Editor’s note: PULSE is delighted to welcome Grant F. Smith, director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy (IRMEP) and author of many books, including America’s Defense Line, as our new feature contributor. In his first post Grant reveals the emerging details of the secret battles between the Kennedys and the Israel lobby.
The lobby’s accolades for the late Ted Kennedy and his support of Israel mask the generally unknown conflicts fought by the senator’s older brothers. It is likely that lessons from the fiercest of all battles, fought behind the scenes by President John F. Kennedy alongside his brother and Attorney General Robert—guided the younger sibling’s political choices. Details of the JFK-RFK duo’s effort to register the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) parent organization, the American Zionist Council (AZC) as an Israeli foreign agent were shrouded in mystery until declassified in mid-2008.
Between 1962 and 1963 Senator J.W. Fulbright uncovered a massive network of financial “conduits” moving funds directed by the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem to Israel lobby startup groups across the United States. Even as JFK attempted to place Israel’s Dimona nuclear weapons program under US inspection, RFK ordered the AZC to openly register and disclose all of its foreign funded lobbying activity in the United States.
The DOJ and AZC fought their secret battle as Fulbright’s hearings disclosed the immense proportions of the Israel lobby effort. Nathan B. Lenvin, a DOJ attorney who had been after AIPAC’s founder Isaiah Kenen since 1951 to continue registering as a foreign agent after he left the employ of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs took copious notes of the many meetings, AZC’s offers of limited registration and the DOJ’s counter offers.
But the law enforcement effort ended in tragedy. JFK’s assassination on November 12, 1963 in Dallas meant RFK’s political cover for the prosecution was gone and his days at the DOJ were numbered. He left to run for a New York senate seat. In 1965 the DOJ allowed the AZC to file a highly redacted and non-standardized FARA declaration in secret. The AZC then shut down and transferred lobbying activity to AIPAC, which refused to register.
RFK’s assassination in 1968 was followed a few months later by the quiet death of the 58 year old Nathan Lenvin during a DOJ recruiting trip in Chicago. Low level DOJ officials involved in the AZC registration battle such as Irene Bowman were gently eased out, while high officials willing to defer to the lobby, such as Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and J. Walter Yeagley, moved on to stellar careers.
As details of the secret DOJ-Israel lobby showdowns continue to emerge, it is hard not to conclude that the younger Kennedy’s renowned accommodation, mastered as a child from within the shadows of his siblings, was as much a survival strategy as the hallmark of an effective politician.