Confessions of an AIPAC Veteran | The Nation


Confessions of an AIPAC Veteran

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Dine said he thought the style of his AIPAC predecessor, Morris Amitay, had been too arrogant. He wanted to return to the slightly more discreet approach pioneered by Isaiah "Si" Kenen, who had founded the organization in the 1950s. But, Dine admitted, "I did give AIPAC visibility. You can't grow an institution unless people know about it." In 1981 he fought hard to block the Reagan administration's proposed sale of AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia. He narrowly lost that one, "but you never really want to have this kind of confrontation," he told me. "It's not good for the executive branch, not good for the legislative branch and probably not good for AIPAC."

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Helena Cobban
Helena Cobban has written about (and often from) the Middle East since 1975. She writes a column on global affairs for...

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George Shultz was apparently convinced by that argument and started hosting those quiet Saturday one-on-ones with Dine. "We'd talk about future arms sales so it would never come to that confrontation again," Dine said. "It was one of the nicest things that ever happened to me, associating myself with George Shultz." Did Dine talk about the administration's proposed arms sales with people in Israel before he went to the meetings? "Sometimes, sometimes not. Definitely with people throughout the executive branch, and people on the Hill that I respected."

In September 1982 Reagan announced a new plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace. The New York Times called Dine for a reaction. "I said there were some positive elements in the plan," he recalled. "That went into the paper, above the fold. The president of the AIPAC board called me up and yelled me out. People were furious in the Jewish community and said, 'How dare you defy [Israeli Prime Minister Menachem] Begin [who opposed the plan]?' I said, 'I don't work for Begin.'"

Dine said he had four main goals when he took the AIPAC job. "First, I wanted to run something. Second, I wanted to stimulate Jewish participation in American political life like it had never happened before. Third, I had always felt the US-Israel relationship was precarious, even though it might not seem that way if you're on the other side.... But [I wanted to] give some meat to it, make it close and strong. And fourth, if you make it close and strong...and if you've really increased Jewish political participation...then Israel can take risks for peace."

Dine said he frequently tried out that last idea on Begin. "He looked at me as if I was coming from another planet. I barely said it to [Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak] Shamir, because he didn't understand it either. But Shimon Peres understood it, when he was prime minister for a couple of years, 1984 to 1986," Dine said, adding, "I believe in strong bilateral relations. But not in a Likud foreign policy. We tried the latter for so long, and it didn't get us very far."

The effects of Dine's campaign to stimulate Jewish participation in US political life were soon felt throughout the land. Findley was not the only legislator who, having crossed some AIPAC red line, suddenly found an opponent awash in funding mobilized through Dine's nationwide network of donors. After Findley lost his re-election bid in 1982, he published They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel's Lobby. The book tracks campaigns AIPAC waged in the early 1980s that Findley thought helped defeat other Congressional candidates, people like Charles Percy and Adlai Stevenson III.

AIPAC's greatest strength, friends and foes agree, lies at the Congressional district level. There its organizers deploy networks of committed Israel supporters who build early relationships with up-and-coming political figures and keep close tabs on actions and attitudes regarding AIPAC's concerns. The headquarters aids that process by distributing timely bursts of information on how each legislator has voted on matters of interest to AIPAC. In 1982 Dine hired M.J. Rosenberg to be a key distributor of that information by editing the biweekly Near East Report, which AIPAC sent out to members and supporters.

Rosenberg has also long since departed from AIPAC and moved to the left, and to a greater extent than Dine. He disputes the notion that AIPAC's disfavor has ever been the decisive factor in taking down Congressional candidates. "There were cases, like Cynthia McKinney, where the candidate was already damaged goods, and AIPAC helped push the candidacy over the edge," Rosenberg said. "But they still don't dare take down people in good standing in their constituencies, like [Virginia Representative] Jim Moran, even though he does a lot of things AIPAC doesn't like." Rosenberg--like, not surprisingly, Dine himself--therefore challenges the argument John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have made about the all-prevailing nature of AIPAC's power in Congress.

Dine says he has "no regrets" about his AIPAC years. Some of his fondest memories of those days are of times he spent with Rabin. "It's no secret that he was an alcoholic--or anyway, that he really liked his drink. I used to buy him his Johnny Walker Red. He would drink a whole bottle at a time. The best conversations I had with him were in the 1980s when he was out of office, conversations at a deep intellectual level." Nearly all those discussions were about Israel's defense, Dine said. "The first intifada was a turning point for him: when he came back into office [as prime minister] in 1992, he was ready for peace."

Bill Clinton's 1992 victory brought exultation to the pro-Israel community. Clinton had, after all, beaten George H.W. Bush just months after Bush had forced a showdown with Yitzhak Shamir over Israel's West Bank settlements by threatening to link $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel's compliance with a settlement freeze. And Clinton had many pro-Israel advisers. His first National Security Council staff member on Middle East issues was Martin Indyk, a hurriedly naturalized Australian citizen who had been AIPAC's deputy director of research before leaving in 1985 to found a strongly pro-Israel think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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