NEW YORK (Jan. 13)
Four months and a day after 1,000 Jews from across the country came to Washington to lobby their legislators to back loan guarantees for Israel — only to be broadsided by President Bush — the American Jewish community has fired off a letter reminding the president that the battle continues, albeit with a quieter, lower profile.
The letter, sent by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and signed by the heads of its 48 constituent organizations, urged the administration to “proceed expeditiously in its deliberations and its discussions with Israel and to support the necessary legislation to be enacted by Congress.
“We regard this vital humanitarian concern as a top priority,” the letter said. “We are unanimous in our support for the loan guarantees.”
The loan guarantees would enable Israel to borrow money at favorable rates from commercial banks. The money is needed to help meet the costs of absorbing an estimated 1 million Soviet Jewish immigrants over five years, at a cost of about $50 billion.
Israel’s Knesset has already budgeted $2 billion for 1992, representing the first installment of the $10 billion loan package that is being sought over five years. Not receiving the loan guarantees would mean massive economic hardship, according to the head of the Bank of Israel.
In addition, the American loan guarantees would open the door to similar guarantees from Europe and perhaps Japan, which would bring in billions dollars more in foreign capital.
The low-key letter from the Conference of Presidents stands in contrast to the national lobbying effort organized four months ago. The president responded by begging Congress to postpone discussion of the issue for 120 days, arguing that a debate at the time could endanger efforts to convene Middle East peace talks.
The 1,000 Jews who arrived in Washington to lobby for the guarantees on Sept. 12 were greeted by an impromptu White House news conference, in which Bush, pounding on the presidential podium, threatened to veto the loan package if Congress went ahead.
The president used language that struck some as having anti-Semitic overtones, protesting that he was just “one lonely guy” up against “some powerful political forces.”
Bush subsequently apologized to the Conference of Presidents, but not before Congress and the Jewish community acceded to his demand for a 120-day delay on the matter.
Counting from Bush’s statement, the 120-day period expired over the weekend. Actual consideration is expected to start soon after Congress reconvenes on Jan. 20.