WASHINGTON (Mar. 2)
A key Jewish congressman has urged his fellow Jews not to let anyone from “the president on down” intimidate them against lobbying for loan guarantees or anything else.
“Don’t you ever let anybody denigrate what you do or proceed to cast you as second-class citizens because you come to petition your government,” Rep. Lawrence Smith (D-Fla.) declared Sunday night.
“As long as this is a democracy where you elect the people, that is your absolute right,” he told some 700 women attending the opening dinner of the National Council of Jewish Women’s Washington Institute.
Smith’s remarks came against the backdrop of recent statements by Secretary of State James Baker reminding members of Congress that Israel already receives more U.S. foreign aid than any other country, without the loan guarantees.
Some Jewish leaders and media commentators have interpreted such statements as an indirect attempt to put Israel’s supporters on notice that if they press too hard for the loan guarantees, the administration will take the issue to the American public as a whole, which is generally hostile to foreign aid, particularly in the current economic climate.
Nevertheless, participants in the four-day NCJW gathering planned to meet with their senators and representatives to urge support for the guarantees, which would provide favorable terms under which Israel could borrow $10 billion for immigrant absorption.
Also in Washington this week to lobby for the loan guarantees, as well as other U.S.-Israeli issues, was the Israel Advocacy Center of the Zionist Organization of America, which was holding a two-day public action conference.
Some 180 delegates to the conference held a rally outside the State Department on Monday to urge that the guarantees be approved without any political strings attached.
ZOA PRESENTS A PETITION
The rally was held as six ZOA leaders met with Daniel Kurtzer, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. They presented him with a petition signed by 60,000 people urging U.S. approval of the guarantees.
W. James Schiller, ZOA’s national president, said that the delegation told Kurtzer it would hold the U.S. government responsible for any adverse effects the U.S. refusal to issue the guarantees unconditionally would have on the Jews who have immigrated to Israel, as well as those in the formerly Soviet republics who are still waiting to do so.
But Kurtzer replied that it is up to Israel to choose between obtaining the guarantees and building additional settlements in the West Bank.
In his speech to the NCJW, Smith described his well-publicized clash with Baker last week after the secretary of state told a House subcommittee that Israel would not get the guarantees unless it stopped building settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Smith maintained that the whole reason for the clash was that Baker refused to answer his question on whether the United States had ever conditioned anything for the Arab countries on their abandoning the economic boycott of Israel.
“I will not rest until I get an answer to that question,” Smith vowed.
He said that the large-scale emigration from the former Soviet Union is a “modern miracle” brought about in part by U.S. policy.
But Smith accused the Bush administration of using a “tremendous victory” to make Israel a “whipping boy” for domestic political gain.
“Helping Israel absorb these immigrants is a humanitarian aspect, and that should never be tied to the politics of Israel or the United States,” the congressman declared.