WikiLeaks soldier Manning sentenced to 35 years in prison


Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier convicted of the biggest breach of classified data in the nation's history by providing files to WikiLeaks, was sentenced to 35 years in prison on Wednesday.

Judge Colonel Denise Lind, who last month found Manning guilty of 20 charges including espionage and theft, could have sentenced him to as many as 90 years in prison. Prosecutors had asked for 60 years.

Manning, 25, will be dishonorably discharged from the U.S. military and forfeit some pay, Lind said. His rank will be reduced to private from private first class.

Manning would be eligible for parole after serving one-third of his sentence, which will be reduced by the time he has already served in prison plus 112 days.

Wearing his dress uniform, the slightly built Manning stood at attention as the sentence was read, seeming to show no emotion. As he was escorted out of the courtroom, supporters shouted “Bradley, we are with you.”

Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, called the sentence “unprecedented” in its magnitude.

“It's more than 17 times the next longest sentence ever served” for providing secret material to the media, Goitein said. “It is in line with sentences for paid espionage for the enemy.”

In 2010, Manning turned over more than 700,000 classified files, battlefield videos and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, the pro transparency website, in a case that has commanded international attention.

Defense attorneys had not made a specific sentencing request but pleaded with Lind not to “rob him of his youth.”

Manning was working as a low-level intelligence analyst in Baghdad when he handed over the documents, catapulting WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, into the international spotlight.

The classified material that shocked many around the world included a 2007 gunsight video of a U.S. Apache helicopter firing at suspected insurgents in Baghdad. Among the dozen fatalities were two Reuters news staff. WikiLeaks dubbed the footage “Collateral Murder.”

KEEPING SECRETS

The case highlighted the difficulty in keeping secrets in the Internet age. It raised strong passions on the part of the U.S. government, which said Manning had put American lives at risk, and anti-secrecy advocates, who maintained Manning was justified in releasing the information.

During a pretrial hearing, Lind had determined that the eventual sentence would be reduced by 112 days because of harsh treatment after his arrest in 2010. He likely will be imprisoned at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

A U.S. rights group has said Manning should be a candidate for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

Human rights group Amnesty International called on U.S. President Barack Obama to commute Manning's sentence.

“Instead of fighting tooth and nail to lock him up for the equivalent of several life sentences, the U.S. government should turn its attention to investigating and delivering justice for the serious human rights abuses committed by its officials in the name of countering terror,” said Widney Brown, senior director of international law and policy at Amnesty International.

Manning's trial at Fort Meade, Maryland, home of the ultra-secret National Security Agency, wound down as U.S. officials sought the return of Edward Snowden. The former NSA contractor, who disclosed details of secret U.S. programs that included monitoring the telephone and Internet traffic of Americans, has been given temporary asylum in Russia.

The Guardian said on Tuesday that British authorities had forced the newspaper to destroy materials leaked by Snowden.

Additional reporting by Jim Finkle; Editing by Scott Malone and Jeffrey Benkoe

Mystery Australian’s next-of-kin seek compensation from Israel


Relatives of an Australian immigrant to Israel who killed himself in 2010 while secretly jailed on charges of violating national security are seeking compensation from the state, a source briefed on the affair said on Friday.

The source said the talks were preliminary as Israel had not formally faulted its prison authorities in the death of Ben Zygier, which was made public this week by an Australian television expose that described him as a Mossad officer.

A Mossad link has been neither denied nor confirmed by Australia or Israel, where military censorship and court gag orders kept many details of the case from the media.

The silence has fanned media speculation that Israel believes the 34-year-old Melbourne Jew had betrayed its intelligence agency's high-stakes work abroad.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which oversees the Mossad, did not respond for a request for comment on the matter.

Israel's Haaretz daily said the state agreed to pay “several million shekels” in damages to Zygier's family around six weeks ago, when an internal inquest declared his death a suicide.

The inquest result was disclosed by the Justice Ministry on Wednesday, in Israel's only official statement on the case. The statement, which did not identify Zygier by name, said a judge had also ordered an “evaluation regarding issues of negligence”.

A source briefed on the affair denied there had been any agreement to compensate Zygier's family for the failure of staff to prevent his suicide at Ayalon prison, where he had been held for months, under alias and in isolation from other inmates.

“There's no decision on negligence yet, so there's no compensation in any form in that regard,” the source told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “What there have been are initial inquiries by the deceased's representatives about compensation.”

“GRAVE CRIMES”

A Zygier family lawyer, Moshe Mazur, declined to comment, citing the sensitivity of the case.

So did Israel's Prisons Service. But one of its officials voiced skepticism about the idea of compensation being agreed with Zygier's family, saying such payouts in negligence cases could take “years” to negotiate.

Avigdor Feldman, an Israeli lawyer with whom Zygier briefly consulted while in prison, said he knew of no compensation deal.

Were the state to pay damages for negligence, he said, it would not reflect any official position on Zygier's guilt or innocence: “Even convicted criminals are eligible for compensation if their jailers fail to provide for their well-being as required.”

Feldman said Zygier died after being indicted for “grave crimes” but before being tried. Zygier had denied the charges against him but was considering a plea bargain, Feldman said.

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said on Thursday that Canberra was told Zygier had been held over “serious offences under Israeli national security legislation”.

Feldman told Israeli radio on Thursday that a “Mossad liaison” contact had arranged his with Zygier.

The Age, a Melbourne newspaper, said in a report citing Australian security officials that Zygier may have been in contact with the intelligence services of his native country and “been about to blow the whistle” about Mossad operations – including their possible fraudulent use of Australian passports.

A veteran intelligence officer who declined to be identified by name or nationality said there was a possibility that, had Zygier indeed served Mossad, the agency would have paid death benefits to his family – regardless of the charges against him.

“If he was never tried, then he was never found guilty, and he may be considered to have died while in active service,” the intelligence veteran said. “That would make his next-of-kin eligible to the various relevant payouts.”

The Hebrew word for compensation, “pitzuim”, can also be used for benefits paid without claims of misconduct.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Giles Elgood

Israeli lawyer sheds some light on Australian spy mystery


An Australian immigrant, reported to have been recruited by Israel's Mossad spy agency, was charged with grave crimes before he committed suicide in an Israeli jail, one of his lawyers said on Thursday.

The closely guarded case has raised questions in Australia and Israel about the suspected use by the Mossad of dual Australian-Israeli nationals and the circumstances behind the 2010 detention and death of 34-year-old Ben Zygier.

Israel on Wednesday broke its silence over an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) report which said that Zygier, who moved to Israel, was jailed in isolation over suspected misconduct while spying for the Mossad.

Partially lifting a gag order on the case, an Israeli court said a dual-nationality citizen had been imprisoned secretly under a false name for “security reasons”, and found dead in his cell in what was eventually ruled a suicide.

Israeli criminal attorney Avigdor Feldman said he met with the man, dubbed “Prisoner X”, a day before his death.

“I met with a balanced person, given the tragic outcome, who was rationally weighing his legal options,” Feldman told Channel 10 Television.

He said the detainee was charged with “grave crimes” and that there were ongoing negotiations for a plea bargain. The attorney did not elaborate on the allegations, which he said the prisoner denied. Reporting in Israel on the case is still subject to strict government censorship.

