No Change In Aid Policy?
Israeli newspapers were in an uproar this week over reports that the Clinton administration is blocking Israel’s chunk of a big supplementary aid package now before Congress, while pushing the Palestinian appropriation. Not so, say numerous sources in Washington. The Israeli and Palestinian aid is still on the table, and there is almost no likelihood they will be split.
At the same time, there is a tacit agreement between the Clinton administration and Congress to hold off on moving the aid bill until after Israeli elections on May 17.
The Israel portion of the aid was offered to help pay for implementation of the October Wye River agreement — which is now in the deep freeze. The Palestinian money, in contrast, was intended to provide an economic shot in the arm for Gaza and the West Bank. But political factors and the longstanding congressional aversion to Yasir Arafat mean that there is almost no interest in approving the Palestinian aid first.
“The idea that they would move ahead with the Palestinian portion and hold up Israel’s just doesn’t make sense,” said Jess Hordes, Washington director for the Anti-Defamation League, who added that if anything, the $400 million in Palestinian aid will be harder to sell to lawmakers than Israel’s $1.2 billion.
Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs Stuart Eizenstat, who was in Israel last week and reportedly hinted of a new aid holdup, denied a change in administration policy.
Speaking to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Monday, he termed those reports “grossly inaccurate,” and said the administration will not seek to separate Israeli and Palestinian money.
Administration sources say that U.S. negotiators will resume their efforts to break the Israeli-Palestinian impasse after a new government is formed in Jerusalem. The big supplementary aid package, they say, could be an important sweetener.
Congress is in no rush to act on the package for budgetary reasons. Administration officials want to keep the package on the slow track so aid will still be a live issue on the Hill when they resume Mideast mediation.
A bigger problem for pro-Israel activists is the Republican insistence on offsetting all new aid by cutting other parts of the budget. That dispute has already held up hurricane relief money for Central America and supplemental aid for Jordan.
“We always knew the Jordan money would have to be offset,” said a top pro-Israel lobbyist here. “But if they try to offset the Israel and Palestinian money, we could have a big problem. It’s a big-picture budget politics issue, not a Mideast issue, but there is a real danger the Israel aid could get caught up in the fight.”
Congressional Letter Supports Aid
Also on the aid front: a leading pro-peace process group has successfully generated congressional letters to President Bill Clinton supporting an aid boost for both Israel and the Palestinians.
That, in turn, is ruffling some feathers at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby, which isn’t happy about yet another Capitol Hill incursion by the Israel Policy Forum, although AIPAC has reportedly not pressed legislators to spurn the IPF letter.
Some 50 senators and 77 House members have signed the letter, which takes an unusually evenhanded approach to aid.
The list includes pro-Israel superstars such as Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Rep. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Westchester).
Levin, one of the co-authors, added language insisting that the Palestinian portion of the aid be channeled through non-governmental and international organizations “with full accountability.”
That reflects current administration policy, which has sought to defuse congressional concern about corruption in the Palestinian Authority by using the NGOs.
“The letter mirrors a mood in the pro-Israel community since Wye that supports an active U.S. approach and that insists that to be successful U.S. policy must be balanced,” said Tom Smerling, IPF’s Washington director, who pointed to the sharp contrast between last week’s letters and previous missives on aid, which have tilted in favor of Israel.
Labor Zionists: Alive and Kicking
Remember the Labor Zionist Alliance?
The organization sometimes seems like a historical footnote, but the 40 LZA activists here for a “Washington Action Conference” this week hope to change that.
The meeting was the first attempt in an effort to bring together a newly energized LZA young leadership cadre with members of the group’s Habonim Dror youth movement, according to Steven J. Weinberg of East Brunswick, N.J., a member of the group’s national executive committee. The object: to attract members under the age of 50.
The new effort, he said, will include a greater focus on domestic issues as well as Israel and the creation of a nationwide advocacy network.
The group also visited Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and agreed to help him promote his letter supporting supplementary aid for both Israel and the Palestinians.
Weinberg, 54, conceded that the organization has a fossilized image —“and it’s not just image.” But this week’s Washington sessions, he said, “demonstrated interest in new issues, new relationships and new alliances. There was a lot of energy here and a lot of optimism about the future of Israel-diaspora relations.”
The group also decided to put together a World Wide Web site focusing on the upcoming Israeli elections and the Labor party message.
Hate Crimes Bill Ready to Roll
Jewish activists are hoping months of behind-the-scenes work will pay off when lawmakers take up a new hate crimes bill, now scheduled for introduction late this week.
The measure, which languished in the 105th Congress, will make it easier for the federal government to get involved in prosecuting hate crimes cases.
One spur to the measure was the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum in 1991 in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.
Federal prosecutors were able to enter that case only after arguing that the crime took place on a street that was connected to highways that crossed state lines — thus justifying federal intervention.
“It removes what we consider overly restrictive obstacles to federal involvement in hate crimes cases,” said Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, a group that has made the proposed law a top priority.
The measure also extends existing statutes to cover hate crimes based on the victim’s gender, sexual orientation or disability — which is why some Christian right groups will be working hard for its defeat.
Duke Battle Continues
The battle to isolate David Duke from the Republican mainstream continues.
Last week leaders of the American Jewish Congress, after several sharp exchanges with Republican National committee chair Jim Nicholson, announced that they were satisfied that the RNC is doing its best. Louisiana’s unusual open primary system, in which anyone can run as a candidate of either party, gives GOP officials few options, said AJC executive director Phil Baum.
“Initially, we were not satisfied with what the party had done to distance itself from Duke, and we brought that to their attention,” Baum said. “Their response was ‘What do you want from us? We’ve already done everything we can under the law.’”
After conversations with Nicholson and other RNC officials, Baum proclaimed himself satisfied with the GOP effort, but frustrated by a system that still allows Duke to run as a Republican without party sanction.
Nicholson asserted that the party will not provide any financial support for the Duke campaign, Baum said, and that GOP officials will continue to condemn the former Klansman’s racial views.
Baum added that the AJ Congress and other groups will continue to press the Republican leaders to restate their opposition to Duke throughout the campaign.
Not surprisingly, Jewish Democrats were less impressed with Nicholson’s assurances.
While the national party has officially rejected Duke, “the dirty little secret is that they get a fair number of votes from Duke supporters, and a number of GOP leaders are not really willing to go after him,” said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “In the past, their efforts have been less than energetic, and we see no indications of change this time around.”
Jewish groups lined up to pay tribute to retired Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, who died last week at the age of 91.
Blackmun, most known for his majority opinion in Roe vs. Wade, the landmark abortion rights decision, was a lifelong conservative whose opinions on the High Court more often than not pleased liberal Jewish groups during his 24-year tenure.
“His impact on women’s lives was tremendous, and his death is very sad,” said Sammie Moshenberg, Washington director for the National Council of Jewish Women, a pro-choice group. “He leaves behind a tremendous legacy.”
But Roe “was hardly his only contribution to American law,” said Norman Redlich, co-chair of the American Jewish Congress Commission on Law and Social Action. “Justice
Blackmun was also a forceful and articulate champion of the separation of church and state and the free exercise of religion, and of a broad spectrum of civil rights and liberties.”
The Anti-Defamation League praised Blackmun for being “a consistent vote against attempts to undermine the Establishment Clause.”