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

Rosen and Weissman are the first nongovernment officials to be prosecuted under the all-but-forgotten Espionage Act of 1917. The law, amended in 1950, makes it a crime for an unauthorized person even to have classified information knowingly; if Rosen broke that law, so do hundreds of other lobbyists and journalists as part of their normal course of business.

The New Yorker magazine reported last year that AIPAC's lawyer, Nathan Lewin, recommended that the two officials be fired after he heard from prosecutors about an FBI-recorded telephone call between Rosen, Weissman and The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler, in which Rosen observed that "at least we have no Official Secrets Act." Lewin and the prosecutors may not have realized that the line -- referring to a British law about publishing classified information -- was a stock joke Rosen used in conversations with Kessler and other reporters.

AIPAC at first defended Rosen vigorously, then dismissed him in April over unspecified conduct "beneath the standards AIPAC sets for its employees." The group has advised members that it has not taken a position on whether Rosen acted legally.

That nuance was understandably lost on most of the attendees asked about the matter at yesterday's session. "AIPAC doesn't support passing of state secrets to Israel, and that's my view, too," said Daniel Rathauser, a high school senior from New Jersey.

Max Newman, from Michigan, had no complaints, either. "I respect the way the organization handled it," he said. "What they did was against the policy of AIPAC."

Exactly what they did should come out in next month's trial. In the meantime, AIPAC is clamping down on what information it lets out.

Luncheon speeches by former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and former Virginia governor Mark Warner (D) were declared off the record. At another speech yesterday by Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, reporters were turned away at the door; an AIPAC spokeswoman went through the room making sure no journalists had infiltrated.

At the public sessions, the message was uniform: AIPAC is strong, and getting stronger. "Thank God for AIPAC," Gillerman told the participants. "This is for us the greatest guarantee and insurance policy for the survival of Israel," he added. "Please don't ever change."

As Rosen and Weissman have learned, it already has.

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