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jarida quoted on Thursday unidentified Western sources as saying Zygier took part in the killing by a Mossad hit-team of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mahbouh in Dubai in 2010.

Zygier, the newspaper reported, offered Dubai information about the operation in return for the emirate's protection.

Offering a different version, Australia's Fairfax Media said Australian security officials suspected Zygier may have been about to disclose Israeli intelligence operations, including the use of fraudulent Australian passports, either to the Canberra government or to the media before his arrest.

“His interrogators told him he could expect lengthy jail- time and be ostracized from his family and the Jewish community,” Feldman said. “There was no heart string they did not pull, and I suppose that ultimately brought about the tragic end.”

In a separate interview Feldman appeared to inadvertently confirm the man was a Mossad spy.

“The Mossad liaison I was in touch with informed me that, unfortunately, my client was no longer alive,” Feldman told Kol Barama Radio. Israel has neither denied nor confirmed that “Prisoner X” was a Mossad officer.

The jailhouse suicide of Zygier has focused attention on the agency's recruitment of foreign-born Jews who could spy under cover of their native passports.

SUSPICIONS

Australian media have reported that Zygier had been one of at least three Australian-Israeli dual nationals under investigation by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation over suspicions of espionage for Israel.

Australia complained to Israel in 2010 after Dubai said forged Australian passports were used by the Mossad squad. Mahbouh's killers, authorities in the emirate said, also had also had British, Irish, French and German passports.

Mossad is widely reputed to have stepped up its shadow war in recent years against Iran's nuclear program, Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas, suspected nuclear procurement by Syria and arms smuggling to Palestinians through Dubai, Sudan and Egypt.

In an apparent reversal from previous statements, Australian Foreign minister Bob Carr said on Thursday his ministry had known about Zygier's jailing in Israel as early as February 2010. On Wednesday he said Australian diplomats in Israel only found out about the detention after his death in custody later that year.

Israel's Justice Ministry said a court has ordered an inquiry into possible negligence in Zygier's death.

Zygier, who came from a prominent Jewish family in Australia and was also known as Ben Alon and Ben Allen, was buried in Melbourne. He had been married with two young children. His relatives have declined all comment on the case.

(Writing by Maayan Lubell and Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller/Mark Heinrich)

Authors return to scene of Israeli espionage


We think we have some important stories to tell, and thus we returned to the subject of Israeli espionage. Our first effort in that field was a book in 1990 titled “Every Spy a Prince.” Twenty-two years later, we spoke with more people and got more stories — about recent events, but also new details about important operations going back to the beginnings of the Jewish state in 1948.

We are not surprised that the news media put their focus on our description of Israel’s covert activities aimed at stopping — or at least slowing — Iran’s nuclear program. Many of those were accurate, if brief, summaries of what we reported: notably, a news article by the Associated Press on July 8.

We had mixed feelings, therefore, when The New York Times gave our book significant attention on July 11. The headline atop a full column on Page A8 said: “Tehran Abuzz as Book Says Israel Killed 5 Scientists.”

Several of our friends said there is no such thing as bad publicity when one has written a book and it is just out, and the project thrives or languishes depending on how much attention it can get.  

Yet the wording of the Times article would lead newspaper readers to think we were accusing Jews in Iran — where approximately 25,000 still reside — of participating in secret Mossad missions, including assassinations.

The article says that our book contains the “assertion” that five scientists were killed in Iran “by operatives, most likely of Persian Jewish heritage, employed by Mossad …”

We do not want to attack the reporter, who had contacted us with only two questions this week: Could he rapidly have a free, review copy, to help the Times Foreign Desk possibly write an article that might mention “Spies Against Armageddon”? And did we or our publisher have any plan to translate the book into Farsi, the language of Iran?

We feel, however, that while the main thrust of his article turned out to be reporting what the news media in Iran are saying about our book, he himself distorted what we wrote. We are not suggesting that it was intentional, but there were some exaggerations and too much certainty — whereas we were cautious in suggesting what might be true about covert Mossad operations in Iran.

In a carefully worded passage on Page 14 — in our first chapter, “Stopping Iran” — our book says: “The Mossad also had a human treasury: Tens of thousands of ex-Iranians now lived in Israel. Iranian Jews had fled, especially just after the 1979 revolution, and many of their children also were well acquainted with the Persian language and customs. Individuals who were brave enough — and then selected and trained by the Mossad — could move back to Iran and secretly serve Israel.

“Israeli operatives inside Iran were available for all kinds of espionage and even, if and when the time came, for pinpointing targets for air strikes.”

We were not reporting that the assassins in 2007-2012 were Persian Jews returning to their homeland. We said that the Mossad “could” call upon the repository of ex-Iranians as well as other Israelis in the secret agency.

The Times article also mentioned “the book’s assertion that the assassins were all Mossad agents who used agency safe houses maintained inside Iran since the era of the shah.”

Again, we carefully report in our book that the Mossad has had safe houses in Iran since pre-1979 days, but we don’t report that all the assassins stayed in such houses.

The key paragraph on Page 13 of our book speaks of “possibilities.” We do not claim to know or to reveal how the assassins traveled or where they stayed:

“Naturally, no one in Tel Aviv was talking about any operational details of how Israelis entered and left Iran — or where they stayed while inside the Islamic Republic.

“There were many possibilities. Obviously, Israeli operatives traveled using the passports of other countries, including both bogus and genuine documents. That fact had been inadvertently revealed several times, over many years. In addition, the Mossad continuously maintained safe houses in Iran, dating back to the pre-1979 years under the Shah. That was an investment in the future, typical for Israeli intelligence.”

The Times article then caused some discomfort to some Persian Jews in the United States — and we heard from some — when it stated that our book contains “assertions about the assassins’ nationalities or religious beliefs …” We never discuss their religious beliefs. Yes, their nationality is Israeli. We do report that, and we explain that against the background of Mossad operations that penetrated enemy countries in decades past.

Our book treads carefully on some very sensitive territory, but we would like to think that we got the balance right. It is the historian’s job to tell readers what happened and to set it in context — and as historians of the espionage world, we further endeavor not to endanger anyone by revealing too many details.

Let us be clear, and we have written about this elsewhere and will continue to do so: Israel’s Mossad does not use local Jews as agents, saboteurs or assassins. Bitter lessons were learned more than half a century ago in Egypt, Iraq and other countries, where early operations by Israeli intelligence sometimes did use local Jews— and, if caught, the individuals were hanged, and their entire communities suffered official retribution from the Arab regime.

The use of Jonathan Pollard, an American with a high-level security clearance in U.S. naval intelligence, as a spy for Israel was an aberration. The Mossad would not have hired him. It was a separate agency, Lakam (the Science Liaison Bureau), that ran Pollard — who is now serving a life sentence for an operation that most Israeli officials and intelligence professionals believe was a mistake.  

The Mossad, we believe, would have known not to put the important American Jewish community in peril — not the least, American Jews working in U.S. defense and intelligence jobs — by employing Pollard.

