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The Yossi Ginossar affair exposed a troubling legal lacuna. There is no supervision or limitation on Israelis, acting as paid emissaries of foreign governments and entities, getting involved in political, public and governmental activity in Israel. Anybody can advise the most corrupt foreign dictator, or conduct a campaign at the behest of a foreign political agency, without telling anyone.

Israel has government controls over exporting military know-how and equipment to foreigners, to control the transfer of knowledge and equipment overseas. The Foreign Ministry must approve the appointments of honorary consuls. But beyond that, the law has a gaping breach. Those ready to give up the honors, the consular license plates and the parking spot, can work as a private interest office for any foreign power or political party, lobbying for their interests in the Knesset and ministerial offices, without revealing the identity of those footing the bill for the job. Thus, any Israeli citizen can manage, even indirectly, Yasser Arafat's bank accounts, and at the same time take part in political negotiations with him; thus, leftist groups and human rights groups can get European funding to influence Israeli policy.

The time has come for Israel to adopt the American model, which requires anyone representing foreign interests to register and report their activity. The Foreign Agents Registration Act was meant to guarantee that the public and its elected representatives in the U.S. would know the source of information and propaganda meant to influence public opinion, shape policy or legislation. The law was passed in 1938, on the eve of the Second World War, to constrain Americans who supported Nazi Germany. Since then it has become a key method for monitoring agents of influence and representatives of both friendly and hostile states.

According to the American law, a "foreign agent" is anyone who works under instructions, request or control of a foreign element, and is also involved in political activity in the U.S. dealing in public relations on behalf of his client, or representing their interests to the authorities. Such an agent must register at the Justice Department in Washington and report on all their agreements with the foreign element, and money received for the purpose. The records are open to the public. Those who fail to register are liable to criminal prosecution. Commercial representatives, business lawyers and newspapers are exempt from the requirement.

The law does not impose any limitations on the foreign agent's sphere of activity, except for the requirement to report on that activity. But that's enough of a deterrent. The pro-Israel lobby in the United States, AIPAC, is very careful to preserve its status as a local American lobby, and so far has succeeded in blocking efforts to have it labeled as a "foreign agent," which is the status, for example, of the PLO office in Washington.

The latest periodical report by the Justice Department, from the second half of 2001, lists nine "foreign agents" working on behalf of Israel. Some examples: the Arnold-Porter law firm in Washington, which received $205,000 in the first six months of 2001 from the Israeli government; Rubinstein, a public relations firm in New York, received $31,000 from the government in the same period. Former diplomat Zvi Rafiah represented Rafael for $107,000 in the first six months of 2001, and Victor Mintz, working on behalf of the Defense Ministry, was paid $89,000. Even the World Zionist Organization is listed. One person not listed is Arye Genger, the prime minister's emissary to the White House. Genger went through an extensive security clearance process, and signed an Israeli agreement to prevent conflict of interest, but according to the latest Justice Department records, he has yet to formalize his status in the U.S. as a representative of a foreign government.

Public decency requires similar registration and reporting mechanisms in Israel, so the public can know who is working for which foreign element, and those who refuse to identify their clients, under the rubric of "business confidentiality" or some other excuse, will face criminal prosecution if they are exposed. The Justice Ministry in Jerusalem said this week in response to a question about the issue that "it is worth examining, irrespective of the Ginossar case."