Amid AIPAC's Big Show, Straight Talk With a Noticeable Silence

By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Words are seldom minced at the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

During a luncheon speech yesterday at the convention center, Daniel Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, shouted a barnyard obscenity involving a bull when he dismissed the theory that Iran and Hamas might soften their anti-Israel views. The audience gave Gillerman a standing ovation.

The undiplomatic diplomat went on to describe a war on radical Islam: "While it may be true -- and probably is -- that not all Muslims are terrorists, it also happens to be true that nearly all terrorists are Muslim."

But ask people at this week's gathering about Steve Rosen, the father of modern AIPAC, who goes on trial next month for disseminating classified information, and you get the sort of look you'd expect if you inquired about an embarrassing medical condition.

"I'm not the person to ask about that," says Nathan Diament, a Washington representative for Orthodox Jews.

"Who?" responds Neil Cooper, a delegate from the Philadelphia area.

"Rosen? Which one is he?" answers a charity executive, with a smile.

"I need to read more about it," demurs Etan Cohen, a college student.

AIPAC staff members note that, with Iran and the Palestinians to worry about, the indictments of Rosen and former deputy Keith Weissman have not been mentioned in any of the group's public meetings so far. And they say the pro-Israel lobby, unharmed by the Rosen flap, is putting on its biggest and best show ever this week: 4,500 participants, including more than 1,000 students, paying visits to at least 450 House and Senate offices.

Indeed, the scandal doesn't seem to have slowed down the group. At last night's dinner, AIPAC set aside 27 minutes for the reading of its annual "Roll Call" of lawmakers, diplomats and administration officials attending the gathering. As of midday yesterday, RSVPs had come in from 57 embassies, from Burundi to Turkey; a score of Bush administration officials; a majority of the Senate; and a quarter of the House. Even the ambassadors of Pakistan and Oman supped at AIPAC's table.

Any talk of Rosen is confined to private donor meetings and hallway conversations -- where opinions are split on AIPAC's decision to turn its back on Rosen and Weissman.

"I don't like the way AIPAC handled it, hanging them out to dry," said one West Coast delegate, after delivering an on-the-record no comment. "They didn't do anything different from what everybody else does in this town every day."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company