Washington - The federal judge in the case of two pro-Israel advocates accused of passing classified documents has rejected the government’s efforts to keep much of the evidence out of the public view.
Judge T.S. Ellis III of the U.S District Court in Alexandria, Va., ruled Monday that the government may not use special procedures meant to block public access to some of the evidence and testimonies expected to be presented in the courtroom during the trial, scheduled to begin in early June.
The ruling is being seen by some observers as the latest sign of the judge’s skepticism regarding the case against Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, two former officials at the pro-Israel lobby the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Rosen and Weissman stand accused of receiving classified information from a Pentagon official and passing it on to the media and to a foreign country.
The decision comes just days after a small New York-based Jewish activist group, Amcha – The Coalition for Jewish Concerns, filed an amicus brief siding with the defendants’ fight for an open trial. The brief appeared to mark the first time that a Jewish organization had formally sided with the defendants since they were fired from Aipac.
In its 17-page brief, Amcha, founded and headed by Rabbi Avi Weiss, argued that closing the trial, or parts of it, to the public would be against the interest of the entire American Jewish community. In a lengthy and emotional description, Amcha’s lawyers described the 1895 trial of Alfred Dreyfus — the French Jewish officer who was wrongly accused of treason — and claimed that one of the reasons for his conviction was the fact that the trial was conducted behind closed doors and without public scrutiny.
“The American Jewish community has a particular interest in ensuring that the trial of Messrs. Rosen and Weissman does not lead to the same result,” the brief argued. “Any use of ‘secret evidence’ runs the risk of deepening anti-Jewish sentiments in the United States by perpetuating the myth of the overly powerful ‘Jewish lobby’ composed of people loyal to Israel first and to the United States second.”
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.