To read the Associated Press and New York Times articles mentioned above, visit:


Dan Raviv, a CBS News correspondent based in Washington, and veteran Israeli intelligence reporter and commentator Yossi Melman are co-authors of the new “Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.” They also wrote the best seller “Every Spy a Prince.” They blog at IsraelSpy.com.

Russia expels Israel’s military attaché over espionage claims


Israel’s military attaché in Moscow was arrested and expelled earlier this week, it was revealed on Wednesday, with sources saying that the top Israel Defense Forces officer was questioned over espionage suspicions.

Colonel Vadim Leiderman was arrested during a May 12 meeting in a restaurant, in what appeared to be a violation of his diplomatic immunity. He was then questioned for a few hours, released, and subsequently deported.

Leiderman, who was born in the Soviet Union, has a doctorate in engineering from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa. He was a member of the Israel Air Force (IAF) technical corps, and spent some years working for the IAF in America.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Espionage trial of Israeli soldier Anat Kamm begins


The trial of a former Israeli soldier who turned classified military documents over to a reporter began.

Anat Kamm left her home, where she has been under strict house arrest, on Monday to attend the start of her closed-door trial in Tel Aviv District Court.

Kamm has admitted to stealing about 2,000 documents, which she downloaded on to two discs, while serving her mandatory military service in the Israeli army’s Central Command. Though the two original discs have not been found, Haaretz reporter Uri Blau, who is staying in London to avoid arrest and questioning, turned over to Israeli security officials the documents given to him by Kamm, at her request, via his attorneys.

Kamm is charged with two counts of aggravated espionage, according to Haaretz. The first count, punishable by life in prison, involves delivering secret information with the intent to damage state security. The second count, gathering and retaining classified information with the intention of damaging state security, is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The court ruled Monday that Kamm must respond to the charges by the beginning of July and that witness testimonies would begin in December, according to Haaretz. A gag order has been placed on the court proceedings, but some portions of the trial will be open to the public.

According to police documents obtained by Haaretz, Kamm told police that the Israel Defense Forces committed war crimes and that she appropriated the documents to expose them.

“I didn’t have the chance to change some of the things that I found it important to change during my military service, and I thought that by exposing these [materials] I would make a change,” Kamm is quoted as saying in the police documents. “It was important for me to bring the IDF’s policy to public knowledge.”

Justice Arthur Goldberg, baseball’s Joe Berg spied for U.S. during WWII


WASHINGTON (JTA)—Several prominent Jews spied for the United States during World War II, newly released documents show.

Former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, philanthropist and businessman Laurence Tisch and baseball player Moe Berg were among the 35,000 men and women whose files from their service in the World War II-era Office of Strategic Services were released Thursday by the National Archives.

The files cover 35,000 Americans, both civilian and military, who worked in some capacity for the intelligence agency , the precursor to the CIA.

Goldberg’s file notes that as both a civilian and a member of the army, he supervised a section in the Secret Intelligence Branch of OSS to maintain contact with labor groups and organizations regarded as potential resistance elements in enemy-occupied and enemy countries. He organized anti-Nazi European transportation workers into an extensive intelligence network.

Steve Tilley, director of the textual archives services division of the National Archives, said Jewish Americans of that era might have been particularly attractive as recruits to the agency because of their education and their European background, particularly their knowledge of languagues.

TV chef Julia Child and Middle East negotiator Ralph Bunche were among the other names in the records.

AIPAC Staffers Go to Grand Jury


 

Top officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) have appeared before a grand jury and two senior staffers have been placed on paid leave in the latest developments in the federal investigation of the pro-Israel lobby for allegedly passing classified information to Israel, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the case.

At the same time, the Pentagon staffer at the center of the allegations, accused of espionage by the FBI and then pressured into an alleged FBI “sting” against AIPAC, has been quietly rehired by the Pentagon, over the FBI’s objections.

Sources close to the investigation, while confirming these details, say they do not foresee an imminent resolution before AIPAC’s annual policy conference, which begins May 22. Rumors that something might happen sooner have been swirling around Washington in recent weeks.

The investigation came to light last August with an FBI raid of AIPAC’s Washington headquarters. Files belonging to two senior staffers, policy director Steve Rosen and Iran specialist Keith Weissman, were confiscated.

News of the raid was leaked to CBS News as it was happening, igniting worldwide media coverage and speculation about a “nest of Pollardites,” a reference to the American Jewish naval analyst who was convicted of spying for Israel in 1986.

Allegations soon surfaced that Rosen and Weissman had accepted classified information on Iran from Larry Franklin, an Iran analyst for the Pentagon, in 2003.

The FBI launched another raid on AIPAC headquarters in December 2004. It also issued grand jury subpoenas to four top staffers: Howard Kohr, the group’s executive director; Richard Fishman, the managing director; Renee Rothstein, the communications director; and Raphael Danziger, the research director.

In late January or early February, sources say, several of the four testified before the grand jury. AIPAC would not comment on the proceedings of the grand jury, which was convened by U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty, the federal prosecutor in eastern Virginia.

Rosen and Weissman were placed on paid leave in January. At around the same time, Franklin returned to the Pentagon in a “nonsensitive position,” sources said.

Franklin, who had been threatened with an espionage indictment by FBI assistant director David Szady’s counterintelligence division, was pressured into acting as an FBI informant against AIPAC, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the FBI’s tactics against Franklin. In an earlier case involving a CIA staff attorney, Szady had been publicly accused of targeting Jews with security investigations.

“I think that shows that Franklin was never any sort of espionage threat,” a source close to Franklin said. Franklin has been described as overeager but intensely patriotic.

“Franklin was obviously more of a victim than a threat,” said one source intimately familiar with the government’s case against Franklin.

Szady told a contact that Franklin’s rehiring by the Pentagon was not “our call,” and was done over the FBI’s strenuous objections. An FBI spokesman refused to comment on the rehiring.

Franklin has not been called to testify before the grand jury, nor have there been significant discussions or even contacts about a plea or a resolution, according to sources familiar with the Justice Department’s case against Franklin.

“Nothing is happening, and Franklin is back at work,” said a source familiar with the FBI’s investigation.

Rumors have swirled that something was about to happen in the case before AIPAC’s policy conference, but key sources familiar with the case say no resolution of the case “seems possible” by then, barring an unforeseen development.

Scheduled out-of-state travel for key people could make settlement negotiations difficult, sources say. Multiple sources associated with Franklin and the prosecution’s cases confirm that genuine settlement discussions are not yet even underway.

AIPAC also was clamping down on any speculation about the latest developments.

Earlier statements from the organization, repeated as recently as December, asserted that “neither AIPAC nor any member of our staff has broken any law, nor has AIPAC or its employees ever received information they believed was secret or classified.”

Under a new gag order by defense attorneys, AIPAC spokesmen have declined to repeat the original statement. The standard reply now is, “It is not appropriate for AIPAC to comment on any issue related to any ongoing investigation.”

An AIPAC spokesman added that the statement should “not be construed as a no-comment.”

The FBI and prosecutor McNulty refused comment.

Senior FBI officials, stung by criticism of Szady, are trying to understand exactly what conduct the agency is investigating. Two FBI agents recently talked to a senior Jewish communal leader, not to extract potential evidence but “simply to understand how AIPAC works,” according to one participant.

