WASHINGTON (Apr. 15)
Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) came under fire from American Jewish leaders Sunday for saying he would seek to have the Senate rescind a resolution declaring that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.
He also was sharply criticized for implying that American Jews are selfish in opposing cuts in U.S. aid to Israel.
The Senate resolution, unanimously adopted on March 22, declares that Jerusalem “is and should remain the capital of the State of Israel” and that it “must remain an undivided city.”
“I am not sure I can change it,” Dole said Sunday in an appearance from Jerusalem on the NBC News television program “Meet the Press.” But he said he had “made a mistake” in supporting the resolution, because it is hampering the peace process.
Dole made similar comments at a news conference in Jerusalem, where he and four other senators on Sunday ended a weeklong fact-finding trip to the Middle East that also included stops in Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.
In “every Arab country that we visited, instead of talking about the peace process, they wanted to talk about this amendment that has no binding effect, and they are very upset by it” he said.
“It sort of kept us from focusing on pushing the Arab countries to the peace table,” he added. The resolution, he said, was “probably ill-timed.”
Dole said that when the senators met Saturday with Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, he also criticized the resolution, although, he considers Jerusalem to be Israel’s eternal capital. Kollek told the senators that the resolution was meddling in the peace process, Dole claimed.
AN ‘INSULT’ TO THE JEWISH PEOPLE
But according to reports from Jerusalem, Kollek later sent a telegram to Dole denying and expressing surprise at the senator’s version of their conversation. In fact, Kollek said, rescinding the Senate resolution would “harm the peace process and encourage Arab extremism.”
The Senate Republican leader also said the White House had not fought the resolution, and a similar one in the House, because it considered it meaningless.
U.S. policy has been that the status of Jerusalem should be decided by negotiations. The United States has therefore refused to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The resolution “doesn’t mean anything” in terms of law, Dole agreed. “But it means a lot to the Arab countries and, of course, it pleases the Israelis.”
In Jerusalem, a visiting American Jewish leader criticized Dole on Sunday for his new stance on the resolution, saying it is “an insult to the U.S. Senate, the State of Israel and to the Jewish people.”
“It is Sen. Dole’s prerogative to have a change of heart after visiting Arab capitals,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti- Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. “But it is inconceivable that he should lead a campaign based on a chorus of criticism in the Arab world.”
Foxman vowed that supporters of Israel in the United States would respond vigorously to retain the resolution as it stands.
Dole was criticized by another American Jewish leader Sunday for remarks made earlier in Israel that appeared to characterize Jews as selfish for supporting U.S. aid to Israel.
“I know the Jewish leaders,” Dole was quoted as saying. “They wouldn’t give one penny to anyone else. It’s too bad. They shouldn’t be that way.”
‘NEVER WANT TO TAKE A PENNY LESS’
He also compared foreign aid to Israel with drug abuse. “Some people get hooked on it. They never want to take a penny less. It’s like drugs,” he was quoted as saying.
In New York, Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, on Sunday called those remarks “ill-advised, without foundation and not becoming a leader of the U.S. Senate.”
“It is wrong to make it seem that American Jews care about Israel and nothing else,” said Reich, who is also president of B’nai B’rith International.
“Sen. Dole knows or should know that American Jewish organizations have publicly supported aid to the emerging democracies in Eastern Europe and to Central and South American countries beset by faltering economies,” he said.
He also said Jewish organizations have always supported increased foreign aid “to help the needy and depressed in many foreign nations.”
In his NBC appearance, Dole said he spent a great amount of time in his discussions with Israeli leaders explaining his proposal that aid to Israel and other major recipients of U.S. foreign assistance be cut by 5 percent to meet the needs of emerging democracies in Eastern Europe and Latin America.
He indicated he did not expect this to happen soon, but was trying to get a debate on the issue started.
“I was trying to underscore the problem we have in America with a big domestic debt, with $180 billion in interest every year on the debt and trying to convince people that foreign aid is not popular in America, and we need to take a look at it,” Dole explained.
“Maybe Israel wouldn’t get hurt much, maybe Israel wouldn’t be hurt at all,” he added. “But to stick our heads in the sand and say, ‘Well, Israel forever’ — that’s going to be hard to sell.”
CLAIMS ISRAEL IS LOSING SUPPORT
Dole stressed that he supports the U.S. special relationship with Israel. “They have been our ally in this region when we had no allies,” he said. “They are very important to us, and so we are going to have this special relationship.”
But he added that this doesn’t mean that when the United States has to meet the needs of the emerging democracies “we shouldn’t take a look at aid to Israel.”
Dole said that even if aid was cut, it still would be substantial. He noted that Israel is asking for even more aid than it gets in the annual $3 billion foreign aid package by requesting $400 million in loan guarantees to build housing for Soviet Jewish immigrants.
“Now we have homeless in America, we have homeless veterans in America,” he said. “They are wondering why don’t we get the same treatment.”
Dole said that he and the other senators stressed to the Israelis that Israel is losing support among the American people.
“I don’t know what caused it,” Dole said. “Maybe it was television, maybe it was the intifada, maybe it was something else.”
Dole also indicated support may be lessening because of the slowness of the peace process, though he added: “We can’t dictate to Israel, and we don’t intend to. There’s no linkage between aid and the peace process,” he said.
(JTA correspondent Gil Sedan in Jerusalem contributed to this report.)