US Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell was highly enthusiastic about Israel’s partial, temporary illegal settlement freeze stating “it is more than any Israeli government has done before and can help move toward agreement between the parties.” In fact, Israel has done more. In 2005 Israel reversed settlement construction and its overt occupation of Gaza. Palestinians situation worsened under a strangulating economic blockade and total Israeli control of borders, airspace and maritime access. Ironically, those Americans seeking a permanent end to Israeli settlement activities face a predicament similar to the Palestinians. Peace in the Middle East depends on reversing a peculiar manifestation of illegal Israeli settlements right here at home. These US settlements were built not on stolen land, but the strategic territory of US governance through violations of the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
Among Israel’s first international efforts as a state was establishing an “Israel Office of Information” (IOI) in the United States in the fall of 1948. The IOI registered as a foreign agent with the US Department of Justice which required it not only to file activity reports about its efforts on behalf of Israel every six months, but also place a stamp on pamphlets and other materials circulating in the US that their true origin was the Israeli government.
The IOI quickly ran into trouble. It was cited by the FARA section for failing to disclose the existence of a California office. The FBI noticed it wasn’t affixing disclosure stamps to the material it circulated. Isaiah Kenen, registered as a foreign agent of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, soon tired of such regulatory oversight and disclosures. He coordinated his IOI departure with the Israeli government from the IOI to lobby from a domestically chartered lobbying organization, the American Zionist Council (AZC). The DOJ ordered him to reregister, but he never did.
During a 1952 summit meeting, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion proposed that leaders of major organizations centralize US lobbying and fundraising coordination under the American Zionist Council (AZC) rather than the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency. The AZC was a small umbrella organization that united the leadership of top organizations such as Hadassah and the Zionist Organization of America. But the AZC continued to rely heavily upon financial support from the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency in Jerusalem for public relations and lobbying until the 1960s. Between 1962-1963 a Senate and Justice Department investigation found the AZC and Kenen had received direction and the equivalent of $35 million from the Jewish Agency via its American Section in New York to lobby for US taxpayer-funded aid and arms. The Justice Department ordered the AZC to register as an Israeli foreign agent on November 21, 1962. This initiated a fierce DOJ/AZC battle that lasted until 1965, when the DOJ allowed the AZC to file a secret FARA declaration expecting it to shut down operations. The Jewish Agency was also forced shut down its American Section in New York after a rabbi and George Washington University legal scholar forced it to file its secret 1953 “covenant agreement” with the Israeli government which conferred governmental powers to the Jewish Agency.
The AZC quietly and quickly reorganized lobbying operations within its former division, internally referred to as the “Kenen Committee” (today called the American Israel Public Affairs Committee or AIPAC) which Isaiah Kenen led until 1975. The Jewish Agency also executed a shell company paper reshuffle, reemerging as the World Zionist Organization-American Section within the same building, with the same staff, management and publications.
Today, the most important nucleus of the Israeli government’s power in America lies far outside its Washington DC embassy, official consulates, or properly registered FARA entities. The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations consists of only two key paid employees according to its 2008 charitable tax return (PDF). Like the AZC under Ben-Gurion’s mandate, the Conference of Presidents has only one true role: corralling American organizations into a US power base for the Israeli government. The Conference of President’s roster now includes such curiously named organizations as the American Friends of Likud and Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs alongside old AZC mainstays such as the ZOA and Hadassah. As mandated by AIPAC’s bylaws (PDF), all Conference of Presidents member organizations are part of AIPAC’s executive committee, forming a combined grassroots lobbying might far more intimidating to the Justice Department than the old AZC.
Yet in reality, Israeli government’s newest lobbying venture is nothing more than a rebranded AZC – the stealth foreign agency relationships remain, some hidden, others not. One visible geographic linkage to the Israeli government is the Conference of Presidents offices which are located at the same 633 Third Avenue New York address as the World Zionist Organization’s American Section.
The World Zionist Organization-American Section, as the paper reincarnation of the Jewish Agency, is still compelled to register (PDF) as an Israeli foreign agent. In 2008 it spent $8,102,752, by far the largest expenditure of any registered foreign agent for Israel. Like its predecessor foreign agent, the Jewish Agency, the WZO American Section claims these large disbursements across America are mainly for “education” rather than political activity. Such claims are easily debunked.
The WZO was more accurately revealed by Israeli prosecutor Thalia Sasson in 2005 as being at the very center of illegal Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank. Shimon Peres estimated that up to $50 billion was laundered into illegal settlement construction. Today WZO/Conference of Presidents “education” initiatives include organizing rabbis to effectively campaign for war on Iran, activities that are not accurately disclosed on the WZO’s disclosures to the Department of Justice.
The question of whether such Israeli-conceived plans are worth American blood and treasure are vitally important, as is rule of law. Under FARA, Americans have a clear right to full disclosure about AIPAC and the Conference of President’s political activities, public relations and transfer of things of value on behalf of their foreign principal(s). As foreign lobbying organizations emerging directly from the American Zionist Council, these leaders of the Israel lobby carry an expanding information debt to American taxpayers expected to fund their many initiatives. Yet in spite of the 1961 order by the attorney general, since March of 1965, neither has filed a single public declaration at the FARA office. This means that AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents now owe Americans 88 semiannual FARA declaration filings. For its part, the WZO must begin to accurately disclose its heavy involvement in illegal West Bank settlements, which are opposed by the Obama administration.
Given the Israel lobby’s past penchant for nondisclosure, such filings will no doubt garner a great deal of public scrutiny. Explanations for why so much classified US government information is passing between AIPAC it and its foreign principals in 1984 and 2005 have been a long time coming. These will be particularly timely and enlightening as Israel’s drumbeat for US attacks on Iran grows louder. Until they again begin to register under FARA, Israel’s principal colonization entities, the World Zionist Organization, political muscle (Conference of Presidents), and enforcer in Congress (AIPAC) are themselves illegal Israeli settlers in America.
* Grant F. Smith is the author of the new bookÂ Spy Trade: How Israel’s Lobby Undermines America’s Economy. He is a frequent contributor to Radio France Internationale and Voice of America’sÂ Foro Interamericano. Smith has also appeared on BBC News, CNN, and C-SPAN. He is currently director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern PolicyÂ in Washington, D.C.