The leader explained how the American Jewish community relates to its ancestral homeland. The conversation was characterized by the participant as “extremely congenial.”

The investigation grew out of a sting last summer by Szady’s counterintelligence division after Franklin, the Pentagon analyst, was observed at a Virginia restaurant in June 2003 sharing a classified Iran policy draft with an AIPAC staffer, according to multiple sources aware of the prosecution’s case.

Such sharing of in-progress drafts with outside think-tanks and experts is common in Washington foreign policy-making circles. In this case, however, Szady’s surveillance agents were watching, the sources say.

About a year later, the sources say, the counterintelligence division used the technical violation observed in the restaurant to pressure a frightened Franklin into becoming an undercover informant.

Sources confirm that while Franklin was without defense counsel, Szady’s agents threatened him with a long prison term for espionage, which would have ruined his family financially. Franklin was placed on unpaid leave and forced to take odd jobs to support his five children and wheelchair-bound wife.

Under FBI pressure, Franklin agreed to feed AIPAC’s Rosen and Weissman bogus information about plans to kidnap Israelis in Kurdistan, the sources say. AIPAC officials reportedly passed that information to the Israeli Embassy in an attempt to save lives, sources say.

Franklin also allegedly was directed to sting a group of other Washington figures associated with the controversial Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi, and with neoconservative circles. Those efforts apparently went nowhere.

On Aug. 27, 2004, FBI sources leaked details of the investigation to CBS News just as federal agents executed search warrants for hard drives and files at AIPAC headquarters. That night, CBS News led with an explosive story about an Israeli mole in the government, a story that since has been discredited.

Shortly after the FBI’s alleged scheme to set up AIPAC became public last fall, Franklin secured prominent defense lawyer Plato Cacheris, who ended Franklin’s cooperation with the government.

Rosen hired defense counsel Abbe Lowell, who represented former President Clinton during his impeachment proceedings.

It remains to be seen whether Rosen, Weissman and AIPAC will emerge from the investigation intact.

The entire Jewish community is watching closely.

As one Jewish leader who asked not to be identified said, “If AIPAC is targeted in this fashion, it is not good news for the rest of us. AIPAC would be only the beginning.”

New York Times best-selling journalist Edwin Black, author of the award-winning “Banking on Baghdad,” first revealed charges of anti-Semitism against FBI personnel and other details of the FBI’s ongoing investigation of AIPAC.

 

Investigation of AIPAC Crosses Line


 

There have been hundreds, even thousands, of articles in the American press regarding an FBI investigation involving the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

While the reports imply or assert various charges, none, in fact, has been lodged, despite an investigation that has lasted more than a year. While information has dribbled out, it’s still hard to discern exactly what wrong has been allegedly committed that would justify such a highly publicized case.

Leaders and members of the Jewish community are confident that there is no substance to the allegations, yet their level of concern is increasing. Why?

To fully understand the reaction and emotions evoked we would need to engage in a lengthy sociological, historical and even psychological analysis of the American Jewish community.

I think it’s safe to say that American Jews are among the most patriotic and loyal of American citizens. Certainly this is true of those who are the targets of this investigation. As a community, we respect the authority of government and support the rule of law. But historical realities have loaded on us a lot of baggage, so that when a Jew is charged, particularly in such sensitive areas, it is seen as a communal, not just a personal, matter.

When there are doubts about the motivation behind such actions, it raises other specters that have dark roots in our past. In recent months, there have been repeated stories about the “neocons” — often a code word for Jews — or widespread canards placing the onus on Jews for everything from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to the war in Iraq.

The implicit references to “dual loyalty” cannot be overlooked, especially when reliable studies show that a significant percentage of Americans still believe this baseless and bigoted idea. American Jews care about Israel and advocate proudly in support of the special U.S.-Israel relationship. So do many other Americans with historical or ethnic ties to other homelands overseas.

The effectiveness of that Jewish advocacy has raised resentment, jealousy and wild mythologies. These are among the factors that set the context for the reaction to the AIPAC investigation.

There are many questions as to why, after such a long period, there have only been selected leaks, and why — after AIPAC cooperated fully — it was necessary for seven FBI agents to stage a raid for information that was voluntarily offered, with CNN waiting at the door as they departed.

In fact, the root of the concern harks back to Leslie Stahl’s original, breathless report on CBS’ nationwide broadcast on Aug. 27, 2004, a Friday night.

That initial account asserted that espionage was involved and that a Pentagon “mole” was working with AIPAC. The CBS Web site carried a headline, “The FBI Believes It Has ‘Solid’ Evidence That the Suspected Mole Supplied Israel With Classified Materials That Included Secret White House Policies and Deliberations on Iran.”

In the following days, the story kept changing — to the alleged transfer of secret documents, to the mishandling of classified information, to ever-lesser charges. Some immediately likened it to the Pollard affair, while others saw it as part of the administration’s internal turf battles.

There were many questions regarding CBS’ behavior, the timing of the release — three days before the Republican Convention — and the lead investigator’s earlier dealings with Jewish employees at the CIA.

There were no official statements from administration sources. Some members of Congress shied away from comment, while many called for investigations of the probe.

Jewish organizations, confident of AIPAC’s assurances that there was no substance to the charges, rallied to its support. So did members of AIPAC, in public and private ways.

They were bolstered by the appearances of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice at a major AIPAC event in October, as well as the revelation that President Bush chose to address AIPAC’s annual conference a few months earlier, despite the investigation that was already under way.

But damage was done, and the Pat Buchanans of the world rushed to take advantage of it. Buchanan said on a national television show, “We need to investigate whether there is a nest of Pollardites in the Pentagon who have been transmitting American secrets through AIPAC, the Israel lobby, over to the Israel Embassy, to be transferred to [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon].”

He went on to refer to reports about people in the office of Douglas Feith, an undersecretary of defense.

These comments were repudiated by one of Buchanan’s fellow panelists, former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich. But another panelist, Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), chose not to respond even when asked by the program’s host.

While speculation continues about the true motivations behind the investigation — whether it’s an attempt to take advantage of a sting operation to bring AIPAC down, or force it to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or merely is the result of bungled effort — it clearly has crossed the line of the acceptable.

The latest revelations by investigative journalist Edwin Black (see page 22) and others suggest that agents took advantage of a scared, lower-level, non-Jewish Defense Department employee to set up AIPAC and others, including former Pentagon official Richard Perle and CBS News producer Adam Ciralsky.

The case already has taken a toll. Jews working in government have told of the pressure they feel and of unpleasant experiences. Those who seek to spread venomous anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views have found temporary camouflage. AIPAC has been forced to divert resources and time from its ongoing work — and all before a single charge has been brought.

We do not want to cover up; if there was wrongdoing, let it be exposed. We are confident that there was none, and that the allegations will prove false.

We want to see a conclusion to this case and not see it “hang out there” as did “Agent X,” the “mole,” and other past charges against Israel, which were without foundation but were never repudiated. Periodically they re-emerge from the mouths and pens of the haters.

Neither AIPAC nor the Jewish community will be cowed into silence or in any way lessen our commitment to working on behalf of the interests of the United States and its democratic ally, Israel.

