WASHINGTON (Jun. 28)
The 1991 foreign aid spending bill, approved Wednesday by the House of Representatives, not only continues the $3 billion annual U.S. aid package for Israel, but also provides enough money for U.S. Jewish groups to bring close to 50,000 Soviet Jews here next fiscal year.
In addition to holding the line on Israel’s all-grant economic and military aid package, Jewish lobbyists succeeded in gaining a $20 million increase in funds for resettling Soviet Jews in Israel. A total of $45 million has now been earmarked for this purpose.
They also gained enough of an increase in the refugee budget to ensure that all Soviet Jews who come to the United States next year will receive government funding.
This fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, the government is not providing funding for 8,000 of the 40,000 Soviet Jews expected to arrive. That has been a burden on the American Jewish community, whose resources are already strapped by the massive exodus from the Soviet Union.
The $15.8 billion spending bill, which now goes to the Senate, was approved by a vote of 308-117. In addition to providing aid, it includes various policy statements critical of some of Israel’s biggest enemies.
Another provision calls for a suspension of U.S. aid to U.N. programs that provide benefits to the PLO, Iran or Libya.
This year, U.S. Jewish groups intensified their advocacy for maintaining the $3 billion level of aid to Israel, because of concern that it could be adversely affected by a number of pressures on Congress, said Martin Raffel, director of the Israel Task Force at the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.
These include growing U.S. budget constraints, new competition for foreign aid dollars from emerging democracies in Eastern Europe and Latin America, and dismay with some of Israel’s policies.
Rep. James Traficant Jr. (D-Ohio) tried to pare most items in the foreign aid budget by 10 percent, including aid to Israel and refugees.
“I do not want to cut education anymore. I do not want to cut housing. I do not want to cut nutrition. I am tired of roads falling apart,” he said in a speech on the House floor.
Traficant, who often boasts about challenging organized lobbies such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the National Rifle Association, said, “I know I am a demagogue; I am anti-Semitic; I am the whole ball of wax.”
But Traficant could not muster enough support to bring his amendment to a vote. Instead, a substitute amendment, offered by Rep. Bob Clement (D-Tenn.), cut many areas in the bill by 2 percent, but left aid to Israel and refugees intact.
Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid, supported Clement’s amendment, which he said was “in contrast to the blunderbuss approach” by Traficant.
But earlier, Obey warned that he would support a cut in Israel’s aid level in 1992 if it expands existing settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
To the chagrin of Israel’s supporters, the House Appropriations Committee has asked the Bush administration to report to it by Feb. 1, 1991, on the extent of Israel’s investment and expansion of settlements in the territories.
Later this summer, the Senate is expected to approve easily Israel’s aid package, which includes $1.8 billion in military aid and $1.2 billion in economic aid.