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AIPAC decision a victory—with qualifiers

 
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WASHINGTON – Baruch Weiss, the young lawyer who helped cripple the government’s case against two former AIPAC staffers, says the prosecution’s loss is a “great victory” for free speech and for Israel’s friends.

He’s not wrong, but like any legal document, the government’s motion Friday to dismiss classified information charges against Steve Rosen, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s former foreign policy chief, and Keith Weissman, its former Iran analyst, begs for footnotes and qualifiers.

News Analysis

The decision upholds as a matter of law the right of lobbyists to relay information to allies such as Israel. The drawn-out case, however, unquestionably wounded the pro-Israel community’s reputation as unassailable. It also defers a looming crisis for one of the fundamentals of reporting: the right of a reporter or lobbyist or anyone to listen to a source without running to tell the feds.

Rosen and Weissman had been awaiting trial ever since an FBI raid in August 2004 on AIPAC offices resulted in charges that they had obtained and relayed information relating to Iran’s threat against Israel. In the past three years, the government’s case suffered numerous setbacks in various pre-trial court rulings.

In a statement Friday, Dana Boente, the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said that “Given the diminished likelihood the government will prevail at trial under the additional intent requirements imposed by the court and the inevitable disclosure of classified information that would occur at any trial in this matter, we have asked the court to dismiss the indictment.”

Weiss, Weissman’s attorney, said Friday’s move by the government to drop the case represented a “great victory for the First Amendment and for the pro-Israel community.”

But Boente made it clear that while Rosen and Weissman are free, the government likes the tool it unearthed in an obscure section of the 1917 Espionage Act -- the ability to charge civilians with dealing in classified information -- and it’s going to keep it.

The 1917 statute criminalizes information that “could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation.”

The problem for the government came in a pre-trial ruling in August 2006, when trial judge T.S. Ellis III interpreted that line to mean that prosecutors had to show that U.S. interests were harmed, and not just that Rosen and Weissman relayed secrets to a foreign power: Israel.

Relaying secrets to friends of the United States, Ellis suggested, was not in and of itself criminal. For a crime to be committed, he said, the accused must have sought both benefit to another nation as well as harm to the United States.

Boente said that ruling went too far.

“The district court potentially imposed an additional burden on the prosecution not mandated by statute,” he complained.

The core of the indictment against Weissman and Rosen was that as part of an FBI sting operation, they were told -- falsely, it turns out -- that Iranian agents were plotting to kill Israelis and Americans in northern Iraq. They allegedly relayed the information to Israeli diplomats, media and colleagues.

“Relaying information to a friendly power” describes the essence of what AIPAC and a roster of other Jewish groups do -- and what any number of ethnic lobbies do.

With his 2006 ruling, Ellis enshrined that as legal, so long as it doesn’t harm the United States.

That might prove a relief to the pro-Israel community, but also raises questions for AIPAC on the eve of its annual policy conference about why it was so quick to throw Rosen and Weissman to the prosecutorial wolves.

AIPAC fired the two seven months after the charges were announced, saying their practices didn’t comport with AIPAC standards without ever elaborating what they were.

With the notable exceptions of Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, prominent organizations and communal leaders took years to weigh in -- if they did at all.

How does such behavior square with AIPAC’s carefully cultivated reputation for standing tall and tough?

Allowing Ellis’ decision to stand also upholds the part of the statute that alarmed free-speech advocates when Rosen and Weissman were first charged in 2005: The idea that anyone who even hears information that could harm the United States is liable to face 10 years behind bars if he or she doesn’t immediately call the authorities.

Boente’s statement Friday suggested that the government may rely on that statute in the future when it comes to prosecutions.

In movie parlance, that leaves a hole big enough for a sequel.

JTA

 
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Reckoning at Nariman House

Looking back at the horror at Mumbai’s Chabad house, finding hope in its rededication

The last time I visited Nariman House — Beit Chabad in Mumbai was in 2009, less than a year after the horrific terrorist attack there.

