Jewish Officials Predict No Long-Term Damage From 'mole' Inquiry

Matthew Berger - JTA - Oct. 5, 2004

American Jewish officials say they don't think an FBI investigation of a Pentagon staffer accused of passing classified U.S. government documents to the pro-Israel lobby will result in espionage charges - but they worry that the affair still may hamper their efforts on behalf of Israel, at least in the short term.

Larry Franklin, who is not Jewish, is accused of passing classified information to American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) officials, who may have passed the information along to Israel.

Jewish organizational leaders said they don't think charges will be filed against the two AIPAC officials, whom the Jerusalem Post identified as Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman. AIPAC would not confirm the officials' identity.

"These allegations are outrageous as well as baseless," AIPAC President Bernice Manocherian told the crowd at Sunday's Jewish Republican event.

Newsweek reports that Franklin may have been targeted by federal investigators after he was seen dropping in on a lunch between an AIPAC staffer and the minister of political affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Naor Gilon. Gilon was being monitored for suspicion of espionage on behalf of Israel.

Newsweek also says AIPAC staffers may have refused to accept documents from Franklin.

Jewish officials noted that they had been through more difficult periods - most notably the 1985 arrest of Jonathan Pollard, a Jew who worked as a U.S. Navy analyst and confessed to spying for Israel - yet had retained their clout in Washington.

Privately, however, some Jewish organizational leaders were concerned that the investigation would hamper their work in the short term, with peers questioning their loyalty and adversaries gaining new ammunition to attack them.

"I believe they will be exonerated, but the damage is done by having it on the front page of all the newspapers and having the questions out there," said one Jewish leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They will question what Jewish organizations are doing and what their real agenda is."

In Israel, media were filled with the latest news on the investigation, but Israeli officials insisted their hands were clean.

Israeli diplomats and officials tried to downplay the story, saying it is mostly a question of internal U.S. political intrigue.

Intelligence on Iran is of particular interest to Israel because officials fear the Islamic republic is trying to develop nuclear arms. Iran also supports Hezbollah, which continues to try to attack Israel from the Lebanese border and is reportedly also active in the West Bank.

Yet after the Pollard affair, Israeli officials say strict orders were put in place against any form of spying in the United States.

Israel's ambassador to the United States, Danny Ayalon, told the Yediot Achronot newspaper that there is no truth to allegations of espionage.

"For information on U.S. policy toward Iran we do not need assessments from a mid-level intelligence official in the Pentagon," Ayalon said. "I am in constant contact with national security adviser Condaleezza Rice and other senior officials."

AIPAC officials and other Jewish organizational leaders were rallying behind the pro-Israel lobby Sunday, publicly questioning the motives behind the leak to CBS News Aug. 27.

Jews in New York speculated the leak was an effort to hurt "neo-conservatives" in the Defense Department who were architects for the Iraq war and who have supported efforts to protect Israel.

Two Jews in high positions in the Defense Department, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary Douglas Feith, have been named repeatedly in press accounts about the case, though the man accused of passing the information is a lower-level officer who worked for Feith.

The future depends in large part on what happens next in the federal investigation. Initial reports suggested a sensational story, but since then AIPAC advocates have been heartened as subsequent reports suggest the case might not rise to the level of espionage, and Franklin may be charged only with mishandling classified information.

JTA correspondent Dina Kraft contributed to this story from Tel Aviv.

  • See Also: The Franklin/AIPAC Spy Case Page