The American people identify with Israel based on common values and world views, and no fabricated charges or allegations can undermine these fundamental bonds or commitments.

I hope that the vindication — and perhaps the apology — will be as visible as the charges. But past experience shows that’s unlikely.

Malcolm Hoenlein is executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

 

Valley AIPAC Shows Support for Lobby


Hundreds of people — politicians and rabbis, Democrats and Republicans, Americans and Israelis, young and old — squeezed past dozens of tables to find their assigned seats for dinner.

Just two weeks after CBS News broke the story that the FBI has been investigating an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) staffer for alleged espionage, the pro-Israel lobby hosted its largest event ever in the San Fernando Valley.

For several weeks, various news outlets implied that the U.S.-Israeli relationship had become too close for comfort and may have even influenced U.S. policy toward the Iraq War. There were fears that one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington was wounded.

However, 800 people at the Marriott in Woodland Hills on Sept. 12 proved the loyalty of the organization’s Southern California members, as they doubled the attendance of the previous year’s event.

"Los Angeles as a city has always been a very active part of AIPAC," Deputy Director Diana Stein said about Los Angeles, which ranks No. 2 behind New York City in terms of membership and donations.

Although AIPAC members in the San Fernando Valley have always existed as part of Los Angeles, it’s only in the past five years that they have taken on an identity of their own, Stein said. Since the Valley has been hosting its own AIPAC events, members there have doubled in attendance each year.

Elliot Brandt, AIPAC Western states director, vehemently denied all the espionage allegations before the Valley crowd, firing up the audience with indignation that AIPAC has been subject to "innuendo, slurs and leaks" surrounding the story, and that the only judge in the case so far has been the media.

"Investigators should talk to AIPAC, not the press," Brandt bellowed, saying that AIPAC would cooperate fully.

AIPAC’s specific positions on the investigation were made clear by all the speakers.

Although the investigation has been known to President Bush for two years, it has led to no action against AIPAC. On the contrary, the lobby maintains a list of quotes (written after the CBS story broke) from 16 members of Congress lauding AIPAC and its mission.

"Many Jewish organizations realize this [accusation] was a shot across the bow of Jewish political influence and involvement in U.S. government," Brandt said.

"I’ve known the two staffers for 20 years. They are as honorable, honest and hard working as anybody," Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) told The Journal before addressing the audience. "AIPAC is caught in the crossfire between administration factions warring over Iran and U.S. foreign policy."

The speakers all emphasized that the leak to CBS refers to an investigation that is two years old and is actually "intended to be a public relations smear" against U.S.-Israeli cooperation.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-North Hollywood) suggested that some factions in the government were hoping to make AIPAC and the U.S.-Israel relationship in general "a scapegoat for what’s happening in the world."

It was clear from the AIPAC event — and another one held at the Museum of Tolerance Sept. 9, hosting Omri Sharon, the Israeli prime minister’s son, and Labor Knesset member Isaac Herzog — that AIPAC members strongly support the organization, especially in times of trouble. Despite the rallying cries here, no one is quite certain of how the allegations will impact in the long-term the organization — and relations between Israel and the United States.

"The plain fact is, the scandal will affect Jewish and pro-Israel interests in myriad ways — even if the federal investigation fizzles and no charges are brought," James Besser wrote in The Journal when the scandal broke.

But that’s precisely what AIPAC officials and speakers were trying to stem.

"Some hope that AIPAC will become confused or stand on the sidelines, or that legislators will distance themselves [from us], but AIPAC is on the march," Brandt said.

"[These accusations] run the risk of hurting the organization, but we cannot afford to be sidetracked" from supporting Israel, Sen. Norm Coleman’s (R-Minn.) said.

Despite the evening’s message of total unity against the allegations, Coleman’s speech veered toward the partisan, proving that AIPAC is not completely immune to unpredictable election-year politics.

Coleman’s comments began with a nonpartisan appeal for unity on Israel. Soon, though, the senator began openly endorsing Bush’s re-election, surprising many in the audience, including the nonpartisan AIPAC leaders, who said they had no idea Coleman’s speech would careen in that direction.

Coleman said he saw a difference in how the two presidential candidates would treat the U.S.-Israeli relationship. While Sen. John Kerry may appeal to diplomacy to seek peace in the Middle East, Coleman said that he himself agrees with Bush that the U.S. must "establish free and just societies" around the world, and that Bush would never be "nuanced" on U.S.-Israeli relations.

Though his speech was occasionally punctuated by shouts from opposing tables alternately supporting Kerry or Bush, Coleman and the rest of the speakers all returned to AIPAC’s main message: The future of the Jews is dependent on the State of Israel; Israel in turn is dependent on its relationship with the United States, and AIPAC actively strengthens that relationship as a nonpartisan lobby.

Berkley reminded the audience that in the darkest days of the Holocaust, when American Jews appealed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to consult with them, they were not able to obtain a meeting.

Donna Bender, AIPAC dinner chair, summed up that sentiment: "[U.S.] support for Israel is not guaranteed. It is up to us."

Playing at Pollard


Playwright Martin Blank confesses he has an affinity for spy
stories. It was this attraction that drew him to a book about great American
espionage cases a few years ago — and to the story of Jonathan Pollard, an
American Jew who received a life sentence in 1987 for passing documents to Israel.

“I immediately thought … this was a play,” he said. Six
months later, he said he had “this massive attack of realization that I had a
real responsibility toward telling this story.”

Blank spent about two years researching and writing “The
11th Hour,” based on true events. While the world premiere is scheduled for the
Center Stage Theatre in Jerusalem in late May, the play is now being read
locally at Valley Cities and Westside JCCs on Feb. 8 and 9, respectively. The
JCC readings star Edward Asner, Bruce Nozick and Allen Williams, and are
produced and directed by Alexandra More, artistic producing director of the
Celebrity Staged Play Reading Series.

Asner knows the Pollard story well. He’s also performed
readings of “Bitter Friends,” a Pollard-based play in which pseudonyms were
used. In comparing the two, Asner praised Blank’s more straightforward version.
“I think it’s a much braver position that the author has taken in this one,” he
said.

“The 11th Hour” presents an analysis of Pollard’s
psychology, focusing on Pollard’s point of view from the time he decides to spy
for Israel, culminating in his capture and confession. It’s an approach that
steers away from much of the controversy — what some call Pollard’s harsh
sentencing given the circumstances — and yet it may not avoid it completely.

By humanizing Pollard, Blank’s play may draw some criticism
from those who feel he should be viewed simply as a traitor.

“Everyone has an almost irrational response to the guy,”
Blank said, admitting to being sympathetic toward Pollard. “Jay Pollard is a
tragic character and the play is a tragedy. It cannot be anything but. Whether
you sympathize with him or you don’t, he’s a tragic character.”

Another of ‘Iran 10’ Released


The second of 10 Iranian Jews jailed on charges of spying for Israel has been freed, but Jewish leaders don’t see it as a shift in Iranian policy.

"We take no delight in an innocent man serving more than 1,000 days in a prison for exercising his religion," said Pooya Dayanim, spokesman for the Los Angeles-based Council of Iranian-American Jewish Organizations, referring to Hebrew teacher Faramarz Kashi, 35, who was released Tuesday.

