James Abourezk represented South Dakota in Congress from 1971 to 1979. CNI asked Senator Abourezk about his experiences with the Israel Lobby. In his first response he told of an Israeli plot to assassinate him. In this column he discusses threats to his family, Alan Dershowitz, and Israeli lobbyists embedded in the U.S. State Department:
When I was Chairman of the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC), we had two bombing incidents. I had no idea who was responsible, but I had a guess. Someone unknown placed a bomb in the doorway of ADC’s Boston headquarters. The staff there called the Boston police, who came and were in the process of disarming the pipe bomb that they found there. If I recall correctly, the police had put the bomb in a metal barrel, and it exploded in the face of one of the police officers, seriously injuring him. We all felt terrible about the policeman being injured and we tried as best we could to console his family. The whole incident was covered by a Boston TV station, and I assume they still have the footage of the explosion on file.
At around the same time, someone unknown firebombed the ADC headquarters in Washington, D.C. I was out of town at the time, but no one was hurt, and I was able to get back in time to accompany the arson expert with the D.C. police department, who showed us exactly where the bomb was thrown and how the fire had spread from that point.
Because we were all gripped with fear of what might be next, I decided to tighten up the security on my home, if nothing more than to calm down my family. I had bought a Rottweiler dog sometime earlier both for protection of my family and of our home. I learned that Rottweilers would automatically attack anyone who came near our home, unless we had introduced the dog to person visiting. I had a security expert—someone who had once worked as a Secret Service agent in the White House—make recommendations to insure that we would be a difficult target for someone who would wish us harm. We followed his advice and made the house a bit more invulnerable. He also told us that it would be impossible to make any home 100 per cent safe, but we could make it so a potential bomber would be discouraged enough to give up trying.
I also hired a 24 hour guard for the house. The first night the guard, a young man wearing a blue blazer and armed with a weapon situated himself inside, near the front door. At one point during the night, he ran upstairs to our bedrooms and shouted that there was something making noises outside. I suggested that, since he had the gun, that he should check it out, but he wanted me to go with him. So I dressed, took the Rottweiler with me on a leash and the guard and I did a search around the house. Finding nothing we went back in. The guard spent the rest of the night immediately outside my bedroom door, I suspect more frightened that I was, and the next day, I fired the security service.
After the bombing of the ADC headquarters in Washington, I was still extremely nervous about what might happen, but I put on my brave face and held a press conference, announcing to the world that “we would not be intimidated” by these kind of terrorists, and that we were going to work harder than ever to bring justice to the Palestinians and others in the Middle East who were victims of Israel’s aggression. But I honestly had a hard time staying calm and preventing myself from running out of the room to find a safe place to hide.
What Has Been Your Experience with Alan Dershowitz?
I remember Alan Dershowitz, not as a Harvard Law Professor, but as the person who wrote an op-ed column in one of our national newspapers in which he said that Palestinians need not worry about justice in the Occupied Territories, as the Israeli Supreme Court would always make certain that they were fairly treated. I’ve been reading Mondoweiss online, which has a daily list of Palestinians whose homes are leveled by U.S.-made bulldozers, of land outright stolen by Israeli settlers for the use of the settlers, most of whom come from the United States to live in the West Bank. I know that Dershowitz’s words about the Israeli Supreme Court are a great comfort to those Palestinians in the West Bank who have been killed, maimed, and their property stolen.
A few short years ago when I was in Damascus, I did an interview on Al Manar Television, which is Hizbollah’s channel in Lebanon. During the interview I mentioned that Alan Dershowitz was a “snake.”
There is a pro-Israeli group here in the U.S. which calls itself “MEMRI” which tapes television shows broadcast in the Middle East. They had taped my interview, which I suppose is where Alan Dershowitz heard about my description of him. He thereupon wrote a column in the Jerusalem Post in which he called me an “anti-Semite.” That slur is the favorite of Pro-Israeli Lobbyists and it works a lot of the time, often succeeding in silencing critics of Israel or of its policies.
