Professor Stephen Walt of Harvard had a great piece in Foreign Policy's blog this weekend which alluded to the fact that the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP or "The Washington Institute"), often featured on PBS and other news outlets as an independent source, is an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) cutout.
Walt was responding to an attack on him by WINEP's current director, Robert Satloff, who indignantly went off on all those (especially Walt) who would even suggest that WINEP is an AIPAC front which invariably takes the Israeli point of view.
Walt is right. How do I know? Then an AIPAC employee, I was in the room when AIPAC decided to establish WINEP.
It was Steve Rosen (later indicted under the Espionage Act, although charges were subsequently dropped) who cleverly came up with the idea for an AIPAC controlled think-tank that would disseminate the AIPAC line but in a way that would disguise its connections.
There was no question that WINEP was to be AIPAC's cutout. It was funded by AIPAC donors, staffed by AIPAC employees, and located one door away, down the hall, from AIPAC Headquarters (No more. It has its own digs).
It would also hire all kinds of people not identified with Israel as cover and would encourage them to write whatever they liked on matters not related to Israel. "Say what you want on Morocco, kid." But on Israel, never deviate more than a degree or two.
I didn't pay that much attention at the meeting because, despite pressure that I do so, I never intended to go near any operation ultimately under Steve Rosen's control.
But another participant at the meeting remembers it well. Like most people who criticize AIPAC and are involved professionally with the pro-Israel world, he asked not to be identified. (I respect that. I am not so much brave as I am safe from being punished for taking on AIPAC as I am not employed or paid in any way by any lobby-connected institution.)
My correspondent writes:
WINEP was created initially at a time when AIPAC was in financial trouble and having a lot of problems raising money, so it was suggested, probably by Steve Rosen, (I was at the same meeting) that we split the AIPAC research department into two parts, a minor part to service the legislative lobbying, and the major part to become a 501(C)3 that could raise big bucks tax free unlike AIPAC itself which did not enjoy that tax status.
As you wrote, it was originally in AIPAC's building and on the same floor but we started getting a lot of pressure from some of the other Jewish organizations which were worried that AIPAC would cut into their (C)3 fundraising.
As for funding, the Weinbergs were key and even worked out a deal with some big money folks who didn't want to contribute to a political operation like AIPAC but would give to (C)3's. So one could give to the (C)3 and someone else would match it for AIPAC.
This became the ultimate in interlocking directorates.
So why does it matter?
It matters because the media has totally fallen for this sleight of hand and WINEP spokespersons appear (especially on the PBS News Hour) as if WINEP was not part of the Israel lobby. Some truth-in-labeling is necessary.
This is especially true at critical moments like the continuing US-Israel conflict over settlements.
And there is a new crisis brewing which WINEP will, no doubt, try to control. Israel has just announced a new policy that could be a step toward the "transfer" of Palestinians out of their own country by deeming them "infiltrators."
A new military order aimed at preventing infiltration will come into force this week, enabling the deportation of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank, or their indictment on charges carrying prison terms of up to seven years.
When the order comes into effect, tens of thousands of Palestinians will automatically become criminal offenders liable to be severely punished.
I don't know what this means. It sounds ominous. But, when I turn to PBS to help me figure it out, I'd like to hear from all sides: Israelis and Palestinians. The US State Department.
And I always want to hear from Amjad Atallah (a Palestinian-American) from the New America Foundation and from Daniel Levy (a British-born Israeli), also from New America Foundation.
Unlike WINEP, New America is an independent think tank with a foreign policy shop run by Steve Clemons, who has become, perhaps, the leading independent foreign policy thinker and writer in Washington. (He is the opposite of predictable. He is, of all things, a Rockefeller Republican).
Another independent voice is Rob Malley from the International Crisis Group. He was part of the Clinton "peace team" under Dennis Ross but was well-known for his lack of bias in favor or against either Israelis or Palestinians. (That, plus the fact that Malley once met with someone from Hamas, has led to his blackballing by AIPAC from any administration position when, if we were serious, he would be at the White House or State).
PBS might also use rising star Jeremy Ben Ami, founder and President of the pro-Israel, pro-peace J Street and the always impressive Lara Friedman of Americans For Peace Now (an expert on the settlement issue and the occupation in general).
It's not that complicated.
POSTSCRIPT: It is worth noting that Martin Kramer, the academic from Israel who recommended suppressing the Palestinian birth rate to solve the "demographic problem" is a WINEP fellow.
Kramer's idea: cut food aid to Gaza and that will ultimately lead to fewer "superfluous [Palestinian] young men."
Here is the video where he says it. Why does Satloff keep this thoroughly discredited "Greater Israel" guy around?