The death of Nelson Mandela and the refusal of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to attend the funeral serve as a reminder of the somewhat tortuous relationship between South Africa and Israel as well as a notorious but little known spying case involving both nations and the Israel Lobby’s Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in the 1990s. Israel’s reluctance to celebrate Mandela is not exactly surprising as he became a prominent critic of Tel Aviv’s repression of the Palestinians, a situation that to him was all too reminiscent of apartheid in South Africa. Indeed, Israelis among themselves frequently describe the occupation of the West Bank as apartheid, a fact noted by former US President Jimmy Carter among others, but a characterization which is assiduously avoided in the US media.
Israel and South Africa under apartheid had a lot in common, given that both states were regarded by many as international pariahs due to their exclusionary domestic politics, in Israel based on religion and ethnicity and in South Africa based on race. Israel also was and still is regarded as an occupying power, in the 1990s due to its direct military control of the Sinai Peninsula, West Bank, Golan Heights, and Gaza Strip. South Africa and Israel’s shared perception of victimhood produced a willingness to stand together against world opinion and a mechanism for cooperation between the two governments also existed in the form of a large and wealthy Jewish community centered on Johannesburg.
It is now generally accepted that Israel secretly helped South Africa develop a nuclear bomb, receiving in return uranium for its own program, while South Africa was also an eager buyer of weapons produced by Israel’s fledgling arms industry. The probable test of a nuclear device, either of Israeli or South African provenance, was arranged by Pretoria in the Indian Ocean in 1979. Both nations shared the belief that they would have to possess nuclear weapons to defend themselves against their numerous enemies. Though South Africa ultimately abandoned its arms program and signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Israel continued on its own, using stolen American technology and enriched uranium to construct an arsenal that today consists of between 100 and 200 nuclear weapons.
The ADL, which has trademarked the expression “Imagine a World without Hate,” claims to be against all forms of discrimination and bigotry but its actual focus is on perceived bias against Jews. It recently celebrated its hundredth birthday with a gala dinner in New York City attended by Vice President Joe Biden, who enthused “…I mean this sincerely: You have become America’s conscience. You have become the conscience of this country, no matter what the issue. You have been a pillar of the Jewish community, but you reach out and you have reached out your embrace for all communities. ”
Biden, whose imagination has never failed him whenever it is necessary to put lipstick on a pig, omitted any mention of a notorious espionage case involving ADL, which became public twenty years ago in 1993. The police investigation ultimately exposed illegal activity that had taken place during at least forty years prior to that date, revealing that the organization had been running a private nationwide spy operation and had in its possession large numbers of classified and official use only documents which it had obtained from corrupt officials at all levels of government. The information obtained on American citizens and organizations was routinely shared with Israeli intelligence.
ADL is completely aligned with the Netanyahu government on all issues, including war crimes committed in Gaza and initiation of racist laws against Israel’s Arab citizens. Its current Director Abe Foxman is well known for shooting from the lip whenever he perceives any deviation from complete synchronization with Israel and its policies, most recently blasting the Obama Administration for its “acceptance of Iran’s blackmail.” As ADL has carefully cultivated the Washington and New York establishments, it has considerable clout both within the Beltway and along the Hudson. Even though Foxman’s tunnel vision translates as complete inability to look beyond the narrow interests of his own community, his letters to the New York Times are always printed and featured even when they are completely paranoid and irrational, which possibly says more about the mainstream media than it does about Foxman. Whenever President Obama meets with leaders of American Jewish Groups at the White House the impressive bulk of Foxman is always there front and center, frequently grinning to show his affability but often repaying the courtesy by blasting the president whenever the Administration mildly disagrees with anything that Benjamin Netanyahu might be up to.