Later, when I was invited to speak to the ADC gathering in Washington honoring Helen Thomas, who was herself the target of the same smear, I spoke about Dershowitz’s attempt to silence me by calling me an anti-Semite. I told the audience at that dinner that anti-semitism means that the person charged disliked Jews as Jews. I further said that I do not dislike Jews, but I only disliked Alan Dershowitz and Abe Foxman, the head of the B’nai B’rith, and that my dislike of them had nothing to do with anti-semitism, but with how they operated.
My speech that night was later published on the Counterpunch site, which prompted the ever vigilant Dershowitz, after he had read the speech, to vehemently deny that he had labeled me an anti-semite. The co-editor of Counterpunch, Alex Cockburn, somehow located the old Jerusalem Post column written by Dershowitz, and there it was, plain as day, with him very cleverly saying about me that, when it comes to anti-semitism, “if the shoe fits, wear it.”
Here is the relevant portion of Alexander Cockburn’s column, quoting Dershowitz:
“In his [CounterPunch] article entitled ‘Honoring Helen Thomas’ dated November 22, 2010, James Abourezk makes the following statement:
‘I once called Alan Dershowitz a snake on Al Manar television. Al Manar is Hezbollah’s news channel in Lebanon. When he found out what I had said, he wrote a column in the Jerusalem Post, calling me an anti-Semite.’
[That] is a lie. Here is a link to my article to which he refers. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-dershowitz/a-real-snake_b_65194.html?view=print) I challenge him to find the term ‘anti-Semite’ in the article. I also challenge your readers to read the article and judge Abourezk’s credibility. Now I will characterize Abourezk: He is a liar.”
Cockburn went on:
“I duly clicked on the Huffington Post link thoughtfully provided by prof. Dershowitz and indeed, there is no use of the term ‘anti-Semite’ in the column by the noted Harvard law professor, published on September 21, 2007. But since the prof. is a notoriously slippery fellow, I put a couple of sentences from that same column into the google search engine, pressed button A and, hey presto, up came the same Sep 21, 2007 Dershowitz column, printed that same day on the site of the United Jewish Foundation. And lo! there was a final paragraph, omitted from the Huffpost version. Here it is.
‘Well maybe former Senator Abourezk isn’t so different from the late Senator Bilbo after all. He uses the word ‘Zionist’ in precisely the same bigoted way Bilbo used ‘kike.’ [Huffington Post version ends here.]
‘It is true that not all anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic, but just because it is anti-Zionist does not mean it is not also anti-Semitic. If the shoe fits…’ (C2007 FrontPageMagazine.com 09/21/07).
“Anti-Semite”… “anti-Semitic” … A minute difference on which the slippery prof. would no doubt try to hang his hat, but to any impartial observer it’s plain enough that Abourezk’s memory is true. Dershowitz was sliming the former distinguished Senator from South Dakota as an anti-Semite. It’s maybe why Huffington Post dropped the final paragraph as libelous, unless Dershowitz reserved the slime for the version he sent FrontPageMagazine which, the vigilant reader will have noted, was credited as its source by the United Jerusalem Foundation.”
And here is my response to Alex after he found the “anti-semite” article:
Dershowitz is neither a good lawyer nor a good liar. He is trying to slither out of what has become nearly a full time occupation–that of branding any criticism of Israel as coming from someone who hates Jews. That does not work on me, as I’m secure in my anti-racist feelings. I’ve had any number of Zionists who are devoid of any reasonable argument throw the anti-semitism charge at me. Sorry, but it doesn’t work, and Dershowitz is not clever enough to make the “shoe fit” no matter how hard he tries. Does he think that pointing to an incomplete article reprinted in Huffington Post will do the trick? Obviously he does, which makes his lie even more prominent. That’s a trick that even a first year law student would be smart enough not to try. He’s been caught lying and no amount of his flailing about will make that vanish. I hadn’t realized that it would be that easy getting a job teaching law at Harvard. Had I been younger, armed with this knowledge I would have applied for the job.