Thirteen Jews originally were arrested on espionage charges in the winter of 1999. Many of the accused "confessed" to the charges, though Jewish groups scoffed at the idea that the confessions were offered freely. Several later recanted.

Media and foreign ambassadors were not allowed to observe the court proceedings, in which the prosecutor also served as judge.

Three of the accused were acquitted, but the other 10 were convicted in July 2000 of national security violations and given sentences ranging from four to 13 years.

The sentences were reduced to two to nine years on appeal.

Israel denies that any of the Jews were its spies. Jewish groups contend that the case demonstrates Iran’s virulent anti-Semitism.

"The arrests were politically motivated, the charges were politically motivated and the convictions were politically motivated," said Sam Kermanian, secretary-general of the Iranian-American Jewish Federation. "This case has nothing to do with justice or with law. It was all politics from the beginning."

The other eight prisoners, Kermanian believes, will be released only when Iran views it as politically advantageous.

"I honestly think that Iran has been moving away from even the minimum moderations it gained during the first term of President Khatami," he said.

After spending three years in jail, Kashi was released Tuesday as "a result of ongoing efforts on behalf of the prisoners, in which many people have been involved," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Efforts included "the pressures that were brought to bear, the continuing interest of families there, and perhaps [Iran’s] own domestic interest," Hoenlein said.

Kermanian said he doesn’t think American or Jewish pressure played a role in Kashi’s release.

"What pressure?" he asked. "He spent every day of his sentence in jail."

Originally sentenced to five years, Kashi had his sentence reduced to three. Hoenlein said Kashi had served the entire three years, counting time he was held while awaiting trial.

The first prisoner to be released, last March, was merchant Ramin Nematizadeh, whose sentence was reduced from four years to two. Nematizadeh also was involved with teaching religious school.

Kermanian acknowledged that the intervention of Western countries had been "instrumental" in saving the Jews from a death sentence when they were tried in 2000.

At the time, the prisoners were held in solitary confinement so authorities could squeeze confessions out of them, Kermanian said.

Now their conditions are relatively better, he said: They are allowed kosher food two or three times a week, and visitation rights have increased from once a week to twice a week.

However, their families, "who depend on them for their livelihood, are suffering and are in dire need," Kermanian said.

In addition, the fate of the imprisoned Jews "must make us all think about the future of the 25,000 Jews left in Iran," Dayanim said.

"The condition of the community has deteriorated substantially since the verdicts were announced," he said, as the entire Jewish community now is "regarded by their compatriots as traitors or spies."

Furthermore, Dayanim said, "avenues have been hindered" that would provide emigration for Iranian Jews.

"For some reason, governments, including the United States, are denying many of the refugee claims by Iranian Jews," he said.

Hoenlein said several visas had been delayed in the general tightening of immigration processing after Sept. 11. However, the government had given assurances that the problems would be resolved shortly, he said.

Dayanim said the plight of the Iranian Jewish community is "fully on the radar screen of the American Jewish community," but is less important to the American or Israeli governments.

A State Department official said the department had commented several times during the trial of the Iranian Jews.

Their situation is "something we are aware of and we are monitoring," the official said.

"I can tell you that the issue of Iranian Jewry is prominently featured in every high-level diplomatic effort made by the Israeli foreign service," said Ido Aharoni, spokesman for the Israeli Consulate in New York. Aharoni said Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is "personally pressing the issue,” noting that Peres recently directed the Foreign Ministry to compile a list of statements made by Iranian leaders against Israel.

No Stranger to Controversy


From the start, Martin Indyk’s career as a U.S. official has been filled with intrigue.As the first Jewish ambassador to Israel and later the top State Department official in charge of Middle East policy, Indyk’s words and actions have been scrutinized by Jews and Arabs, by proponents and opponents of the peace process.

Now, with his security clearance suspended, both Indyk’s words and actions are on hold until the State Department finishes its investigation of his “suspected violations” of security procedures.State Department officials have emphasized that there is “no indication of espionage in this matter” and that no “intelligence information has been compromised.”

Indyk, a native Australian who only became a U.S. citizen in 1993, one week before President Clinton appointed him as the National Security Council’s senior director for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, worked as a research associate at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, in 1982.

Later, he was the founding executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank.

He was appointed U.S. ambassador to Israel in 1995, then again in 1999.Just last week, Indyk ruffled feathers with a comment that Israel should share Jerusalem with the Palestinians.

Jerusalem “is not, and cannot be, the exclusive preserve of one religion, and the solution cannot come from one side challenging or denying another side’s beliefs,” he was quoted as saying as he received an honorary doctorate from the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem.

During his tenure, Indyk was also accused by Likud officials of crafting Clinton’s strategy of openly backing then-Labor leader Shimon Peres in his 1996 contest for prime minister against Benjamin Netanyahu.

In 1997 a right-wing Knesset member hurled an anti-Semitic epithet at Indyk, apparently because he believed the ambassador was pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians.

Indyk was challenged on many of these issues during 1997 Senate confirmation hearings for his appointment to become assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, boosting him to the top Middle East policy post.

Nevertheless, he was easily confirmed for the post in September 1997.

High Hopes


The release on bail this week of three Iranian Jewish prisoners has raised hopes for their future, but not alleviated concerns that they and the other 10 accused of espionage will not receive a fair trial.

Wednesday’s release followed announcements earlier this week that a trial is imminent for all 13 of the imprisoned Jews.

“Obviously we’re glad about this development, but we can’t forget there are 13 people, and we won’t start celebrating until all 13 are released,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary-general of the Los Angeles-based Iranian American Jewish Federation.

The three released are 16-year-old Navid Balazadeh, the youngest of the defendants, his uncle Nejad Bouroghi, who is a religious leader in the city of Isfahan, and Omid Tepilin of Shiraz, said Kermanian.

The 13 Jews — religious and community leaders — have been held in a jail in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz since the spring. They have been accused of spying for Israel and the United States but have not been formally charged. Both Israel and the United States have vehemently denied the accusations against them.

They face the death penalty if convicted.

The three released this week will still face a trial should the government bring formal charges against them, Kermanian said, “but I’m hoping this indicates that their files, like the others’, don’t include sufficient evidence to bring charges, and that’s why they decided to release them.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said of the release: “If this is a positive message, we receive it as such, but it’s a very limited one.”

Advocates for the prisoners still worry that the accused will not receive a fair trial.

They also believe a trial is not likely to occur until after Iran’s upcoming elections.

Many observers believe that the arrests and accusations are part of a power struggle between conservative hard-liners and President Mohammad Khatami, who has made overtures to the West.

The Feb. 18 elections are being seen as a contest between the two forces vying for power.

Iranian officials have not detailed the evidence against the suspects, but hard-line elements of the judiciary reportedly have said documentation of the alleged crimes proves their guilt.

The case sparked an international outcry, and those working on behalf of the detained have alternated between public and private diplomacy to press their cause.

In recent months, American Jewish advocates — while hoping for the prisoners’ release — have also been working to try to ensure that the prisoners receive a fair trial.

