Senate Call for Packwood Expulsion Ended Protection of Israel Lobby

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Senate Call For Packwood Expulsion Ended Protection of Israel Lobby

By Richard H. Curtiss

"Bob Packwood's own diaries made it clear that he was a pig and that he was culpable."--Al Hunt, Wall Street Journal.

"Those diaries are cuckoo, let me tell you."--Syndicated columnist Bob Novak.

"His behavior has been despicable."--Eleanor Clift, Newsweek.

"He has no shame at all."--Kate O'Beirne, National Review.

"This guy didn't deserve the charity that he got."--Morton Kondracke, Roll Call.

Those comments, gleaned from two television talk shows, CNN's "Capitol Gang" and NBC's "McLaughlin Group," on Sept. 9, 1995, only a day after Oregon Senator Bob Packwood's tearful announcement that he was resigning "for the good of the Senate," will serve as the political epitaph of one of the most revolting American political figures of this or any other century. Packwood's announcement followed by a day the recommendation of the Senate Ethics Committee that he be expelled and marked the end of an almost successful three-year campaign to head off just such an expulsion motion. It also ended one of the longest, closest and least reported relationships between any member of Congress and Israel's American lobby, dramatically illustrating two facts about that lobby and its congressional supporters.

The first fact is that members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Israel's principal Washington lobby, pledge openly that their support for a candidate will be based not upon questions of character, integrity, party affiliation or religion--but solely upon whether that candidate adheres to AIPAC instructions in voting for foreign aid for Israel and against arms sales to other Middle East countries. AIPAC dramatically redeemed that pledge when, as charges of sexual harassment and corrupt practices engulfed Packwood, his financial support from individual AIPAC officers continued, and Israel's supporters in the media visibly slowed and almost sidetracked the campaign for his expulsion. The second fact revealed by the drama is that eventually even the unstinting support of what presidential candidate Pat Buchanan calls "the most powerful lobby in America" could not protect Packwood. It's a lesson worth pondering by some other unsavory congressional figures whose connections to or interests in their own constituents have loosened as their ties to AIPAC have strengthened.

Packwood first was elected to the Senate in 1968 when, at age 36, he was known as the "boy wonder" of Oregon politics. He visited Israel in 1971 and wrote of his first view of Jerusalem, "It was dawn as we flew over in a small plane, and the city glistened golden in the early morning sunlight." (His reference to Israel's "golden domes" in his rambling farewell speech was a reminder to Jewish supporters of the symbiotic relationship that began with that trip 24 years earlier.) From that time on he began courting Jewish campaign donations with such statements as one he made in 1971 about Masada, scene of an ancient mass suicide by besieged Jews and their families, which has evocative nationalistic associations for Israel's supporters: "I was so impressed with the courage and resolution of that little group of people and what they cost the Romans; what an extraordinary act."

In his 1980 re-election campaign, Packwood received $12,500 from pro-Israel political action committees, all of them outside Oregon. During the 1986 election cycle, when pro-Israel PACs donated $37,500 to his campaign for a fourth Senate term, the Oregon press began calling him "Senator PAC-wood." It was after this that Packwood announced he no longer would accept money from PACs of any kind.

A Shameless Con Game

Then, however, Packwood began one of the most shameless con games in American political history. He approached the same pro-Israel PACs from which he had told Oregon voters he no longer was accepting money, and asked for their membership lists and the mailing lists of Jewish publications and organizations from which they solicited their own funds. …