Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Still Stunned by 1994 Election Results, Israel's Supporters Worry about 1996

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Still Stunned by 1994 Election Results, Israel's Supporters Worry about 1996

Article excerpt

Still Stunned by 1994 Election Results, Israel's Supporters Worry About 1996

By Lucille Barnes

"I think we're pretty safe. We have support in Congress and in the White House. The problem is the American people who are definitely against foreign aid for economic reasons. But with two out of the three major decision-making components, I think we're pretty safe."

--Israeli government spokesman Uri Dromi, quoted in the Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 23, 1994.

American supporters of Israel, aware that roughly four out of five American Jews consistently vote for and sometimes contribute funds to Democratic candidates, suffered panic attacks after the Republican sweep in the Nov. 8, 1994 elections. (Exit polls indicate that between 78 and 86 percent of U.S. Jews voted for Democrats in the 1994 congressional elections and that 85 percent of Jews voted for Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton in 1992.)

Despite a flood of hopeful reports in weekly Jewish community newspapers around the country about long-time Jewish supporters of Republican candidates and causes like industrialist Max Fisher of Detroit and Matthew Brooks of the Republican party's National Jewish Coalition, leaders of major Jewish organizations seemed to be preparing for legislative setbacks. These might include congressional term limits, campaign finance reform, a balanced budget amendment, a line item veto for U.S. presidents and reduced aid for Israel--all closely related "Israel agenda" items. They might also include setbacks in broader "Jewish agenda" items such as changes in immigration and refugee legislation (40,000 Jewish immigrants still arrive in the U.S. each year for preferential treatment as refugees from the former Soviet Union), Jewish opposition to prayer in public schools and to the display of religious symbols on public property, and Jewish support for abortion rights and gun control.

By contrast, Israeli leaders, who think of U.S. aid for Israel as a bipartisan affair, seemed relatively unperturbed about shorterm effects of an election that left the Republicans in control of the Senate by 53 to 47 seats and of the House of Representatives by some 27 seats, reversing the 20-seat lead formerly held by Democrats.

Not incidentally, the election also reduced the number of Jews in the Senate from 10 to 9 and in the House from 41 to 33. The election also cost the Israel lobby some of its best friends among committee chairmen and members such as Eric Fingerhut (D-OH), Dan Glickman (D-KS), Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky (D-PA), Jim Sasser (D-TN) and Harris Wofford (D-PA).

"I believe the support for Israel is broad-based in both major parties of the U.S.," said Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin immediately after the election. For the long-run, however, leaders of both Israeli parties were less sanguine. Speaking later to 3,000 persons attending the General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations in Denver, Rabin said the U.S. "will be more conservative and isolationist, less socialistic, less of a welfare state, less [favorable to] foreign aid." Benyamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud party, said at the same conference that he was "neither happy nor unhappy" with the Republican victory but warned that Israel should be "planning in advance to wean itself" from dependence on U.S. aid.

The Republican legislator friends of Israel worry about most is unpredictable Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), who has become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Because he once had the lowest American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) rating of any senator, AIPAC publicly targeted him for defeat in 1984 and pro-Israel political action committees poured an astonishing $222,342 into the campaign coffers of Helms' opponent, North Carolina Governor James Hunt. Hunt's campaign secretary, using his AIPAC-prepared script, proclaimed: "Senator Helms has the worst anti-Israel record in the United States Senate and supporters of Israel throughout the country know it. …

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