I had been on my annual visit to India, but I was not sure whether I wanted to see Nariman House again. In 2008, my daughter and I spent a Shabbat at Chabad-Nariman House with Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, whom everybody seemed to call Gabby, and his wife, Rivka. My memories of the house were very positive. I had particularly strong memories of Gabby’s pleasant nature and openness. Still, when some acquaintances at the Indian Express asked to go back to Nariman House, I had mixed feelings.

Until that point, I had only audio memories of that night, when I acted as an interpreter to another Chabad rabbi, speaking to one of the terrorists by phone in an unsuccessful attempt to save the Jewish victims. This visit, however, was much a more real and vivid testimony to the events of Thanksgiving Day, 2008. I noted the bullet holes on the walls of Nariman House, along with the message painted in Hindi and English by the Hindu and Muslim neighbors: “We condemn the terrorist attacks of 26-11-2008.” Over time, there were fewer and fewer newspaper reports, and the memories faded from my immediate consciousness. Still, as a Jew and as an Indian, and as somebody with a close connection to the terrorist attack, I could not forget it entirely.

 

Another decade, another war

Israeli journalist will report on Gaza at federation breakfast in Englewood

Alon Ben-David entered journalism in 1985. He was 18.

That’s when he was drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces; he spent his time in the IDF working for Army Radio.

“It’s considered one of the best schools of journalism,” he said. “They throw you into the work.”

Thirty years later, Mr. Ben-David is the military correspondent for one of the three Israeli television channels, which incongruously is called Channel 10. (Channel 1 is the original, state-run station, where Mr. Ben David started working soon after his army term; the second channel is the privately run Channel 2.) In that capacity, he will come to Englewood next week to speak about the Israeli situation, with specific attention to the ramifications of this summer’s war with Gaza.

A lot of history has happened on his watch. He covered the first intifada, the second intifada, the second Lebanon war, the withdrawal from Gaza, the recent conflicts in Gaza … “All of those,” he said.

 

Challenge from the left

New NIF campaign adopts right’s tools

WASHINGTON — In a strategic shift, the New Israel Fund is arming itself with a set of sharp political tools and picking a fight.

Its target: Israel’s political right.

Its weapons: Opposition research, media monitoring, and staking its claims to patriotism and Zionism.

If NIF’s dramatic language, outlined in a September 18 press release, and its tough new posture seem familiar, it’s because the funder is adopting tactics used by the right to marginalize NIF and its clients.

“Over the past decade, Israel has endured an assault on liberal democratic values and a growing defiance of democratic norms, endangering freedom of speech and conscience as well as minority rights,” the release said. “Overt racism, ultra-nationalism and xenophobia are on the rise.”

 

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Netanyahu said he had asked his security adviser, Ya’akov Amidror, to establish a committee focused on “minimizing the damage caused” by the report.

 

Facebook and Zuckerberg does an about-face and deletes Palestinian page calling for a Third Intifada

Following widespread criticism, a Facebook page calling for a third Palestinian intifada against Israel was removed on March 29. On the Facebook page, Palestinians were urged to launch street protests following Friday May 15 and begin an uprising as modelled by similar uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan. Killing Jews en masse was emphasized.

According to the Facebook page, “Judgment Day will be brought upon us only once the Muslims have killed all of the Jews.” The page had more than 340,000 fans. However, even while the page was removed, a new page now exists in its place with the same name,  “Third Palestinian Intifada.”

 

Did heated rhetoric play role in shooting of Giffords?

WASHINGTON – The 8th District in southern Arizona represented by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords comprises liberal Tucson and its rural hinterlands, which means moderation is a must. But it also means that spirits and tensions run high.

Giffords’ office in Tucson was ransacked in March following her vote for health care reform — a vote the Democrat told reporters that she would cast even if it meant her career. She refused to be cowed, but she also took aim at the hyped rhetoric. She cast the back-and-forth as part of the democratic process.

 
 
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