Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Congress Watch: Congress Torn between Conflicting Israel Lobbies

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Congress Watch: Congress Torn between Conflicting Israel Lobbies

Article excerpt

Congress Watch: Congress Torn Between Conflicting Israel Lobbies

By Lucille Barnes

"Critics, including some in the Israeli embassy, have charged that the campaign warning against deployment of GIs on the Golan is little more than a smokescreen used by some opponents of the overall Arab-Israeli peace process."

--Staff writer Sam Skolnik, Washington Jewish Week, June 30, 1994

Perhaps for the first time in history members of Congress seeking to solidify their support with the pro-Israel community were under conflicting pressures early this summer from the government of Israel, its principal lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and its mainstream American Jewish organization supporters on one hand and U.S. Jewish groups affiliated with right-wing Israeli factions that oppose the peace process on the other. Sensing a means of driving a wedge between Congress and the Israeli Labor government's plan to return part or all of the Golan Heights to Syria in return for Syrian signing of a peace agreement with Israel, at least five U.S. groups opposing land-for-peace settlements with Israel's Arab neighbors lobbied Congress against one likely proviso of such a deal.

That is the stationing of U.S. personnel on the Golan Heights similar to the U.S. monitors still stationed in Sinai to ensure that that area, returned to Egypt as part of the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement, remains demilitarized.

Organizations lobbying Congress against stationing U.S. monitors in the Golan included Americans for a Safe Israel, the Center for Security Policy, Christians' Israel Public Action Campaign (CIPAC), Pro-Israel, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), a group closely affiliated with Israel's military-industrial complex.

First results of the lobbying effort were demonstrated in a letter written at the end of May to President Bill Clinton attacking the idea of a U.S. peacekeeping mission in Golan and signed by Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY), Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK), Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Rep. Jim Saxton (R-NJ).

The idea of U.S. troops as part of an international peacekeeping force on the Golan Heights first was suggested by the administration of President George Bush and since has been adopted by President Clinton. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres has indicated that talk about such a plan is premature. Said Israeli Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Uri Savir, "Senator D'Amato is a good friend [but] we're not negotiating with the senator, we're negotiating with the Syrians."

The activities by conflicting factions within America's "Israel lobby" resulted in public embarrassment for Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), who introduced an amendment to the Defense Department's appropriations bill calling upon the Pentagon to study the implications of putting U.S. troops as peacekeepers on the Golan Heights. Cochran subsequently withdrew the bill, stating:

I was under the false impression the amendment had the support of the Jewish community and the Israeli government. When I learned that it did not, and that it was only supported by those in opposition to the government's policy, I withdrew the amendment. I don't think it is my place to take sides in this way on this issue.

Aside from revealing that Senator Cochran's principal concern was not for the safety of U.S. forces but rather for maximizing pro-Israel campaign contributions, Cochran's about-face also raised the question of who had convinced him that the Israeli government wanted him to introduce an amendment that it in fact feared and opposed. The answer, according to staff writer Lawrence Cohler of The Jewish Week of Queens, NY, was Reagan administration Assistant Secretary of Defense Frank Gaffney. Gaffney's right-wing advocacy organization, the Center for Security Policy, was in tune with the Israeli government when it was headed by hard-line Likud party chief Yitzhak Shamir. …

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