Pro-israel Circles Are Pleased with Congressional Assignments

More committee assignments in the new 103rd Congress were made this week, and advocates for Israel seem pleased overall by the results.

On the Senate side, newcomers Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.) and Harlan Mathews (D.-Tenn.) were named to the Foreign Relations Committee.

“Feingold will be an interesting one to watch,” said Mark Pelavin, director of the American Jewish Congress Washington office.

Feingold, who is Jewish, defeated Republican incumbent Robert Kasten, who was supported by many pro-Israel political action committees. The Jewish vote was split between the two.

While the new senator’s foreign policy positions are not clear to all Jewish leaders, most think his appointment to Foreign Relations is a good one.

“Feingold will be a good, strong, pro-Israel voice on the committee,” said Pelavin.

Feingold, who also will be serving on the Agriculture Committee, “took a very strong pro-Israel stance during the election,” said Lewis Roth, spokesman for the National Jewish Democratic Council. “People will find him a powerful advocate.”

Another new Jewish senator, Dianne Fein stein (D-Calif.) was named to the powerful Appropriations Committee, which makes decisions on, among other things, foreign aid to Israel.

“Feinstein will certainly be a pro-Israel voice on Appropriations. She will be an important addition to that committee,” said Jess Hordes, Washington representative of the Anti-Defamation League.

Feinstein also was named to the Judiciary Committee, along with Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.), a move which places two women on the formerly all-male panel.

“The Feinstein appointment on Judiciary is a terrific one,” said Roth of the Democratic council.

He said the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas “showed the need for diversity.”

The third new Jewish senator, Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), will be serving on the Environment and Banking committees.

On the House side, pro-Israel forces are pleased by the addition of three Jewish representatives to the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East.

They are Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a veteran in the House and longtime Israel supporter, and two newcomers: Peter Deutsch (D-Fla.) and David Levy (R-N.Y.).

HELPS OFFSET BIG LOSSES

Their addition to the overall Foreign Affairs Committee helps offset the departure of such pro-Israel stalwarts as Mel Levine (D-Calif.) and Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.), who both lost election bids.

Another loss was Rep. Lawrence Smith (D-Fla.), a staunch supporter of Israel who served on the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations.

“We knew going into this Congress that a lot of the pro-Israel champions — Levine, Solarz, Smith — wouldn’t be back,” said Pelavin of AJCongress. “We will look to others to assume leadership roles.”

Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), who is taking the reins as chairman of the overall Foreign Affairs Committee, is also retaining the chairmanship of the Middle East subcommittee.

According to Jonathan Jacoby, president of Americans for Peace Now, this is a “very good sign,” because it shows that Hamilton “will give a high priority” to Middle East issues.

While some in the pro-Israel lobby have given only lukewarm praise to Hamilton, Jacoby sees him as “extraordinarily well-versed in Israel-Arab affairs and a strong supporter of Israel and the peace process.”

The new ranking Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee is Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.), who is Jewish.

“Gilman’s ascension as ranking member is an extremely positive development for our community,” said Gary Hiller, congressional affairs director of the National Jewish Coalition, a Republican group.

“Gilman has consistently been in the forefront of issues of concern,” Hiller said. “His importance to our community is in his ability to garner support given his credibility and integrity among his colleagues.”

“The new lineup of members on the Republican side” of the Middle East subcommittee “bodes very well for issues of concern for our community,” Hiller said.

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