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Zionists and the Foreign Agents Investigation

Leonard R. Sussman
Fall 1997

Investigators are tracing hundreds of thousands of dollars from China funneled into the 1996 presidential election campaign in the United States. The issue: whether foreign governments and corporations not only broke election-finance laws but also sought secretly to influence American foreign policy through carefully pinpointed contributions to political candidates. The issue is not new in American politics.  

In the late 1950s, I organized for the American Council for Judaism a speakers program which featured Senator Ralph Flanders (R. Vt.); Norman Thomas, six-time Socialist candidate for the U.S. presidency; the head of American University in Beirut; and other scholars.  

Each speaker — prominent in American government, international affairs or mainstream religion — expressed concern over the rapidly increasing sublimation of Judaism to the nationalism of the state of Israel. When they had voiced such concerns these speakers were targeted for overwhelming Zionist pressures. They welcomed, however, the invitation to appear on a Council platform.  

Prominent among them was Senator J. William Fulbright (D. Ark.). As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he investigated compliance — or lack of it — with the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, passed in 1938 to counteract foreign propaganda and subversion. After intensive investigations by the Senate staff, Fulbright held public bearings in 1963 to spotlight violation by agents of foreign governments.  

Intent Was Clear  

The intent of the act was clear: Americans have the right to know when fund-raising or political lobbying, however well cloaked, is undertaken by an agent of a foreign government, on behalf of that government. This would be particularly applicable to fund-raisers in the U.S. who had tax-free status with the Internal Revenue Service but whose policies were controlled from abroad through agents here, and whose funds were channeled through conduits to governments overseas for other than charitable purposes. Such contributions earned for donors and recipients tax-free status from the IRS.  

Unlike the present case of contributions from China, presumably intended to alter U.S. policy, the Jewish Agency had a double purpose. It would support its friends in the U.S. but would also use tax-free "charitable" money to support state-building activities, including military and economic functions abroad.  

Fulbright quietly authorized the examination of the Jewish Agency-American Section as an unregistered foreign agent. The JA was the American arm of the Jewish Agency for Israel, formerly the World Zionist Executive. That, in turn, was directly linked to the government of Israel.  

Political Hazards  

Fulbright knew he would face serious political hazards by focusing on the Jewish Agency. The year before, he had been harshly attacked as anti-Israel for complaining that U.S. government aid to Israel exceeded aid to all the Arab states together. He told me years later (I interviewed him for my book on the Fulbright scholarship program) that the United States and Israel each had national interests which did not always coincide. For Zionist attackers, however, that was tantamount to anti-Semitism. Fulbright was not an anti-Semite — only, as columnist Dorothy Thompson once wrote, "by appointment."  

When Fulbright returned to Arkansas to take part in a state-wide political campaign he was harassed at his fund-raiser. Zionists badgered him over his "anti-Israel" views. The decision to expose the Israeli lobby, according to Fulbright’s biographer Randall Bennett Woods, "was not Fulbright’s but [staffer Walter] Pincus’s, who was himself Jewish." His investigation, writes Woods, "had revealed clearly that agents of the Jewish Agency and other American Zionists had violated provisions of the Foreign Agents Registration Act."  

That conclusion cast into question the major apparatus for raising funds in every Jewish community in the United States. Woods provides this account of what followed:  

FULBRIGHT — A BIOGRAPHY, by Randall Bennett Woods, Cambridge University Press, 1995; 711 pp, photos and notes; citations here from pp 583ff  

Severe Pressure  

Fulbright immediately came under severe pressure to suppress the information which Pincus had gathered on American Zionists. Several prominent American Jews asked to testify, but made conditions. They demanded that they not testify under oath, that no transcript would be kept of the meeting, and that nothing concerning the meeting would be made public. The committee rejected the demand, and Jewish Agency representatives testified. The committee announced the meeting to the press, but withheld a transcript of the closed-door session. The Executive Director of the Jewish Agency and his deputy testified in executive session because the White House intervened.  

Fulbright next planned to read portions of the two men’s testimony on the floor of the Senate as part of the effort to modify the Foreign Agents Registration Act. But, writes Woods, "a last-minute appeal by [President] Lyndon Johnson stopped [Fulbright]." In their testimony, says Woods, "the representatives of the Jewish Agency admitted that they had paid the expenses of Johnson and his entourage at the 1960 Democratic National Convention."  

Major Improvement  

The Fulbright-Pincus investigation resulted in a major improvement in the Foreign Agents Registration Act. It thereafter outlawed political contributions by foreign governments or corporations through their agents, required registration by agents of foreign interests with the Justice Department, and full disclosure of their financial dealings. The revision also required agents to declare for whom they were working when they lobbied legislators.  

These changes caused the Jewish Agency to alter its fund-raising structure, but not its fundamental ties to the government of Israel. The structure became more intricate and difficult to trace. Said Woods, "American Zionists had come to view [Fulbright] as the archenemy."  

Woods writes that Fulbright believed that the Arab-Israel conflict was not a case of good versus evil, but a case of "‘right against right,’ in which good men do evil to each other." The more than a million Palestinians who had been displaced by the 1947 war with Israel would never let Israel live in peace until their return. "Israel" writes Woods citing Fulbright, "would have to trade land for peace unless it was willing to conquer and hold the entire Arab world — a clear impossibility," just as impossible as was America’s attempt to conquer and hold Vietnam, in Fulbright’s view.  

Guarantee Israel’s Security  

The Senator proposed in 1970 that America should guarantee Israel’s security in a formal treaty, protecting her with armed forces if necessary. In return, Israel would retire to the borders of 1967. The UN Security Council would guarantee this arrangement, and thereby bring the Soviet Union — then a supplier of arms and political aid to the Arabs — into compliance. As Israeli troops were withdrawn from the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank they would be replaced by a UN peacekeeping force. Israel would agree to accept a certain number of Palestinians and the rest would be settled in a Palestinian state outside Israel.  

The plan drew much favorable editorial support in the United States. The proposal, however, was flatly rejected by Israel. "The whole affair disgusted Fulbright," writes Woods. "The Israelis were not even willing to act in their own self-interest," he adds.  

J. William Fulbright was better known and respected abroad than in the United States, his biographer asserts. President Bill Clinton, the fellow Arkansan who had served after college on Fulbright’s mailroom staff, still grapples with Israeli intransigence, and still tries to revive the land-for-peace initiative in its latest form. Two years before Fulbright died in 1995, Clinton bestowed the Medal of Freedom on the former Senator. He was surprised and delighted.

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