Behind the Headlines the Aftermath of the Jet Set Victory

A cartoonist’s version of the Senate’s approval last Monday by a vote of 54-44 of President Carter’s Mideast warplanes package shows a dove bearing an olive branch togged 54-44 and a startled Premier Menachem Begin of Israel looking at it while holding a poster declaring with emphatic negativeness “no compromise, no deals, no trades, no bargains, no nothin.” The dove is saying, “Message for you Menachem,” but a tiny bird in a corner is whispering ” More of a hint, really.”

The cartoon essentially captures the general impression being conveyed by much of the media on the vote’s meaning and the continuing distortion of the Israel government’s negotiating positions; the “watershed” for Israel’s concept in U.S. relations; defeat of the “Jewish lobby”; contrast with previous Senate attitudes; the rise in the estimation of Saudi Arabia and Egypt and the downgrading of Israel into “even-handedness” with the Arab powers emerging as results of the vote.

Nevertheless, through it all runs the vein that Israel continues to have U.S. support–the difference is that now Israel is not the favorite but a co-favorite in the U.S. pursuit of peace and the U.S. national interest in Arab oil and Arab finance. The “Jewish lobby,” which is cropping up often with ominous foreboding, is seen in many quarters as suffering a defeat.

Some Jewish commentators, using their Jewishness as a qualification for expertise, are talking of a change that the community must now consider in its relations with the Administration and Congress. They suggest the Jewish leadership must cut its cloth to suit the new circumstances in the perceived new mood.

SUBJECTS FOR DEBATE

Whether a bandwagon effect is in process to Israel’s disadvantage or whether this is a clever, if tainted package maneuver by the Carter Administration, is a question that will be long discussed. Whether the pro-Israeli Americans should have attacked the Administration’s proposal, although they knew–at least many did–that defeat in Congress was probable, is another subject for debate. Political logic is seldom straight and reasoning either way is considered plausible.

The debate showed many Senators voted for the package not because they liked Saudi Arabia or even Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat, certainly not to please President Carter and absolutely not against the so-called “Jewish lobby” and Israel. As some made known, they voted for it because they oppose tearing down the President’s commitment to the Arabs, feared the consequences of Saudi Arabia’s undeniable grip on world finance, and of course, worried over the flow and price of oil. The Saudi factor in the equation became paramount because of America’s economic weakness and energy dependence.

The “watershed for Israel” viewers are palpably unpopular with the leadership of both major parties. The President and top people in his Administration last no time telling the Jewish community leaders and their backers that Israel will not suffer and not to consider the Administration anti-Israel.

STRONG REASSURANCE FROM MONDALE

This point was underscored by Vice President Walter Mondale in his address to the 72nd annual meeting of the American Jewish Committee in New York last Thursday night. He told the 1000 Jewish leaders from around the country that the “special partnership “between the U.S. and Israel “will not be undermined.”

In an apparent reference to accusations made after the Senate voted last Monday that the White House “sold Israel for oil, ” Mondale declared: “We would never forsake that commitment (to Israel’s security)–not for the trappings of office, not for 100 planes and not for thousands of barrels of oil.”

In what seemed designed to end recriminations on either side of the planes sale debate, the Vice President stated: “We will never reach the goal (of peace in the Mideast) if every step demands new proof, not of the rightness of our cause or the rationality of our judgement but of the purity of our intentions.”

DENIES PRESSURE ON ISRAEL

He told the audience that American military and economic assistance to Israel will continue “not as a lever to force accommodation but as a fundamental commitment to the strength and survival of a free democracy. It will never be used as a form of pressure against Israel. And it will always reflect a special relationship–which will always remain special.”

Mondale underlined this by affirming: “We must not doubt the sincerity of a President who speaks of a ‘total’ and ‘ absolute commitment’ to Israel, not for another 30 years, but ‘forever.’ There is no question in my mind that President Carter will fulfill the letter and the spirit of that promise.”

Throughout his address, the audience responded politely without the enthusiasm such a strong statement would have evoked only two weeks ago. Nevertheless, Mondale received a standing ovation at the end of his speech. Minutes before Mondale spoke, Israeli Ambassador Simcha Dinitz stated: “Last Monday (the day of the Senate vote ) was not the happiest day in the United States-Israeli relations. I stand before you as a representative of a country not angry, but a little injured.”

EMBARRASSED GOP LEADERSHIP

The Republican leadership, embarrassed by the better than 2-1 vote the Republican Senators gave the President, rushed to blame the Administration for political chicanery with the idea of packaging the sale of planes to Israel with that to Saudi Arabia and Egypt and pledged continued support for Israel. In addition, top GOP leaders sought to utilize the dissatisfaction among Jews, traditionally heavily Democratic, with the Carter Administration to appeal to Jewish opinion.

This was evidenced over the weekend in speeches to Jewish audiences in New York by William Brock, chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Sen. Robert Packwood (Ore.),chairman of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee. Brock, in on address at the 80th anniversary dinner of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, said the planes sale signaled “an absolutely clear and inescapable shift in American foreign policy.”(See full story in May 22 Bulletin.)

Packwood, addressing the massive “Solidarity Sunday for Soviet Jewry “rally, said the planes sale was similar to the appeasement of Hitler at Munich.” I would have also thought that Munich would have taught us the lesson: ‘Never again, ” he said. The Senator denounced the State Department for a “long-standing and blatant” anti-Jewish bias and said that “They have won a new bottle in which they have either captured a President, or worse, they have taken in a willing partner.”He also blasted the State Department for “the sinister allegation that the so-called Jewish lobby or Israel lobby is disloyal to America.”

Some analysts are now saying that the warplanes’ vote was hardly a barometer of “Jewish influence” and that the Republicans missed a great opportunity to swing a large segment of the voting blocs in key states to their side.

Whatever the postmortems may be, the country now is watching which way the President will move next in the Middle East peace process. if he continues to press Israel for concessions without using the force of his public appearances to induce Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan into recognizing they must also move to accommodate Israel’s territorial and security requirements, the warplanes package “defeat” may be seen as merely another instance of the Carter Administration favoring the Arab cause to Israel’s disadvantage. The political tide, consequently, then may well take a decisive change, it is said and probably in a way the White House will rue.

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