The Black Caucus and the Israel Lobby in Congress: Rise of Congressional Black Caucus Not Reflected in Foreign Aid

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The Black Caucus and the Israel Lobby in Congress: Rise of Congressional Black Caucus Not Reflected in Foreign Aid

By Andrew I. Killgore

"Like never before, the Black Caucus has positioned itself front and center on the issues of the day, able to hold enormous sway over legislation by driving a hard bargain on matters members hold dear."

--The Christian Science Monitor, July 19, 1994

Lani Guinier never had a chance. She and her husband were friends of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, but the moment President Clinton nominated the African-American university professor to head the civil rights division of the Department of Justice last year, Friends of Israel in the media shouted "quota queen." The president withdrew the nomination with the weak explanation that he had not been aware of Guinier's "radical" writings.

Blacks, without whose votes Clinton would not have been elected, felt betrayed. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, consisting of 38 Democrats in the House of Representatives and one Democrat in the Senate, were so angry they turned down a special White House meeting aimed at soothing hurt feelings.

The real significance of the case was that on a matter of importance to African Americans--their political weight in Congress--they were challenged. Will they accept defeat? Or will they find a way to hit back at the Israel lobby, which they know torpedoed the Guinier nomination?

Proportional Representation

Lani Guinier's "radical" writings supported proportional representation for ethnic minorities. If adopted for purposes of congressional representation, African Americans would have 12 senators rather than the present one, and 52 members in the House of Representatives instead of the current 39. Conversely, there would be only two Jewish senators instead of the present eight, and 10 Jewish representatives rather than the present 32 in the House.

For 50 years, Jews and Blacks were political allies. They, plus labor unions and the "solid South," states that until recent years always supported Democrats, kept Democratic presidents in the White House for 34 of the past 62 years.

Repercussions of the Lani Guinier case continue. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., executive director of the oldest Black civil rights organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), is reaching out to more assertive Blacks. One of these is Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, whose fierce eloquence has made him enormously popular with younger African Americans. The media's repeated charge that Farrakhan is an anti-Semite only seems to increase his popularity within the African-American community.

A live-and-let-live arrangement is becoming perceptibly less stable.

African Americans recall that, for decade after decade, there was not a single Black American in either the Senate or the House of Representatives. In the 1940s and '50s there was one Black Democratic representative, the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell of New York, but he died. Then there was one Republican senator, Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, but he was defeated after demeaning personal reports were widely aired in the media. However, since the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Black representation has risen steadily to 40, one being a Republican who does not belong to the Black Caucus of congressional Democrats.

Nevertheless, despite the favorable assessment of the political muscle of the Black Caucus quoted at the beginning of this article, the current Caucus is no match for the Israel lobby, with its vast backing in the media and its king-making ability to help or hurt congressional candidates through campaign contributions. Up to now, the Caucus has coexisted comfortably with the lobby, thanks to a live-and-let-live arrangement brokered by New York Caucus member Rep. Charles Rangel. But the arrangement is becoming perceptibly less stable. …