Extra Israel Aid Back On Track
After a major campaign by the pro-Israel lobby, the Bush administration has ended its opposition to an extra $200 million in military aid to help Israel with the soaring costs of its fight against terrorism.
The price: Pro-Israel forces will have to swallow an extra $50 million in humanitarian assistance for the Palestinians.
Several weeks ago, the administration was working hard to derail the extra aid, which has been stalled since former Prime Minister Ehud Barak requested $800 million to help pay the costs of withdrawal from Lebanon.
The reasons for the administration opposition: concern about the soaring budget deficit and fears that extra aid for Israel, on top of that country’s $2.8 billion annual allotment, would infuriate Arab allies.
At the same time, administration officials faced strong
congressional resistance to their request for humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.
Both sides gave a little late last week. The result? A compromise package seems poised to move swiftly through the House. On Thursday the House Appropriations Committee approved a $29.4 billion supplemental aid package, mostly to pay for the U.S. war on terrorism and for homeland security, but also to include extra aid for Israel and the Palestinians.
The Palestinian aid will be funneled through nongovernmental humanitarian agencies to keep it out of the hands of Yasir Arafat’s Palestinian Authority.
The compromise came after Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), chair of the Foreign Operations subcommittee, spoke to Secretary of State Colin Powell, who indicated the administration would drop its opposition to Israel aid if the Palestinians were taken care of as well.
The only real opposition in the committee came from Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.), who blamed the “politically influential Israel lobby” for engineering the vote.
Publicly, the pro-Israel lobby said nothing about the deal; in private, lobbyists nodded their approval.
“The feeling was very strong that Israel needs the aid now,” one lobbyist said. “There was strong opposition to giving anything to the Palestinians, but it was even more important to give Israel the help it needs without any further delay.”
The measure could come up before the full House in the next week or two. It is expected to reach the Senate after the Memorial Day recess.
Some Jewish groups say they’ll encourage sympathetic members of Congress to try to axe the Palestinian part of the package when it reaches the floor. “We think this sends a terrible message of using U.S. taxpayer dollars to reward the murder of Jews,” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.
But he conceded that with groups like AIPAC supporting the compromise, nixing the Palestinian aid will be an uphill battle.
Holocaust Council Appointees
The Bush administration has finally put forward a slate of appointees to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, the panel that runs the Holocaust Museum on Washington’s Mall. The list is heavy with Holocaust scholars and children of survivors, with a handful of big-money types who will hopefully pick up the pace of fund raising for the museum.
Among the appointees is Alvin H. Rosenfeld, a professor of English and director of the Jewish studies program at Indiana University. Rosenfeld has written extensively on the Holocaust and American culture, and on the impact of commercialization on Holocaust memory.
He also collaborated on a book with a former Council member and chairman, Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, about Elie Wiesel.
Other appointees include Nechama Tec, a survivor and author of five books on the Holocaust; Sonia Weitz, a survivor and director of the Education for the Holocaust Center in Boston; and Alice Kelikian, a Brandeis scholar specializing in European history, who fills a seat reserved for a representative of the Armenian community. Aldona Zofia Wos, a North Carolina doctor whose father died in a Nazi camp, will take over a Council position that traditionally goes to a member of the Polish community.
Not all appointees have direct Holocaust connections.
Also selected was lawyer and movie financier Tom Bernstein, a longtime business associate of Bush and a political supporter who serves as president of the board of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.
Bernstein is president of Chelsea Piers Management in New York. (He was Bush’s partner when the president owned a chunk of the Texas Rangers baseball team.)
Most observers said the lineup was unusually strong on scholars—and thin on political appointees.
“Personally, I’m very pleased,” said Holocaust scholar and Council member Michael Berenbaum. “It’s a wonderful reflection of how seriously this administration regards this Museum.”
As promised, the administration inaugurated a new policy of not reappointing current members to Council slots, which have a five-year tenure.
The 11 new appointees will join the new chairman of the Council, Fred Zeidman, a Houston businessman and longtime friend of President George W. Bush.
Veteran Council watchers say Zeidman is focusing heavily on management issues and staying clear of controversies that have rocked the panel in the past.
“Fred is very much the corporate executive,” said a Council observer. “He’s studying, listening, talking to people, and not letting on too much what he thinks.”
New Life For Pro-Israel PACs
Pro-Israel organizations are experiencing a surge of activism as Jews around the country look for ways to help Israel during what Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is calling a war for survival.
That surge may be contributing to a revival of pro-Israel political action committees (PACs) — once a significant factor in building support for Israel in Congress.
But in recent years, PACs have fallen on hard times, largely because many potential contributors believed Israel was well along the road to peace and security.
That may be changing.
When leaders of the Hudson Valley PAC scheduled a Washington meeting for this week, it was oversold in a matter of days, according to the group’s founder and president, Dr. Mandell Ganchrow.
“The response was overwhelming. People were coming out of the woodwork,” he said.
Once, Ganchrow’s Rockland County PAC was one of the biggest pro-Israel PACs in the country, although it went into hibernation when Ganchrow became president of the Orthodox Union in the early 1990s. He has revived it in the past year.
Other pro-Israel PACs report a similar surge.
“We’re doing better than we’ve done in the past few election cycles,” said Morrie Amitay, who heads the Washington PAC. “People are increasing their contributions. “
Congress, he said, is more pro-Israel than ever— a fact dramatically punctuated recently when both Houses passed resolutions of solidarity with Israel despite strong administration pressure to put the measures on hold