'They Threw Me Under the Bus'

In his $21m civil suit, Steven Rosen is going toe-to-toe with his former employer AIPAC, claiming the pro-Israel lobby was well aware of the activities it later dismissed him for.

Natasha Mozgovaya
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Natasha Mozgovaya

There is no shortage of former employees who sue their former employers. But few cases are liable to have implications more serious than the suit filed by Steven Rosen, a former senior official for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Rosen, left, arriving at Federal Court with his attorney Abbe Lowell in August 2005.Credit: AFP

Rosen, who served as the organization's policy director, has filed a $21 million claim against AIPAC, which dismissed him in 2005 when he was accused, along with colleague Keith Weissman, of delivering classified information obtained from a Pentagon officer to Israeli diplomats. In 2009, overriding FBI protests, U.S. prosecutors decided not to pursue a court trial against Rosen. In March of that same year, Rosen filed a civil claim against AIPAC, accusing his former employer of libel and slander.

In response, AIPAC released a 260-page dossier that includes transcripts of recorded discussions with Rosen, which the pro-Israel lobby claims prove that Rosen's accusations are arbitrary and unfounded, and that he was fired with cause. AIPAC argues that no valid distinction can be drawn between the damage Rosen caused to himself - by carrying out actions which, the group holds, are contrary to its policies - and the harm caused to his professional reputation. Rosen argues that AIPAC is responsible for damaging his reputation.

Speaking with Haaretz yesterday, Rosen said he does not understand why AIPAC decided to challenge his claim, rather than reaching a settlement.

"I believe that AIPAC should make a settlement with me. I was persecuted for five years. They sent me out to do a job, I did the job for 23 years. Trouble came - they have to sacrifice me to save the ship. I was a good soldier, for five years I was under a dark cloud," he said.

Rosen explained that when AIPAC refused to settle, he had "to use the leverage that I have which is defamation suit - and I do it with regret ... I would still prefer to come to settlement with them today, without the lawsuit. It's a very important organization, I believe in it in 150%, and it has a very important role."

He is not interested in any public statement AIPAC might make, Rosen said. "It's about the financial settlement," he insisted. "They took from me my peak earning years, they threw me under a bus. I was financially harmed and they should fix it."

On December 2, Rosen is expected to submit a stack of his own documents to the court, which will, he insists, establish that he is "telling the truth and AIPAC is lying."

He claims he was indicted "not because I violated AIPAC policies, but because I followed them." Rosen says the organization altered its policy on classified information in late 2005, retroactively, after he and Weissman were dismissed.

"I think [AIPAC's] behavior is terrible," he says. "When they lose the case, I hope they'll learn something. It's very unjust - I served them for 23 years, they praised everything I did ... and now they are treating me this way. It's unjust and I think they'll regret it." Rosen adds that AIPAC tried to persuade him to withdraw his claim.

Sopranos threats

"They warned me directly that if I persist with this case, they will start up with this pornography business," Rosen relates, referring to AIPAC's claim in its court-submitted dossier that pornographic materials were found on his work computer. "It's nonsense. [AIPAC's] own president said in her deposition that she didn't even know about the pornography business when the board of directors made its [dismissal] decision. So it's complete nonsense."

The pornography threat, he adds, "is something they came up with later and tried to bully me with this ... it's right out of 'The Sopranos.'" In its submission to the court, AIPAC held that the organization "does not expect that its employees will be accused of criminal offenses." The language underscores the fact that while Rosen never faced a court trial, he was never exonerated of the accusation that he disseminated classified information.

"If I am guilty, they are guilty," Rosen declares. "What I did for years - they knew all about it. They knew it in advance; they knew the details. So pretending that I was some sort of renegade or bad apple, it's nonsense."

The lobby's reasoning, he suggests, is circular: He was never exonerated only because a trial was never held. Rosen claims he will prove in court that AIPAC in fact supported all of his activities.

"They gave me a bonus in January 2005, a month after the FBI came to the door," he says. And in May 2005, he received a severance payment of $114,000, Rosen points out. "If I violated their policies, why would they give me so much money? Two and a half years after firing me their general council said 'we'll make things right with Steve when this is over, but we can't give him any money now because it will look like we are trying to buy his testimony at the trial,'" he says.

'Israelis have treated me better'

Haaretz asked Rosen when it was that he met with Rafi Barak, an official at Israel's embassy in Washington - after the FBI had come to his home, and after AIPAC had given him instructions about disclosing information.

"When the FBI stood at my driveway they told me some things about the Israelis that the Israelis needed to know right away - very serious accusations against Israel that were different from the accusation against me or Weissman. I thought the government of Israel should know about it, so I met with the deputy chief of mission [Barak]," he says. "They all [AIPAC] understood why it was so important - because we exist to protect Israel... I violated no AIPAC policy."

When asked how Israel treated him once the accusations surfaced, Rosen said, "In general, Israelis have treated me much better than AIPAC did. [But] Israel is not going to fight with AIPAC or the U.S. government about me."

He adds: "I was not accused of being an agent of Israel ... I was not accused of receiving money. But there is a case called 'United States of America versus Steven Rosen,' and this was very hurtful to me. I did nothing but strengthen America. I consider myself a conservative and I believe in a strong United States. The last thing on earth I would want to do is harm the U.S."

Since his dismissal, Rosen says he has had trouble finding work, and at one stage he turned to Jewish philanthropists with calls for support, some of which were answered. The names of some of these supporters are cited in AIPAC's court submissions; they include Daniel Abraham, Haim Saban and Lynn Schusterman.

AIPAC, Rosen says, "did many things that I thought were ugly... I am not sure Danny Abraham or Haim Saban wanted to see their names in this story. It was very crude. I don't understand their strategy."

AIPAC sent the following statement to Haaretz in response: "As the AIPAC pleadings indicate, this defamation lawsuit has absolutely no merit. AIPAC has made it clear during this litigation that it disagrees with Mr. Rosen's characterizations with regard to the events relevant to the litigation. As the pleadings demonstrate, it is AIPAC's position that Steve Rosen's claims are wildly inaccurate, and are undermined by Mr. Rosen's own admissions under oath in his deposition.

"It is important to note that Mr. Rosen acknowledged in his deposition that he is not asking for damages for any lost wages or emotional harm and was in fact give hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax-free gifts from third parties following his termination from AIPAC. Since the inception of this litigation, Mr. Rosen has not actively pursued settlement."