Foxman’s political agenda means that any group that is perceived to be less than 100% gung ho about Israel’s government will be targeted, complete with blanket accusations of anti-Semitism hurled in all directions. Muslim organizations are frequently denigrated by Foxman because they are ipso facto not pro-Israeli. He endorses spying on American Muslims just because they are Muslims and therefore untrustworthy while leading the charge against the building of an Islamic cultural center near ground zero in New York City. He criticizes peace groups because they oppose Israel’s attacks on its neighbors and has also taken shots at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the German government, human rights activists, environmentalists, civil rights groups and anti-apartheid organizations. Israel’s friends and perceived interests are always ADL’s friends and interests, no matter how unsavory they might be.
The ADL, which collaborated with the FBI in the 1940s in rooting out communists, has long prided itself on maintaining “confidential investigative coverage” of Arab activities in the United States. The 1963 San Francisco police department raid on the offices of the ADL revealed that there were files on 600 organizations and more than 10,000 individuals, many of whom were neither Arabs nor in any way connected to the Middle East. Three quarters of the information was from city, state, and federal files, to include those belonging to the FBI, that had been obtained illegally. There was a public outcry over the extent of the spying and the city of San Francisco prepared to prosecute ADL and its officers.
Just before the case was due to go to trial, however, the charges were dropped by the city because the litigation would be “expensive and time consuming.” In reality, it has been reported that the city District Attorney, who had political ambitions, felt the cold wind blowing from the local wealthy and powerful Jewish community. Though the case was closed and the city actually returned to ADL the files it had stolen, the police investigation determined that the ADL office had hired one Roy Bullock to serve as its chief investigator. Bullock was paid through a secret fund out of ADL in New York and was tasked with attending and recording Arab American conferences and meetings throughout the US, as well as the gatherings of other what ADL described as “anti-democratic” organizations. Bullock referred to them as “Pinkos.” The organizations targeted included the NAACP, the ACLU and at least 20 labor unions, all organizations that the ADL would have regarded as allies in the struggle against bigotry that it claimed to support. “Black anti-Semitism” was of particular interest, which led to opening of files on the African National Congress and 47 other anti-Apartheid organizations. Foxman had publicly referred to the African National Congress as “terrorists” because they had friendly ties with the Palestinians.
In a deposition made after the seizure of the ADL files in 1993, Bullock and a police officer who claimed to be a former CIA contractor named Tom Gerard admitted that they had also shared the information they collected for ADL on anti-Apartheid groups with South African intelligence. Bullock revealed that he had surveilled Chris Hani, the man who was to succeed Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa, during a California speaking tour. The file Bullock prepared was given to both the ADL and to the South Africans. Hani was assassinated after he returned to his homeland. Another Bullock target was Palestinian-American activist Alex Odeh, who was killed by a bomb at his office in 1985. Bullock and ADL had keys to the office and a floor plan.
Because of the theft of FBI files, the Bureau also launched its own investigation of the ADL spying but the Justice Department dragged its feet and the top law enforcement officials of the Clinton Administration, including Attorney General Janet Reno, eventually decided to close the case in early 1994. No reason was given for the government inaction but strong lobbying by the Israeli government has been plausibly linked to the failure to seek justice for the various crimes allegedly committed by the ADL. It was only one example of the repeated Justice Department failure to go after criminals linked to Israel or to Israel’s supporters in the US.
Whether the ADL continues its spying on other American citizens or not is probably a matter of definitions. Muslims organizations and “pinkos” who question Israeli policies are quite likely still being targeted. And ADL certainly makes sure that the cops knows who the enemy is through its LEARN program (Law Enforcement Agency Resource Network) which trains police in how to identify and deal with “extremist groups” and “hate crimes.” The ADL also provided “sensitivity training” for the CIA after a Jewish job applicant was denied a security clearance for lying regarding his ties to the Israeli government on his employment application. CIA Director George Tenet, who oversaw the process, boasted afterwards that “we educated an entire bureaucracy.” Perhaps Tenet should have had one of his staff check out ADL’s actual record on illegally spying on innocent American citizens before he got into bed with the organization, but as the Director himself has a somewhat questionable record regarding the truth it is probably just as well that he did not go down that road.