WASHINGTION (Jul. 15)
Rep. David Bonior (D-Mich.), elected by Democrats last week to become the party’s new whip in the House of Representatives, is generally regarded as a critic of Israel.
But pro-Israel lobbyists doubt his election to the party’s third-ranking leadership post in the House will have much impact on the level of congressional support for Israel.
They stress that Israel was not an issue when Bonior defeated Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) by a 160-109 vote in the Democratic Caucus.
Bonior, 46, whose ethnic, blue-collar district includes many Arab Americans, will become whip in September, when Rep. William Gray (D-Pa.) leaves to become head of the United Negro College Fund.
Bonior is considered close to the National Association of Arab Americans and in 1982 met with Yasir Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
But Jewish groups have worked with Bonior and believe they can continue to do so, said Jess Hordes, director of the Washington office of the Anti-Defamation League.
Hordes said there is no reason to believe that there is any change in the “bedrock of support” for Israel in Congress.
Most observers believe that Bonior was elected in the secret ballot because he is better liked than Hoyer and because he is considered less conciliatory toward the Bush administration than are House Speaker Thomas Foley (D-Wash.). and Majority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.).
Bonior differs from most of his Democratic colleagues not only on Israel but in his opposition to abortion.
Supporters of Israel point to Bonior’s remarks on how he plans to deal with the abortion issue in his new job, which entails lining up members behind the party’s positions and counting the votes.
He said as whip he will support the view of the vast majority of Democrats who support women’s right to reproductive choice. “But I will reserve to myself the ability to vote my conscience on the issues,” he added.