual experimentations.” This information came up in one of Rosen’s divorce cases — he has been married five times — and was supposed to remain under court seal.
AIPAC obviously believes that it can ride out this scandal. Maybe it can. It's a well-established organization. But for his part, Rosen doesn't appear ready to back down. He told Haaretz that
he saw AIPAC as a "very important organization. I believe in it in 150%, and it has a very important role," but added: “If I am guilty, they are guilty. What I did for years – they knew all about it. They knew it in advance, they knew details. So pretending that I was some sort of renegade or bad apple – it’s nonsense."
One thing thus seems clear: this ugly affair is about to get a lot uglier.