“Our preference is they should be released now,” Hoenlein said. “They’ve suffered enough no matter what they’ve done, and none are guilty of espionage.”

A trial might be better than endless delays, said Hoenlein, but “has to be public with representation and outside participation as has been promised all along.”

Kermanian, agreed, saying a trial presents an opportunity for Iran to “show to the world that it’s serious about its declarations regarding the rule of law, its civil rights, or depending on the outcome, to essentially prove they are not serious.”

He expressed concern about the judicial process, especially that the Jews be given lawyers and that the lawyers be given adequate time to review the charges and prepare a defense.

A Call for Justice and Freedom


A dramatic appearance by the Rev. Jesse Jackson in Los Angeles last week helped kick into high gear an international campaign to free 13 Iranian Jews who were arrested by Iranian authorities for alleged espionage, and who face possible execution.

In a news conference at Leo Baeck Temple last Friday, Jackson said that he is ready to fly to Tehran, if granted a visa by Iran, joined by members of the same ecumenical team that in May obtained the freedom of three American soldiers in Yugoslavia.

In related developments, political leaders in the United States, Israel, Germany and France sought to mobilize world opinion on behalf of the threatened prisoners. Efforts are also underway to enlist the support of Italy, Spain, Britain, Holland and other European Union countries, as well as the Vatican, Japan and Canada, and the United Nations.

In Washington, resolutions have been introduced in the House of Representatives and Senate that call on the Clinton administration and foreign governments to seek the release of the 13 prisoners and condemn Iran’s treatment of its religious minorities.

The high-profile public actions follow months of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, during which Jewish organizations sought to influence Tehran through quiet diplomacy.

The first arrests, of five, occurred in January, according to Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation in Los Angeles, who has been monitoring the situation from day one. In the second wave of arrests, Iranian security forces took another eight Jews into custody in late March, shortly before Passover.

The 13 range in age from 16 to 49 and were mainly residents of the southern city of Shiraz, while others were arrested in Tehran and Isfahan, said Kermanian.

During the first months of imprisonment, the Jews were not charged with any crimes, and some signals from Tehran indicated that they might be set free. Then early last week, in a confusing series of announcements and retractions, Iranian officials accused the 13 of spying for Israel and the United States, which “at certain instances provide for capital punishment,” the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

The espionage charges are ridiculous on the face of it, said Kermanian. “No one would recruit spies among a group [of Jews], who have high visibility and are constantly watched by the authorities,” he said. In a country riddled with corruption, any nation hostile to Iran could have its pick of spies at $1,000 a month, he observed.

The 13 prisoners, including a 16-year-old boy arrested in his classroom, are mainly religious Jews, said Kermanian. They incurred the government’s displeasure for such “crimes” as teaching Hebrew, printing the weekly Torah portion, holding religious classes, or requesting permission to close their businesses on Saturdays.

Following the March arrests, an informal consortium of American Jewish organizations began a quiet effort to mobilize their most influential contacts. Members included the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, said Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director.

Last week, after Iran announced the spy charges, consortium members decided to go public. Foxman contacted Jackson, who agreed to meet with the ADL leader and relatives of some of the prisoners in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 10. Foxman stressed the seriousness of the situation by noting that at least 17 Iranian Jews, including community leaders, have been executed in Iran since 1979.

At his news conference the following day, Jackson described the meeting with the relatives as “a deeply moving experience…as I watched bitter tears roll down their faces in anguish and pain and fear for their loved ones.”

Jackson said that his first move would be to appeal to the religious authorities in Iran “to allow us to visit and gain the release of the 13 prisoners, and to appeal fervently that their lives be spared.”

“I have seen some evidence that Iran is trying to rejoin the world. One expression would be to set the 13 Jews free,” Jackson said.

“We as Americans and Jews believe it is imperative that Iran heed Jesse Jackson’s plea,” said ADL Western Regional Director David Lehrer.

Flanking Jackson during the news conference were two men who had accompanied him on the earlier mission to Belgrade — Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs of Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills and Dr. Nazir U. Khaja, national president of the American Muslim Council.

Khaja said that he has been in contact with Rabbi David Saperstein, a Reform leader, and after receiving a full briefing, he intended to take up the fate of the 13 prisoners with the Iranian government.

One of the relatives who met with Jackson was Nasrin Javaherian of San Jose, whose 49-year-old brother, Nasser Levihaim, is the oldest among the prisoners. Javaherian said that her brother’s family, with whom she talks daily by phone, was at first reluctant to even acknowledge that Levihaim had been arrested.

“I called them in Shiraz and asked to speak to Nasser, and his wife told me that he had gone to Tehran and would be back next week,” said Javaherian. Only after the news of the arrests became public, did the wife confirm that Levihaim was in prison.

Again, last week, when the spy charges were announced, Javaherian called her family five times in one night.

“I was so scared, I was crying all the time,” she said in a phone interview, trying hard to control her emotions.

She described her brother as the father of three sons, the youngest 18 months old, and manager of an electricity company in Shiraz. She speculated that the Iranian authorities might have gone after him because he frequently volunteered as a Sunday-school Hebrew teacher.

Levihaim’s wife has not been allowed to see her husband since his arrest in March, but she can bring kosher food to the prison once a week, a process that involves signing four different papers. “We have no idea whether he’s getting the food,” said Javaherian.

Taking the lead in urging congressional action has been Sherman Oaks Democrat Brad Sherman, whose House resolution has now also been introduced in the upper chamber by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y).

Sherman said in a phone interview that one purpose of the resolution was to warn Iran that it would have to pay a price for its persecution of Jews, which would set back any attempts by Tehran to improve its ties with the West.

Since neither the United States nor Israel has diplomatic ties with Iran, it is particularly important that France, Germany and Japan, all major Iranian trading partners, exert pressure on the regime, Sherman noted.

He said that he was watching closely in which court the 13 Jews would be tried. “It could be a regular civilian court, a military court, or a Revolutionary Council court…but, unfortunately, the options here range from bad to awful.”

Sherman has been inundated for months by letters and personal calls from Los Angeles’ Iranian Jewish community, which is 30,000 strong. Most of the pressure has come from part of the community affiliated with the International Judea Foundation — Siamak and the Eretz Cultural Center. These groups believe that the more establishment Iranian American Jewish Federation had been too cautious in its quiet diplomacy until last week.

Federation leader Kermanian acknowledged that there had been differences on tactics within the community, but that it was united in the goal of freeing the prisoners.

There remains some puzzlement among observers why Iran would arrest the Jews on trumped-up charges at a time when the government of President Mohammad Khatami has signaled a desire to improve relations with the West.

Kermanian and Sherman agreed that the seeming paradox lies in an internal power struggle between Iranian “moderates,” led by Khatami, and fundamentalist hard-liners.

“There are conservative groups in Iran which advocate strict Orthodox Islamic values and see any contact with the West as threatening these values, and they try to sabotage Khatami’s policies,” Kermanian said.

It is the hard-liners who control the security apparatus, which arrested the Jews, as well as the judiciary, he noted.

In Tehran, the official radio charged that the 13 Jews were part of a “Zionist espionage ring” and accused the United States and Israel of trying to “sensationalize the scandal” and of interfering with Iran’s internal affairs.



