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Jerusalem Post, Sunday, October 3, 1999

While AIPAC slept

By Daniel Bloch

 

(October 3) - In 1982, in the midst of Israel's war in Lebanon and after Menachem Begin's refusal to accept President Ronald Reagan's peace plan, the American administration tried to cut aid to Israel. The two houses of Congress blocked this attempt and aid was granted.

The Senate even responded by increasing military aid grants by $225 million, sending a strong message of its support for Israel. Since then, as in most cases in the past, Congress defeated every attempt to cut aid or to place any political condition in its assistance to Israel.

In the last 25 years, at least since the Yom Kippur War, aid to Israel enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress, and was in most cases kept out of party and ideological controversies or the inner fighting between the White House and Congress. Even at the worst of times, aid for Israel never suffered from the state of relations between an administration dominated by one party and the Congressional majority of the other party.

In many cases the aid to Israel was used as a vehicle to pass foreign assistance to other countries. The reason was quite obvious: In general, foreign aid is not a popular cause nor understood in many outlying congressional districts. People don't tend to support aid to foreign countries when social budgets are cut, poverty and unemployment are on the increase, and health insurance and social security are no longer enough to cover basic needs. For many reasons, the attitude to the assistance to Israel was totally different.

This special attitude was preserved and nourished for years by the Jewish community in the United States, through its major organizations, its lobby groups, and through many coalitions with other non-Jewish organizations. That was a source of strength for AIPAC, the pro-Israeli lobby in Washington. Every senator and representative knew it, and the administration took it into consideration as well. Often, many congressmen who voted against Israel where targeted in their respected areas, and sooner or later were defeated in their reelection attempts.

All this has changed dramatically since Congress refused to approve the $1.9 billion Wye aid package promised by the Clinton administration. This is a severe blow to the peace process, as it hurts Israel and the Arabs, especially the Palestinians, in an equal manner. Truly, the main reason for the negative vote is not directly connected to Israel. It is mainly an outcome of the deadly fighting between the Republican majority in Congress and the Clinton White House.

Nevertheless, it is a bad precedent: For the first time, an aid package to Israel has not been approved. If it happened once, it could certainly happen again. The failure to get this aid package approved should be investigated and studied carefully. Did AIPAC and other Jewish organizations fight hard enough for the approval of this package or has AIPAC slept, together with the Israeli Embassy in Washington, which is still headed by Netanyahu's political appointments?

One must question what kind of message did members of Congress receive in the past few years concerning the peace process, based on the Oslo Accords?

It seems that the message was quite negative. Obviously the congressmen were not made to understand the vital importance of economic support needed also by the Arabs in order to sell the peace process to their people.

Although AIPAC has changed its tone since Barak gained power, some of the Jewish organizations that lobby politicians still support the Likud and right wing anti-peace movements in Israel. It takes time to repair past damages, including AIPAC's mistakes in moving away from its past bipartisan attitude in favor of the Republicans in Congress and against the current administration.

In that respect they forced a 180-degree change in the dictum that foreign assistance to Israel and its Arab partners must be approved by all sides and parties irrespective of any internal political rift in Washington. It is not too late to change this trend. In order to prevent such mistakes again, or even worse ones, the Israeli government must appoint a new team in its embassy in Washington that will be able to represent the policies of the new government and muster the support needed for their implementation, in the Jewish community as well as in the general public. They must prepare the groundwork and infrastructure in public opinion so this can bring the administration and Congress together to support the peace process with a full heart and an open purse.

 


Source: http://www.jpost.com/com/Archive/03.Oct.1999/Opinion/Article-4.html


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