Latest Senate Panel Appointments Are Welcomed by Pro-israel Forces

The Senate Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, which appropriates foreign aid, has announced its new lineup of members for the 103rd Congress, and the pro-Israel community is, for the most part, pleased.

Additions to the subcommittee include first-time Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a strong supporter of Israel, and Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), who has been active on pro-Israel issues.

The latest appointments round out a series of new assignments made over the past few weeks to the four key congressional subcommittees charged with authorizing and appropriating aid to Israel.

Supporters of Israel, who have been concerned that the public’s growing focus on domestic issues might result in less sympathy on Capitol Hill for foreign aid, were pleased to see sympathetic newcomers and old friends sitting on the relevant subcommittees.

The new ranking minority member on foreign operations is Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), viewed as a supporter of Israel. He will be joined on the Republican side by Sens. Alfonse D’Amato of New York, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Don Nickles of Oklahoma, Mack of Florida and Phil Gramm of Texas.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will retain his chairmanship and will be working with fellow Democratic Sens. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Feinstein.

“The subcommittee is composed of men and women who are knowledgeable about and committed to strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship,” an AIPAC spokesperson said. “They want to play a role in maintaining a strong relationship with Israel.”

“Adding Feinstein to the Democratic lineup certainly strengthens the position of pro-Israel advocates” on the panel, said Lewis Roth, spokesman for the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Roth pointed to a firmly pro-Israel speech Feinstein delivered at a Democratic Council fundraiser during the week of inaugural festivities last month. “Judging from the speech at our event,” he said, “she’ll be very outspoken” in calling for a “strong U.S.-Israel relationship.”

Inouye and Harkin have also been “terrific over the years,” Roth said.

CONCERN ABOUT LEAHY’S PLANS

Matt Brooks, executive director of the National Jewish Coalition, a Republican group, said he was “particularly encouraged by the members from the Republican side” on the subcommittee.

He said he was “still saddened” by the November defeat of former Sen. Robert Kasten (R-Wis.), who had served as ranking minority member on the subcommittee. Kasten was supported by many pro-Israel groups in his losing effort against Russell Feingold (D-Wis.).

Brooks sounded a note of caution about the Democratic chairman of the subcommittee. He pointed to “extremely troubling” reports that Leahy planned to overhaul foreign aid programs.

One story, however, in the AIPAC publication Near East Report, also noted that Leahy, in a Washington Times interview, had said Israel would “fare well” in future aid legislation.

The other Senate subcommittee dealing with aid to Israel, the Foreign Relations subcommittee on Near East and South Asian affairs, will be headed by a longtime friend of Israel, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.).

In addition, Feingold of Wisconsin has joined the Foreign Relations Committee, though he does not serve on the Near East subcommittee. Feingold, who is Jewish, is considered a strong supporter of Israel.

On the House side, Israel’s advocates are relieved that Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is serving on the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East.

Schumer has been taking the lead recently on Israel-related issues, appropriating the role once held by defeated Democratic pro-Israel stalwarts like New York’s Stephen Solarz, Florida’s Larry Smith and California’s Mel Levine.

The subcommittee also includes veteran Reps. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who have been active on the pro-Israel front, and two Jewish newcomers, Reps. Peter Deutsch (D-Fla.) and David Levy (R-N.Y.).

And the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations includes among its new additions two staunchly pro-Israel members, Reps. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

The chairmen of the two House subcommittees, Reps. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) of the Near East subcommittee and David Obey (D-Wis.) of foreign operations, are not seen by most in the pro-Israel community as among Israel’s strongest supporters, but they are generally well-respected.

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