Charges Dropped, Questions Linger

By Nathan Guttman

Published May 06, 2009, issue of May 15, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The dismissal of all charges against two former pro-Israel lobbyists who had been accused of passing along state secrets has sent the Jewish community searching for answers, both internally and externally.

Jewish communal leaders have been inquiring about the prosecution’s motivation, and whether pro-Israel activists were targeted for their views.

But supporters of former defendants Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman are also asking why the Jewish community remained mostly silent during the nearly five years of the former lobbyists’ legal ordeal.

“Overall, with a few notable exceptions, the Jewish community was not supportive in terms of public statements and in terms of protesting the prosecution,” said Baruch Weiss, Weissman’s attorney. “There needs to be some very serious examination of the Jewish community.”

This turning of a cold shoulder to the former top lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee ended abruptly May 1, with the issuance of support statements shortly after the government’s dismissal of the charges. The pair had been charged under the 1917 Espionage Act that makes it a crime for civilians to receive and distribute closely held American defense information. They had been accused of receiving classified information from a former Pentagon analyst and relaying it to other AIPAC officials and an Israeli diplomat.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which had stood almost alone in criticizing the government for its decision to prosecute the pair, issued a statement welcoming the decision.

“We hope this will put an end to the spurious charges that have been made and the exploitation by some who sought to use this to advance baseless accusations and charges against those who support Israel,” the group said.

The American Jewish Committee called the decision to abandon the case “a victory for justice and free speech,” and the Anti-Defamation League said the case “should never have been brought before the courts.” The ADL added that the case endangered First Amendment protections.

Both groups took on the issue only late in the course of the prosecution. They had recently sent separate letters to the Justice Department, calling for reconsideration of the case.

Another group active on civil rights, The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, came out publicly on the issue only after hearing of the dismissal. Rabbi David Saperstein, the group’s director, said that the case “raised grave concerns that a serious injustice and abuse of power was involved.” Saperstein later told the Forward that every organization faced “serious constraints” on speaking out on the issue, because the facts are not available. “We didn’t have enough answers to take a public position,” he said.

A senior Jewish official in Washington, however, said that even though the pair did not receive much public support from the organized Jewish community, their issue was raised privately by Jewish activists with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and administration officials.

This explanation did not seem to satisfy the legal team representing the duo. In a joint press call, lawyers for Rosen and Weissman were critical of the community’s silence and the role played by their clients’ former employer. “We hope that with the case being dismissed, AIPAC and the community in which our clients were very active will look back and ask if our clients got a fair shake,” said Abbe Lowell, Rosen’s attorney.

Defense sources speculated that the community’s silence stemmed from AIPAC’s decision to fire Rosen and Weissman in April 2005, a step seen in the community as expressing mistrust in the pair. They also criticized community leaders for not stepping forward to fund legal expenses.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, admits that “we probably should have done more” for Rosen and Weissman, but he said the community remained largely on the sidelines “out of respect for AIPAC.” Foxman explained that the Jewish community initially waited for AIPAC to take a stand and that it later remained on the sidelines after the lobby decided to fire the two staffers. He added that he now expected the AIPAC leadership to reflect on its treatment of the former employees.

AIPAC fired Rosen and Weissman, arguing that their conduct was beneath the organization’s standards. A motion filed later by the defense team claimed that AIPAC’s decision resulted from talks between the lobby and the FBI, in which the lobby was assured it would be left out of the case in exchange for cutting ties with the two defendants. Nathan Lewin, the lawyer who represented AIPAC at the time said in a May 1 interview that “it was the right decision at the time.” Lewin denied there was any deal with the government. “We told the government from the outset that [the prosecution] was ill-advised and erroneous, but they decided to go forward anyway,” he said.

Rosen, 66, has filed a civil lawsuit against his former bosses, alleging libel and slander.

He told the Forward he expected the lobby to settle the issue of compensation even before his lawsuit is heard. “I was put in financial peril after years of exemplary work,” he said. “I am not out for revenge or to hurt the organization; I’m just concerned for my survival and the survival of my family.”

Nathan Guttman can be contacted at guttman@forward.com.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.