Get Involved

To get involved in helping the arrested Jews in Iran:

Contact the Committee for the Defense of Jewish Detainees in Iran, (310) 535-6610; or The Committee of Religious Minority Rights in Iran, at (818) 325-3848.

To register your concern on the situation, direct letters to His Excellency Kofi Anan, United Nations Secretariat, New York, NY 10017, or fax (212) 963-4879. Letters of support can be sent to the Iranian American Jewish Federation, 1317 N. Crescent Heights Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069.

In L.A., Cause for Alarm

By Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Among Los Angeles’ estimated 30,000-strong Persian Jewish community, the arrest of 13 Jews in Iran is topic number one. “Everybody, everybody, is worried,” says Frank Nikbakht, a local activist.

“People I know are quite shocked,” says Elham Gheytanchi, a UCLA sociology doctorate candidate active with the Center for Iranian-Jewish Oral History (CIJOH). “My first reaction was that espionage is really bad because it leaves no ground to defend them no matter what the real charge is.”

Homa Sarshar, CIJOH’s founder and president, is also wary of the Iranian government’s claim and motives.

“We have seen different tricks within the last year, and this is one of them,” she says. She believes that the espionage charges are an excuse to condemn the captured to execution.

A member of the Committee for Religious Minority Rights in Iran — a small organization supported by the Council of Iran Jewish Organizations in California — Nikbakht has been actively tracking the government-sponsored anti-Semitism that has intensified in Iran since 1998. In March, he detailed the extent of the tensions in an issue of Chashm Amdaaz, a local Iranian-Jewish publication. In his article, Nikbakht stated that the tactics employed not only approximate but incorporate 1930s Nazi propaganda.

Nikbakht has compiled virulent anti-Semitic writings and cartoons that have appeared regularly in the bimonthly Tehran journal, Sabh.

The Committee for Religious Minority Rights recently pushed for a resolution — which Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., has introduced in the House — condemning the arrests and demanding the Iranian-Jewish prisoners’ release. Nikbakht is pleased with the State Department’s response to the crisis so far and says that plans to address the situation are currently in the works. Sherman is scheduled to speak during Shabbat services at alocal Iranian synagogue.

Meanwhile, the Iranian-Jewish community is waiting to see the outcome of the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s efforts.

“It’s a tough call,” says Gheytanchi. “Jesse Jackson had success in Yugoslavia in having those three [American soldiers] released, but Iran is a different matter.”

Nevertheless, Nikbakht and Sarshar praise Jackson’s efforts.

“Any action in this way is positive action. It would be welcome from my side. I hope he would be successful,” says Sarshar, who adds, ominously, “I’m not very optimistic.”

The Mossad Spy Who Turned Bad


Graham Greene and John Le Carré have been there before: A shadowy source with access to the highest reaches of an enemy regime. A vain, furtive secret service handler with a chip on his shoulder, who insists that the informant will speak to no one but him. A steady flow of alarming exclusive reports, plausible but inherently uncheckable. An intelligence community more concerned with protecting its turf than investigating all the way when suspicions were first aroused.

This time, though, it was not Greene’s Havana vacuum cleaner salesman or Le Carré’s tailor of Panama who fed self-serving lies to his masters; it was the handler himself. And his phony warnings, over two decades, twice nearly brought Israel to war. Most recently, in autumn 1996, he predicted a Syrian attack. Military intelligence disagreed. Fortunately, its assessment prevailed, and the Mossad began looking again at its operator.

Yehuda Gil, a 63-year-old Mossad veteran, has finally confessed to his duplicity. He will be put on trial later this month, charged with supplying false information, and perhaps also with espionage and provoking an attack on Israel — although legal experts recognize that it will be harder to make the last two stick.

After first denying all, Gil led investigators to his house in Gadera, south of Tel Aviv, where they found a cache of tens of thousands of U.S. dollars that he had neglected to pass on to his source, reportedly the relative of a Syrian general. The investigators are still trying to trace another $150,000.

The story, revealed in a series of scoops by Ha’aretz’s military editor, Ze’ev Schiff, deals a debilitating blow to the Mossad’s reputation, already dented by its botched attempt to assassinate a Hamas leader in Jordan in September.

Israel’s renowned external-security service has had its failures before. The successes, its admirers like to say, are the ones you never hear about. Maybe, but the Gil affair is particularly destructive because it strikes at the credibility of Mossad information, its stock in trade in essential dealings with the Central Intelligence Agency and other friendly services.

“The Mossad’s mission,” the military affairs commentator Ron Ben-Yishai wrote in Yediot Aharonot, “is to warn about the possibility of war, to relay to the government information which can be used as Israel appeals to other countries for assistance, and to collate information which the Mossad can exchange for information in the possession of other intelligence agencies. The data supplied by the Mossad must be reliable. Now, it will be much more difficult for the Mossad to persuade other governments and intelligence agencies that it is, in fact, the best agency in the world for collecting information from human sources.”

Insiders acknowledge the damage but contend that it is neither permanent nor irreversible. “Our ratio of failures to successes over half a century is negligible,” Reuven Merhav, a former senior Mossad officer, told me. “The Gil affair damages an image which has already been greatly tarnished in recent months, but steps have been taken to neutralize the damage.”

Foreign professionals, he maintained, understood that such debacles could happen, to them as easily as to the Mossad. “Show me one serious intelligence agency, including the CIA, which has not suffered such a failure,” he said. “If you can find even one, we’ll send them straight to sing with the angels in heaven. None of us are angels.”

The question remains: What made Yehuda Gil, whose patriotism is not disputed, do it? His lawyers say that it was not the money, though he enjoyed the high living of a lightly supervised field officer. Politicians as diverse as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Labor opposition leader Ehud Barak deny that he was ideologically motivated, though he worked after retirement for retired Gen. Rehavam Ze’evy’s ultranationalist Moledet party.

The more plausible theory is a wounded self-importance. Gil immigrated to Israel in his youth from Libya. He speaks fluent Arabic and several European languages. By all accounts, his trade craft was superb. The Mossad is said to have used him to lecture its new recruits on the art of lying.

“Despite the disturbing reports,” one of his former Mossad colleagues, Gad Shomron, wrote in Ma’ariv, “I must confess I admired him. Yehuda Gil came up with the founding generation of Mossad field workers. Tales about his exploits were part of the heritage they tried to bequeath us. He was a professional, courageous and inventive, of the rare breed which helped the Mossad to acquire its reputation as the world’s leading intelligence organization in dealing with human sources….

“Yehuda Gil is one of those people whom the Creator blessed with the ability to pinpoint within a few seconds his interlocutor’s weakness. This talent, along with his high intelligence, diligence, amazing skills with language and his impressive patience, caused him to be promoted quickly.”

Not, it seems, quickly enough or as high as he thought his due. “Gil became embittered,” Shomron testified. “He believed the Mossad top brass did not sufficiently appreciate his talents.” So, according to this interpretation, he embellished his reports to remind them how good he was — and, after retiring in the early 1990s, he forced his way back by claiming that his Syrian source had come back on stream but would talk to nobody else. Yehuda Gil missed the action.

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