WASHINGTON (Jan. 17)
The 101st Congress does not get into full swing until next week, but Jewish groups are already preparing for their annual lobbying effort on behalf of Israel, Soviet Jewry, and domestic programs.
On the Israel front, they will be working for the next 10 months on securing the $3 billion in aid to Israel recommended by President Reagan to Congress in his Jan. 9 budget request for the 1990 fiscal year.
They hope to persuade Congress not to cut the Reagan request for a 6.6 percent increase in the total foreign aid budget for the fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Cuts to other aid recipients could create greater resentment at Israel’s share of the pie.
The Reagan budget contains one other earmark of funds for Israel: $207 million for a construction of a Voice of America transmitter in the Negev. Congress allocated $34 million for construction of the transmitter in the current fiscal year.
For Israel’s Arrow anti-tactical ballistic missile project, funded by the Strategic Defense Initiative, between $75 million and $100 million is expected, a pro-Israel source said.
Funding for other weapons programs also will come later, but one recent development saw $22 million in Pentagon funding of a joint venture between Tadiran Ltd. of Tel Aviv and Hazeltine Corp. of Greenlawn, N.Y.
SOVIET TRADE SANCTIONS
Pro-Israel activists hope to see legislation that lowers Israel’s cost of procuring U.S. weapons. Such an arrangement was made when Israel bought 75 F-16 fighter planes last year.
U.S. Jewish groups will likely be lukewarm about seeing Congress approve arms sales to Arab countries. An arms sale estimated between $5 billion and $12 billion is expected to be proposed for Saudi Arabia this spring. It is likely to include F-18 fighter planes.
On Soviet Jewry, Congress could conceivably lift Stevenson and Jackson-Vanik amendment sanctions against the Soviet Union and other East European countries, which since 1974 have respectively denied U.S. government aid and most-favored-nation trade status to various communist countries.
Jewish groups feel that the Reagan budget request for resettling emigrants from Eastern European countries will not be enough for 1990, let alone allocations for this fiscal year. They are seeking an increase in the number of refugee slots from the Soviet Union as well as increased funds to handle these numbers.
On Ethiopian Jewry, a joint resolution in Congress urging family reunification between Jews in Ethiopia and family members living in Israel may be adopted, said Will Recant, executive director of the American Association for Ethiopian Jews. A major lobbying effort on Capitol Hill is scheduled for April 12.
As for the domestic agenda, the big item not voted on by the 100th Congress is a bill that would require the Justice Department to gather statistics on crimes motivated by hate.
Other issues being closely watched are long-term health care, gun control, parental leave, immigration and efforts at making English the official language.
The Jewish groups are seeking more federal housing funds, which would benefit middle-income and elderly Jews. Housing and Urban Development Secretary-designate Jack Kemp is said to be responsive to that cause.
B’nai B’rith International has received about $100 million in loans to build 21 low-income facilities for elderly Jews, with four more envisioned, said Mark Olshan, director of senior citizens’ housing for the organization.
CHILD CARE, CAMPAIGN FINANCING
Some Jewish groups are also seeking reforms of campaign-financing laws, even though the likely result would be limits on contributions by political action committees. Pro-Israel PACs contributed more than $3 million in the 1987-88 election cycle.
Jerome Chanes, co-director of domestic concerns at the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, said the umbrella group supports new oil import taxes over gasoline taxes, in part because it "slugs OPEC," the 13-member Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries dominated by Arab countries.
The Council of Jewish Federations is trying to prevent passage of unrelated business income taxes, which could cost synagogues millions of dollars from profits from synagogue bazaars and gift shops.
Jewish organizations are supporting federal funding for nonsectarian child-care programs at synagogues and churches. But several are insisting on language prohibiting synagogues and churches from discriminating on the basis of religion in hiring child-care workers or in enrolling children.
Agudath Israel of America, which opened its Washington office Sept. 1, is the newest player in town. It has embarked on an unprecedented program to protect the religious rights of Orthodox Jews.
It is seeking legislation that would forbid Shabbat shipments through interstate commerce of certain items not allowed to be shipped that day under Jewish law, such as kosher food or tefillin.
In addition, it is seeking federal special education funds for disabled yeshiva students, which could save yeshivot $3 million.
Jewish organizations also will keep a close watch on the Bush administration’s nominations for the judicial branch, which must be confirmed by the Senate. Of particular concern is the health of the three Supreme Court justices who are 80 years or older.
Two of the three justices, William Brennan Jr., 82, and Thurgood Marshall, 80, are liberals. Harry Blackmun, 80, a Nixon appointee, wrote the 1973 decision legalizing abortion and has voted more often than not in recent years with the liberal minority on a range of civil liberties issues.
Several Jewish groups broke tradition in 1987 when they opposed a Supreme Court nominee, Robert Bork.
Chanes of NJCRAC said the council will be monitoring Bush’s nominations to federal judgeships. He said special attention will be paid to 35 judgeships pending for Bush to fill.
Bush may propose constitutional amendments banning abortion and supporting school prayer. Most of the Jewish groups here oppose such amendments outright.