The Zionist Organization of America, known for its rapid-fire, aggressive style of political action, has been rebuked by the leading pro-Israel lobby group for turning its sights on Jordan, a top U.S. and Israeli ally.
ZOA recently engaged in a “gratuitous attack on Jordan’s eligibility for U.S. assistance,” according to Lonnie Kaplan, president of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, and executive director Howard Kohr.
In an unusually stinging letter to ZOA President Morton Klein, the AIPAC officials charged that ZOA actions have been “damaging not only to Jordan itself, but also to important American and Israeli interests.”
The rebuke was triggered by a ZOA campaign to force Jordan to extradite Abu Daoud, the confessed mastermind of the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.
Last month, ZOA promoted a House letter urging President Bill Clinton to pressure Jordan to hand over Daoud and warning that aid “could be adversely affected” if Amman didn’t comply.
But the Jordanians denied Daoud was in their country. Pro-Israel lobbyists said that even if he had been, public attacks on Jordan do not serve Israel’s interests.
The AIPAC letter accused ZOA of urging members of Congress to link U.S. aid to Jordan to Daoud’s extradition “without bothering to ascertain whether he is still physically present in Jordan.”
The letter also cited a statement by the Jordanian foreign minister that Daoud has not been in Jordan “for a while.”
This week Klein fired back. In an interview, he said that the charge that ZOA didn’t check Daoud’s whereabouts was “completely erroneous. It shows their careless disregard for the facts. During the entire time we were talking about Abu Daoud, there were numerous news reports citing that he was in Jordan.”
He also challenged the pro-Israel lobby’s credibility on the subject.
“AIPAC’s action agenda requires them to fight for the transfer of Arabs who have murdered Americans,” said Klein, who, as ZOA president, serves on AIPAC’s executive board. “Yet I know of no actions AIPAC has taken to fulfill that obligation.”
In a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Jordanian ambassador Marwan Muasher — a popular figure among pro-Israel activists — said that if Daoud does enter, “he will be detained and brought under the full extent of the law.”
Muasher also expressed “deep regret and dismay over attempts by groups such as the Zionist Organization of America to tarnish Jordan’s record and even to question its commitment to peace. In fact, it is we who call into question ZOA’s motives.”
On Tuesday Klein said the AIPAC president had apologized for the strong tone of the letter. Not so, an AIPAC spokesman said.
“We apologized for the letter becoming public, which was unintentional,” he said, stressing that AIPAC’s strong reaction was based on the importance of Jordan, not animosity toward ZOA. Asked if Kaplan apologized for the letter’s content or tone, he said “absolutely not.”
The ruckus appeared to have little impact on Jordan’s aid. On Tuesday the House passed a foreign aid bill that included Jordan’s regular $200 million aid request, plus an extra $100 million, part of extra money promised as part of last year’s Wye River negotiations — the only part of the Wye supplemental aid approved so far.
New Role For Nazi Hunters?
If Congress moves on a proposal by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D- Vt.), the Office of Special Investigations — the perpetually underfunded Justice Department Nazi-hunting unit — could have a new role. Whether it gets new money to fund that role is less clear.
Under the Anti-Atrocity Alien Deportation Act, the agency, created in 1979 to hunt down Nazis who entered this country after World War II, would expand its role to seek war criminals involved in other atrocities, from Cambodia and Rwanda to the former Yugoslavia, who entered this country illegally or on the basis of false information.
That formula, which has worked well in the hunt for aging Nazis, avoids messy legal battles over exactly what constitutes war crimes.
The measure would also formalize OSI’s existence. Until now, the agency has existed by dint of executive order.
“[The expansion] is a good idea if there’s additional staff and money,” said a longtime OSI observer. “If it simply expands jurisdiction without the bucks, it will be a disaster.”
And any attempt to increase OSI’s budget could come at the expense of other Justice Department units, this source said, posing new bureaucratic problems for the always-precarious agency.
The search for elderly Nazis “is still vibrant,” said Neal Sher, a Washington lawyer and OSI’s first director. “In fact, we need to expand its activities in that area.”
At the same time, he said, the Leahy proposal “gives OSI added credibility for a new era.”
A Vote For Christian Coalition
In June, the Christian Coalition — the tottering political powerhouse created by televangelist Pat Robertson — took it on the chin when the Internal Revenue Service denied its application for tax-free status because of what were deemed its partisan activities.
This week the group got a big boost in another critical case when the Federal Election Commission ruled that its controversial voters guides — which critics say puts a Christian imprimatur on partisan Republican politics — do not violate federal election law. That frees the group to distribute more than 70 million voters’ guides in churches around the country as the 2000 election cycle begins.
Jewish groups that oppose the conservative group on a host of issues were disappointed with a ruling that they said can only boost its political clout.
But, ironically, some Jewish political groups will benefit from the decision. Organizations such as the National Jewish Democratic Council and the Republican Jewish Coalition will be able to strike a more partisan note in their own voters guides without running afoul of federal authorities.
“The ruling shows just how far out of control the entire election system has become,” said a prominent Jewish politico. “The Christian Coalition was blatant in its partisanship. The fact that their guides were ruled legal will open the doors to much more direct political activity by a number of groups. Whether or not that’s good for the Jews is an open question.”