Aid Hinges On Congress
As a sweetener to last week’s Wye River agreement, the Clinton administration is offering new aid to the Palestinians and Israelis. But on Capitol Hill, already sour on foreign aid and not a hotbed of support for Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, the aid package could be a hard sell.
The administration’s expected request for $500 million to help Israel with the costs of the 13 percent redeployment might win congressional approval, say congressional sources — as long as it is represented as a one-time infusion, not a permanent arrangement.
“If the aid is directed at relocating facilities as part of the redeployment and beefing up Israel’s security, it will probably win approval,” said a congressional staffer who will play a role in the upcoming debate. “If any part
of it is intended to fund the CIA’s new role in refereeing compliance, that could be a problem.”
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) this week promised hearings on the controversial CIA role. A number of legislators from both parties expressed unease about both the diplomatic and physical dangers of the agency’s new job in policing the Wye agreement.
Leaders in both parties indicated they would support the aid request — but the House appropriations committee, which played a key role in this year’s semi-voluntary reduction in aid for Israel, is expected to take a harder look.
Palestinian aid, according to congressional sources, will be more dependent on how the peace process is going when lawmakers look at the administration proposal.
In 1995, Congressional Republicans and some pro-Israel Democrats aggressively opposed efforts to renew the Middle East Peace Facilitation Act (MEPFA), which provided aid to the Palestinians based on prior agreements.
That opposition has died down in the past year, congressional sources say — in part as a reaction to the bitterly partisan nature of the debate.
But unless Palestinian compliance improves in the next few months, the debate could erupt anew when the administration promotes its aid proposal.
“We’re hearing that Israel’s part of the aid, at least, will play well on Capitol Hill,” said Jess Hordes, Washington director for the Anti-Defamation League. “On the Palestinian component, there’s a lot of skepticism. But if implementation [of the Wye agreement] is proceeding smoothly, the aid package will probably not encounter major obstacles.”
Tight Races, But Money’s Not Tight
There’s been a lot of talk about an explosion at the polls next week when voters — fed up with the president’s sleazy private life or fed up with legislators determined to take full partisan advantage of Clinton’s missteps — elect a new Congress.
But when the votes are tallied, most observers expect the 106th Congress will look a lot like the 105th.
Despite reports of growing disgust with politicians in general, incumbents are overwhelmingly favored to keep their seats.
Almost all of the Jewish delegation on Capitol Hill are expected to cruise to easy victories, with a few exceptions — including Rep. Jon Fox (R-Pa.), locked in a too-close-to-call rematch against the Democrat he beat by only 84 votes in 1996, Joseph Hoeffel.
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), the champion of campaign finance reform, is still neck-and-neck with his challenger, Rep. Mark W. Neumann, a conservative Republican backed by the state’s active anti-abortion movement.
“Feingold is clearly being hurt by his refusal to take outside money,” said Charles Brooks, executive director of the National PAC, a pro-Israel funding group. “Neumann is doing very aggressive television, and that’s hurting Feingold.”
Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), both Jewish lawmakers on the endangered list, appear to be pulling ahead in the waning days of the campaign, thanks to the wonders of incumbency.
But Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) remains in a close contest with Leslie Touma, a business executive and Reagan administration official. Touma is expected to benefit from the fact that the Democratic ticket in the state is headed up by Geoffrey Fieger, who has managed to offend a long list of ethnic and religious groups, including Orthodox Jews. Jewish groups are watching the race closely, since Touma, a Lebanese-American, is expected to do well with the district’s big Arab-American population.
And in Nevada, a Jewish woman and pro-Israel activist — Shelley Berkley — has apparently lost her big lead in a race for an open seat against Don Chairez, a former district judge, thanks to an ongoing controversy over her fund-raising practices.
Many observers predict a modest gain for Republicans in both Houses — possibly seven to 10 seats in the House, two to five in the Senate.
A five-member GOP gain in the Senate could have a major impact on Jewish domestic concerns, and especially the debate over abortion, because it would give the Republicans a filibuster-proof majority.
Still, what looked like a major triumph for the GOP a few months back, when Clinton was sunk in the depths of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, now looks like just a modest victory.
“A lot of people predicted an earthquake, but we’re probably going to see just a tremor,” said a prominent Jewish politico. “In the end, money still drives elections — and as usual, money is going mostly to incumbents.”
NJDC PAC Makes Its Mark
Speaking of money, the NJDC PAC — the political funding arm of the National Jewish Democratic Council — has moved into the top ranks of Jewish and pro-Israel political action committees.
In the current election cycle, the Democratic group is giving more than $600,000 for House and Senate candidates — some of it in direct contributions, some in “bundled” contributions, gathered from individual members and delivered in bundles to chosen candidates.
When “soft money” contributions to state and national party organizations are counted, the Jewish Democratic group marshaled some $1.1 million for the upcoming election — more than the two largest pro-Israel PACs combined.
The group is contributing to Jewish and non-Jewish lawmakers alike, including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.).
Also on the receiving end of NJDC PAC money: Rep. Charles Schumer (D- N.Y.), who is locked in a close and ugly race with Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, a Republican; and the embattled, controversial Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Ill.).
The rapid growth of the funding organization, according to NJDC associate director Stephen Silberfarb, relates to the fact that its funding decisions are based on a variety of factors, not just a candidate’s positions on Israel.
Yeltsin Worries Grow
The Clinton administration — and groups that care about Jews in the former Soviet Union — are keeping an uneasy eye on developments in Moscow, where an ailing President Boris Yeltsin seems increasingly unable to function in office while the nation’s economic crisis continues unabated.
This week, Yeltsin was transferred from his vacation home to a sanitarium. The official diagnosis was fatigue following a bout of bronchitis.
But administration officials fear that Yeltsin’s survival as president is in doubt — and that when he departs the scene, a political free-for-all may result.
“If Yeltsin dies, you can only hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” said Mark Levin, director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.
Russian Jews, he said, continue to contact international Jewish organizations for information about emigration — but so far, there are no signs of a mass exodus.
At this week’s NCSJ board meetings, the group passed a resolution calling for increased agricultural and food assistance from the U.S. government and private organizations to help ward off new unrest this winter.
“They’re heading toward a major crisis in which basic needs won’t get met,” Levin said.
The group also passed a resolution calling on the government to crack down on Gov. Nikolai Kondrapenko of Krasnodar, in southern Russia, and Gen. Albert Makashov for vitriolic anti-Semitic rhetoric.