Lawmaker Gives Reagan Mixed Report Card for His Middle East Policy

A Democratic Party Congressman from California gives President Reagan “a mixed report card” on Middle East policy during his first year in office. Rep. Tom Lantos, the only member of Congress who is a Holocaust survivor, believes “the single worst episode” was the sale of AWACS reconnaissance aircraft to Saudi Arabia.

On the other hand, Lantos observed, “It’s probably fair to say that had it not been for the President’s strong support of economic and military aid (to Israel) in this year of economic stringency, it would have been very easy to cut that aid substantially — or even drastically. And there is no doubt in my mind that the President would have succeeded in pushing such a policy through in Congress.”

The Hungarian-born Lantos, who led the campaign in Congress to have the U.S. confer honorary citizenship on Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of at least 100,000 Jews during the Nazi occupation of Hungary, was interviewed by Rabbi Mark Golub, host of the “L’Chaim” program on radio station WMCA. The taped interview will be broadcast Sunday, January 31.

The California lawmaker said the Administration’s “final record” on the Middle East “is yet to be written.” He was inclined to withhold judgment now because of “the enormous array of pressures working on an American President.”

U.S. POLICY OPERATES IN GLOBAL CONTEXT

In general, Lantos said, “it is probably safe to say that the American Jewish community, in terms of its deep commitment to Israel, is likely to be disappointed in every American president for the balance of this century.” He noted in that connection that it was important for “particularly strong partisans of Israel” to “realize … that the United States foreign policy operates in a global context. And the world looks very different from Washington than it does from Jerusalem.”

Lantos said he found “the Western European attitude toward Israel for more disturbing than the American attitude … While I think it is important for the United States to try to bring our European allies closer to our point of view, it is quite clear that our European allies are trying to bring the United States closer to their point of view.”

SAYS ISRAEL HAS PUBLIC RELATIONS PROBLEM

Lantos agreed that Israel has a serious public relations problem in trying to explain the reasons it takes certain actions which have a very negative impact on Americans. He said Premier Menachem Begin had complained to him that Americans refused to understand why Israel bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor last June. “I was constrained to point out to the Prime Minister that the chances are that the average attention span that he is likely to get for an issue of this kind is probably a 20-second segment on the CBS Evening News. And to expect the American people to be willing to sit down for an hour-and-a-half discussion of all the events and episodes that led up to his decision is really unrealistic.”

According to Lantos, “This places a very special burden upon every American Jew who does, in fact, have the time and who should have the patience to explain to both his fellow Jews and to his non-Jewish friends and associates and colleagues as to what, in fact, is the historical context for each of these episodes and events.”

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