Behind the Headlines; Aid to Israel Could Be Threatened by Needs in Eastern Europe, Panama

There is growing anxiety among supporters of Israel that the pressure on the Bush administration to provide financial assistance to Eastern Europe and Panama may result in a reduction of economic and military aid to Israel.

Supporters of Israel believe that the United States must respond to the new conditions in Eastern Europe, Panama and elsewhere, but they believe it should be done by enlarging the pie, rather than giving everyone smaller portions.

The first public call for a cut has come from Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.), who has proposed a 5 percent slash in aid for Israel, Egypt, the Philippines, Turkey and Pakistan.

Aid for each of the five countries is earmarked by Congress and all together accounts for about two-thirds of the $14.8 billion U.S. foreign aid budget. This allows the president discretion over only one-third of the foreign aid budget.

Israel has received $3 billion in economic and military aid annually from the United States since 1986. Egypt, whose level of aid has been linked with Israel’s since the 1978 Camp David accords, receives $2.3 billion.

“A 5 percent cut in current aid programs for the big five would provide about $330 million — enough to respond to the needs of new democracies, such as Poland, Hungary, Panama and countless needy countries that under current allocations will receive not one penny in foreign aid,” Dole said.

ISRAEL’S NEEDS UNCHANGED

Dole’s remarks were made in an op-ed piece published Tuesday in The New York Times. But he had signaled his position at a Washington news conference earlier this month, during which he urged that President Bush be given “more flexibility in foreign aid.”

The White House and the State Department said Tuesday that the administration believes it should be allowed more flexibility on foreign aid. But they said there are no proposals at this time to cut aid for any country.

“We do have earmarking concerns that we have expressed to Sen. Dole, as well as to others. But that’s about the extent of our discussions at this point,” said White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater.

State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler rejected suggestions that Dole’s proposal was a “trial balloon” floated by the administration.

While Dole’s remarks have heightened the concern that already existed in the Jewish community, there is not yet any fear of immediate cuts in the $1.8 billion in military aid and the $1.2 billion in economic aid that Israel receives annually.

“We believe strong support remains for maintaining the U.S. military and economic assistance to Israel,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Mark Pelavin, Washington representative of the American Jewish Congress, said he does not expect any change in the appropriation for cither Israel or Egypt in the 1991 budget, which Bush will submit to Congress this month.

Both Hoenlein and Pelavin believe there will be no change in Israel’s appropriation as long as the current peace process continues.

Hoenlein stressed that Israel still needs the full $3 billion U.S. appropriation. He said Israel’s military strategic advantage has eroded because of the continued supply by the Soviet Union of advanced weapons to Arab countries.

Economic aid continues to be essential, Hoenlein said, because of the financial burden Israel now bears in trying to absorb thousands of emigrants from the Soviet Union.

‘NOT AUTOMATIC ANYMORE’

Though confident that aid will continue, Hoenlein said supporters of Israel will have to work harder at ensuring this. “It’s not automatic anymore,” he said.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee issued a statement saying it shares Dole’s belief that the new democracies should be helped. But it warned, “We must try not to hurt some allies in the process of helping other allies.”

David Harris, Washington representative of the American Jewish Committee, made the same point.

“The United States, we hope, will respond to these emerging opportunities, but not at the expense of friends whose needs remain no less than yesterday’s,” Harris said.

“One ought not to hurt some friends and allies to assist others,” he said.

At his news conference, Dole ruled out any substantial increase in the foreign aid budget, because “there’s not a lot of money lying around.”

Bush is not expected to recommend any major increases in the foreign aid budget, because of his pledge against raising taxes and because of the budgetary crunch caused by provisions of the Gramm-Rudman deficit-reduction law.

The competition for existing foreign aid funds could result in new conflicts among various ethnic groups.

NEED TO BUILD COALITIONS

But Hoenlein doubts this will happen. He said the answer is to form new coalitions aimed at increasing the overall foreign aid allocation.

Jess Hordes, director of the Washington office of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, agreed on the need to form coalitions in support of foreign aid. He said such a coalition now exists with the Congressional Black Caucus.

“This is an opportunity for people who recognize the importance of foreign aid to join in a coalition,” he said.

Hordes said it is not in the U.S. national interest to approach foreign aid from a “zero sum” perspective.

He said not only should the United States expand its aid program, but Washington should encourage other countries, such as West Germany and Japan, to assume their share of the burden.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wies-enthal Center in Los Angles, said that Dole’s proposal “would make much sense if he would call for a 5 percent reduction in the cost that the United States pays for the defense of Europe and the Far East.”

He said if countries such as West Germany and Japan paid their own way, it would give the United States “the additional funds it needs to help the new democracy movement of Eastern Europe.”

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