We’ve heard nothing from Dershowitz since that time, but he’s still out there somewhere, apologizing for Israel’s dirty deeds.
Letters of 76 Senators
When Gerald Ford was President and Henry Kissinger was his Secretary of State, the two decided, during U.S. backed peace talks to bring Israel around to U.S. thinking by withholding American aid to Israel. That effort ended quickly when 76 U.S. Senators signed an AIPAC drafted letter to President Ford containing a thinly veiled threat to Mr. Ford if he continued to withhold military aid to Israel. The letter prompted President Ford to give in to the Lobby’s demand and to resume aid to Israel.
What happened leading up to the publication of the letter in the U.S. press is an interesting story. I had dinner with one Senator—who shall go unnamed here—the night before the letter was released to the press. He told me that he had no intention of signing it.
The next day, when the letter appeared in the Washington Post, I asked my friend what had happened.
“Jim, I received phone call after phone call all during the day yesterday, calls from people who had gone beyond just supporting me in my election, but people—lawyers, doctors, professional people and businessmen—who had interrupted their careers to work in my campaign. I couldn’t say no to them, which is why you saw my name on the letter.”
Later, in the Senate cloakroom, a number of us were standing together, talking about the letter. Ted Kennedy spoke first. “I knew that’s what would happen when I was approached to sign the letter, and I don’t like it at all. We should, next time, get together before signing such a letter, and all of us say no at the same time.” What Kennedy was referring to was the Israeli Lobby’s practice of picking off the Senators by going to one Senator, saying, “Senator So- and-so has signed, and you’d better not be the only potential presidential candidate not on the letter.” They would then go to Senator So-and-so and say the same thing. Ultimately, all of the leading Senators—especially those who wanted to run from President—would put their signature on the letter.
Kennedy’s statement was what spurred me to say something, during a mini-debate I had with Hyman Bookbinder before a section of the D.C. Bar Association’s meeting in D.C. We were promoting a book we had written together as a debate on the Middle East—Through Different Eyes—and I mentioned that Senators would cheer on Israel in public but would bad mouth both Israel and the Lobby in private. One lawyer raised his hand and asked, “name just one U.S. Senator who would do that.”
I said, simply, “Ted Kennedy,” hoping he was politically strong enough to resist the Lobby’s counter-attack.
Two or three days later, Ted Kennedy called me and said, “Abourezk, what the hell have you done to me?” I guess Ted had underestimated his own political strength, or at least, did not want any of it diluted in a tiff over the Middle East. And he for sure did not want to spend his time defending himself from the Israeli Lobby.
Getting help from the lobby
I enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1948, at age 17, immediately after I graduated from High School. After training in San Diego, I was ordered to Japan to become a member of the occupation. I was stationed on quasi-shore duty in Japan, actually aboard a non-propulsion barracks ship tied up in the heart of Tokyo, on the Sumida River. The ship was essentially the barracks for members of the Admiral’s staff. Early on in my tour there, the Kodokan Judo University in Tokyo sent a few Judo instructors to our ship in order to recruit students for their Judo school. The delegation included the then world champion, Ishikawa-san, and a slightly built man in his eighties, named “never fall Mifune.” We converted a large empty cabin on the ship into a Judo room, with mats on the metal floors to break our falls.
There I learned the essence of the art of Judo—using your opponent’s strength and momentum against him in order to win.
That lesson was very useful in helping me get a Committee assignment I wanted while in the Senate. When North Carolina’s celebrated Senator Sam Ervin retired from the Senate after masterfully chairing the Senate Watergate Committee, I decided to try for his seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Jim Allen, from Alabama, also decided to try for the seat. But he was senior to me so it was obvious to everyone that I had an uphill battle.
