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Behind the Headlines: Many Jewish and Pro-israel Lawmakers Vulnerable or Not Running in November

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Redistricting, an anti-incumbency mood and a wave of retirements promise the biggest turnover in this year’s congressional elections since the first post-Watergate elections in 1974.

Jewish incumbents in the House of Representatives and the Senate will be affected along with many non-Jewish lawmakers with strong pro-Israel records.

Jewish activists predict that such turnovers will not hurt Israel’s interests in the long term. In the short term, however, the new lawmakers are expected to be generally less responsive to Jewish interests on key issues such as loan guarantees to help Israel resettle immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.

Already, pro-Israel Sen. Alan Dixon (D-III.) was eliminated in last month’s Illinois primary by Cook County deeds recorder Carol Moseley Braun, whose position on Israel is not known.

But the same primary ousted Reps. Charles Hayes and Gus Savage, both Democrats who are pro-Palestinian.

Savage’s perceived anti-Semitic rhetoric had made him one of the Jewish community’s prime targets this year.

The pro-Israel lobby still winces at the memory of the last significant congressional turnover in 1980.

The Reagan administration was determined to sell AWACS surveillance aircraft to Saudi Arabia in 1981. Pro-Israel advocates had a hard time trying to get Senate Republicans who were elected on Reagan’s coattails the previous year to oppose the White House.

PRO-ISRAEL SENATORS FACE TOUGH RACES

This year, four of the most important pro-Israel Senate Republicans appear vulnerable, all of them staunch supporters of providing Israel with $10 billion in loan guarantees — a move rejected so far by the Bush administration.

They are Alfonse D’Amato of New York, Robert Kasten of Wisconsin, Bob Packwood of Oregon and Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Specter will be the first of them to face a primary test when Pennsylvania Republicans select their senatorial candidate on April 28. They are still reeling from the shock of last November’s upset victory by Democratic Sen. Harris Wofford over President Bush’s former attorney general, Dick Thornburgh.

Specter, considered a moderate Republican, is under attack from the right for opposing Robert Bork’s unsuccessful Supreme Court candidacy.

He has been hit from the left for leading the Republican onslaught to discredit law Professor Anita Hill during Clarence Thomas’s successful but bloody confirmation hearings last year.

His rival, conservative state Rep. Steve Freind, has accused Specter of costing the U.S. economy more than 100,000 new jobs because of his stands against arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Freind, who opposes the loan guarantees, says that Pennsylvania does not need “a senator from Japan or a senator from Israel.”

D’Amato is expected to have an easy primary win in September. His opponent in the general election will likely be one of several Democrats running in a hotly contested primary — New York state Attorney General Robert Abrams, New York city Comptroller Elizabeth Holtzman or former U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro — all of whom are staunchly pro-Israel.

Other pro-Israel lawmakers considered vulnerable are Sens. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), John Seymour (R-Calif.) and Timothy Wirth (D-Colo.).

Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) is considered safe, but could be challenged by Republican state Rep. David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klansman and American Nazi.

REDISTRICTING HURTING JEWISH INCUMBENTS

Six senators have announced their retirement: Warren Rudman (R-N.H.), who is Jewish, Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), Brock Adams (D-Wash.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Jake Garn (R-Utah) and Steve Symms (R-Idaho).

Adams, Conrad and Cranston are strongly pro-Israel, while Garn, Rudman and Symms have mixed records.

In the House, 31 incumbents have announced their retirements, including three of the 33 Jewish members: William Lehman (D-Fla.), John Miller (R-Wash.) and Howard Wolpe (D-Mich.).

Jewish activists say that Lehman and Wolpe’s decisions were prompted by redistricting in their home states, Jewish activists said.

Jewish incumbents have been disproportionately affected by the redrawing of congressional districts after the 1990 census.

But the most pro-Palestinian legislators are also vulnerable this year. They include House Majority Whip David Bonior (D-Mich.) and Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio), who is of Lebanese descent.

Rep. Nick Joe Rahall (D-W.V.), also of Lebanese descent, could be vulnerable because of redistricting and will likely face Republican Benjamin Waldman, former executive director of the National Jewish Coalition, an organization of Republican Jews.

Besides those who are retiring, at least three more Jewish representatives are expected to lose their seats because of redistricting.

Rep. Mel Levine (D-Calif.), who has one of the nation’s most strangely drawn districts, found himself severely short of white voters. He is running instead for one of California’s two Senate seats at stake this year.

Another Jewish incumbent, Rep. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), is running against Levine and Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy for the Democratic nomination to replace Cranston.

NEW YORK JEWISH INCUMBENTS VULNERABLE

Two Jewish incumbents in the House from New York City could very likely also be leaving.

The expected elimination of one House seat in New York City and the possible creation of a new, Hispanic-majority seat in the Bronx could very well force eight of the area’s nine Jewish incumbents to face each other.

Elsewhere in the nation, Jewish House members considered vulnerable to redistricting are Reps. Anthony Beilenson (D-Calif.); Ben Erdreich (D-Ala.); Martin Frost (D-Texas); Sander Levin (D-Mich.); and Richard Zimmer (R-N.J.).

One non-Jewish pro-Israel lawmaker considered vulnerable to redistricting is Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), a key point man in the House.

Non-Jewish pro-Israel lawmakers who are retiring include Reps. Edward Feighan (D-Ohio) and Gus Yatron (D-Pa.). Pro-Palestinian Rep. Mervyn Dymally (D-Calif.) is also retiring.

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