WASHINGTON (Aug. 14)
U.S. Rep.Larkin Smith, a Mississippi Republican who was killed in a plane crash Sunday, was “a rising star” among Israel’s supporters in Congress, a pro-Israel lobbyist said Monday.
News of the death of Smith came a day after pro-Israel forces learned they had lost a longtime friend in the House of Representatives.
Rep. Mickey Leland died in a plane crash last Monday in Ethiopia. Leland, a Democrat from Houston, was a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and one of the caucus’ staunchest supporters of Israel.
Leland supported every House vote to reject arms sales to Arab countries. He also had a strong record on aid to Israel.
“Mickey always wanted Washington’s relationship with Jerusalem to be close and strong,” said Thomas Dine, executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in a statement released Monday.
AIPAC sources also had praise for Smith — who was elected to the seat formerly held by now Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) — as someone who voted consistently in favor of aid, including the 1990 fiscal year foreign aid bill which contains $3 billion in all-grant aid to Israel.
AIPAC lobbyists are often impressed when lawmakers with few Jews in their districts support the foreign aid bills, which have a small domestic constituency of support.
They are even more impressed when a conservative Republican like Smith does so, since conservatives are more apt to oppose bills using taxpayer money to help foreigners when the money could stay in the United States.
Smith also co-initiated a letter to President Bush two weeks ago urging him not to blame Israel for Hezbollah’s murder of Lt. Col. William Higgins. The letter was signed by 59 House members, 57 of whom are Republicans.
NOT IMPROPER ACTION
“Contrary to some of the signals being sent from Washington, the murder of Lt. Col. William Higgins was not the result of improper action by Israel,” the letter stated.
Other Jewish groups Monday had praise for Leland’s activities on behalf of Ethiopian Jews and Israel.
Rabbi David Saperstein, director of Reform Jewry’s Religious Action Center, said Ethiopia’s leader, Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, trusted Leland more than he did any other U.S. citizen. He predicted that it will take years to fill that void of trust.
Leland was involved in the Reform movement’s “Project Reap,” which provided famine and medical relief at refugee camps in Ethiopia.
Saperstein, who met with Leland last Friday, a day before Leland left for Ethiopia, said Leland was to pass through Gondar and talk to Ethiopian authorities about the immunization program.
Leland last month wrote a fund-raising letter for Saperstein’s group to raise funds for the medical relief efforts.
Saperstein also said a void now exists in the Black Caucus in support for Israel. Though he said Leland’s surviving colleagues are “deeply committed” to Israel, “none of them has been as visible or as far out front as Leland has.”