With the lessons I learned studying Judo in mind, I caught David Brody, one of the Israeli Lobbyists, in the corridor, telling him that I was trying for the Judiciary Committee seat that Sam Ervin was vacating. I casually mentioned that if I didn’t get on Judiciary, I would then try for Foreign Relations. That, I knew, would get his attention.
Although I never saw any evidence of the Lobby’s actions, even though Allen was senior to me, I surprisingly got the most votes from the Senate Steering Committee, which makes Committee assignments. So I later thanked Dave Brody for his help, but he never acknowledged that he had done the job.
It is difficult to describe how deep into the U.S. Government the Israel Lobby is embedded, but occasionally signs of the depth of its penetration become obvious. I can cite two instances where it was more than obvious.
I received a call one day from a career State Department diplomat, someone I had met during a trip I had made to the Middle East. He was my “control officer” when I was in Egypt on that trip, the diplomat whose job it was to stay with me during my stay there.
His call came out of the blue, at least two or three years after having met him in Cairo. He sounded both desperate and frantic, telling me he had to come to my apartment to talk to me about something.
When we met, he was totally different than when I had met him in Cairo, then a very suave professional diplomat. The day he came to my apartment he was both nervous and frantic, telling me that someone had to do something about the Israeli Lobby. They were “everywhere” in the State Department, he said, leaning on anyone who had anything to do with the Middle East. By that, he explained, he had witnessed both Lobby representatives and Israeli officials working over U.S. diplomats in every kind of setting, that is, he saw them doing so in restaurants, in State Department offices, virtually everywhere.
All he wanted to do, he said, was to stop it, and he didn’t know how. I had to confess that I didn’t either.
I’m not certain that anyone in Washington, D.C. knows the total amount of money and favors our government gives to Israel, largely due to its Lobby.
Aside from the several billions of dollars in aid that goes from our Treasury to Israel, there are a great number of top secret contracts that we sign with the Israeli government that could not stand the light of day should they be disclosed.
I do remember that our taxpayers funded the “Arrow” air defense system Israel has now to deter incoming rockets and missiles.
I also knew about Israeli Aircraft Industries having an office at the airport in Wilmington, Delaware, presumably to handle air force contracts between Israel and the U.S. government. Why else would there be such an office in Delaware?
Other avenues for the Lobby to Pursue?
After I left the Senate and began practicing law in Washington, D.C. I was retained by a very wealthy Palestinian who had spent a number of years attending schools in the United States. He received a PhD from Columbia University in New York, and had spent a lot of time making money and investing it in real estate in various parts of America, as well as in Europe. He was married to a Palestinian woman and they had two sons, both of whom were born in New York during his schooling there.
My client was building a satisfying life, traveling in Europe and the United States to tend to his business interests, until, one day, he was surprisingly denied entry into the United States. He was accused of being a member of the PLO. Other than all Palestinians considering themselves belonging to the Palestinian liberation movement, he had never done anything that would brand him as a terrorist. He suspected that someone who was an enemy had deliberately told the U.S. government that he was a PLO member, hoping to cause him problems.
This was during the Reagan Administration, so my first move was to hire a Republican law firm to help lobby for a visa for him. He not only had business interests in the United States, but his two sons were both in college here, so not being allowed to come into the U.S. was a decided handicap.
Aside from the law firm charging great amounts of money for whatever time they spent on his case, the lawyer assigned to his case was ultimately never able to get him cleared to enter the U.S. Finally, the lawyer/lobbyist told my client that he had a Jewish partner in the firm who was well connected in Israel, and would be able, he said, to travel to Israel to plead his case and to obtain Israel’s approval for his entry visa into the United States. He was told that the cost would be extra for the service.
My client looked at him, dumbfounded, and to his credit, said that he would prefer not to enter the U.S. if it came to relying on the Israeli government’s intervention to get him a visa.
Editing: Debbie Menon
JAMES ABOUREZK is a board member of the Council for the National Interest (CNI) and is a contributor to CounterPunch and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including Advise & Dissent: Memoirs of South Dakota and the U.S. Senate.
His e mail address is: [email protected]
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