by Prof. Abraham Ben-Zvi
The U.S. "concern" over the proposed NGO bill ignores similar measures under U.S. law, underscoring a double standard.
Some two weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama administration has been eavesdropping on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's private phone conversations and those of other allies. The report said the administration engaged in this effort for years without qualms and placed no restrictions on how it was conducted. And this, even as Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard was rotting away and serving a life sentence for actions that did not compromise U.S. national security.
In fact, the National Security Agency continued to monitor Netanyahu's conversations even after President Barack Obama promised -- with much fanfare -- that the U.S. would no longer use such methods on friendly nations that enjoy a "special relationship."
Meanwhile, the White House has continued to brazenly trample on Americans' basic right to privacy, by invading their personal space through an intrusive domestic surveillance program. But ironically, despite the administration undermining core values that have defined America's liberal democracy -- it did not relent in its attacks on Israel's supposed curtailing of those very principles, saying its policies could compromise the moral foundation of the special relationship.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro has expressed "concern" that the proposed NGO transparency bill might infringe on free speech and runs contrary to democratic ideas. Without getting into the pros and cons of that bill, it is clear that its language pales in comparison to the provisions of the Foreign Agents Registration Act which was written into U.S. law in 1938 and amended in 1966.
Despite what the administration has said, FARA has many draconian measures. It requires American citizens who operate on behalf of a foreign entity or interest to register with the U.S. Justice Department as foreign agents and to report on their activities periodically, and not just on their funding (the main focus of the Israeli bill).
In light of this, the administration's ridiculous explanation that FARA "imposes no limits, restrictions or transparency requirements" on NGO funding comes off as self-righteous, sanctimonious, and hypocritical. For example, the founders of what ultimately became the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had to register as foreign agents during the early years of the organization. For U.S. Jews, this requirement created a painful dilemma and inflicted a great deal of uneasiness, because it pitted their desire to integrate in American society against their attachment to Israel, bringing the issue of dual loyalty to the forefront.
According to Isaiah ("Si") Kenen, who founded the organization (it was initially called the American Zionist Committee for Public Affairs), the FBI conducted multiple raids on the organization's headquarters during its early years, seizing documents and questioning its senior members and employees over the funding it used to publish certain materials.
Kenen called those raids traumatic, saying they were designed to sow fear among Israel's supporters in Washington and deter them from taking any public action to express that support, however legitimate. Kenen said the FBI considered the pro-Israel lobby a target in its brutal crackdown because it wanted to control and limit the public discourse on Israel.
This goes to show that even back then, the U.S. held its overseas partners to a different standard than its own intelligence agencies. The recent revelations on the NSA show that the rules change dramatically when it comes to a superpower.
Prof. Abraham Ben-Zvi
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