The fight over foreign aid could be tougher than ever in the upcoming Congress, and Israel’s support on Capitol Hill could be buffeted by the new violence and political upheaval in the region.
Last week the pro-Israel lobby began a preemptive effort to shore up support, especially among African-American members.
Lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), concerned about what some see as a gradual erosion of support among members of the Congressional Black Caucus, met with a handful of Washington representatives for leading Jewish groups.
The message: the Jewish community needs to do more to work with the African-American community — both in Congress and in communities around the country.
“There’s no feeling of panic, but there is a well-reasoned sense that this is a community
and an alliance that needs more attention,” said one participant.
Pro-Israel leaders, sources here say, were disappointed that several leading African-American lawmakers voted against two recent measures pushed heavily by AIPAC — a proposal to cut off aid to the Palestinians if Yasir Arafat unilaterally declares a Palestinian state, and another expressing solidarity with Israel in the wake of the new intifada.
Some black members continue to register strong unhappiness with the fact that foreign aid for African nations that face starvation and disease is a tiny fraction of the overall aid budget, while Israel — a relatively prosperous nation — continues to get the biggest chunk of assistance.
And Israel’s slice of the aid budget is likely to grow substantially if there is an agreement with the Palestinians.
“It’s a difficult environment for aid, and AIPAC is acting wisely by working to reinforce the relationship with this important coalition partner at a difficult moment in U.S.-Israel relations,” said one participant.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Chicago) was a periodic problem for pro-Israel forces in the 106th Congress, but several recent meetings with Jewish political and religious leaders, sources here say, may produce dividends in the next Congress.
The AIPAC lobbyists asked the Washington representatives to tap their grass-roots networks to bolster support for Israel within the black community, and to raise the issue when lobbying black members on domestic issues.