Monday, May 23, 2005

Haaretz - Natan Sharansky Tied to AIPAC/Spy Scandal AIPAC moves to the right of Sharon

Haaretz - Israel News: "AIPAC: Franklin affair won't harm our work

By Nathan Guttman

WASHINGTON - For the first time since the AIPAC-Franklin scandal broke last August, the heads of the organization have commented on it publicly and promised to ensure that all employees of the organization observe the law as well as the rules of the organization.

At the opening of AIPAC's annual convention yesterday, executive director Howard Kohr promised the 5,000 activists that the lobby would come out of the affair safely, and that their work for Israel both in Congress and the administration had not been harmed. Kohr also promised that all AIPAC employees would obey U.S. laws.

"I pledge to you that I will take any steps necessary to ensure that every employee of AIPAC, now and in the future, conducts himself in a manner that you will be proud of, using policies and procedures that provide transparency, accountability and effectiveness," he said.

Kohr also said that it was of the utmost importance that the official document submitted by the FBI to the courts in the matter of former Pentagon employee Larry Franklin proves "we now know directly from the government that neither AIPAC nor any of its current employees isn't and never was a target of this investigation."

By employing the term "current employees," Kohr made a clear distinction between the lobby and its two fired staffers, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, who have been named in the affair.

Kohr said that the strong attendance at the convention proved how great the support for it was in the American Jewish community and sent a message to Israel's and AIPAC's opponents as well as the Jewish community that "we are here to stay."

Kohr's comments were meant to communicate that the affair does not touch the organization directly or influence its work; they were the only official comments made about the investigation at the annual convention.

While everything was business as usual from the podium, praising the lobby's work and the State of Israel, the atmosphere was completely different in the convention corridors and the media, where the investigation took center stage.

AIPAC did everything possible to make sure this year's convention was the largest and most impressive in years. The participation level was at an all-time high, and so was the participation of senior officials - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is to speak today, four Congressional leaders, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and hundreds more congressmen who will take part in the ball tonight.

While the delegates are abuzz over the Franklin affair and its potential ramifications, the convention's agenda focused on the two main issues for the pro-Israel community in the U.S. - disengagement and the Iranian threat.

Last year, the lobby hadn't made up its mind about disengagement, but this year, it is fully behind it, in Congress and with the administration.

Convention organizers tried to put a human face on the disengagement, communicate the need to support it and provide assistance to delegates who will be going to Capitol Hill tomorrow to speak with congressmen about the need to help with the disengagement.

A tearful Kochi Ravivo, from Elei Sinai in the northern Gaza Strip, appears in a movie produced especially for the convention, as she talks about the difficulty of giving up her home. So does her husband Micha, as does Yochi Sadeh, who was evacuated from her Yamit home almost 30 years ago. All the people in the film, who also appeared at the convention, to the cheers and applause of the delegates, had the same message: It is difficult, but justified. The only criticism of the disengagement from the podium was expected from Natan Sharansky, due to speak last night.

The other issue AIPAC is focusing on is the Iranian nuclear threat. The basement in the new Washington convention center has been converted into an exhibit entitled "Iran's route to the bomb." Visitors journey around boxes of "nuclear material" stamped "Made in China" and through recreations of uranium enrichment and bomb manufacturing. The exhibit ends with the clear sound of a ticking clock and images of nuclear bombs.

AIPAC delegates will ask their congressmen to support stiffening sanctions against Iran in an attempt to stop its nuclear program, and ask the administration to move the issue to the UN Security Council as soon as possible."