House Passes Foreign Aid Bill, Maintaining Package to Israel

The U.S. House of Representatives this week passed a foreign aid authorization bill for fiscal year 1994 that would provide Israel with its annual installment of $3 billion in U.S. aid.

In addition, the Foreign Assistance Authorization Act would substantially boost aid to the former Soviet Union to $903 million, another goal supported by many in the Jewish community.

The House passed the authorization bill by a voice vote Wednesday and was expected to pass legislation appropriating the money late Thursday afternoon.

The bill calls for $9.3 billion in foreign assistance programs for fiscal year 1994, a decrease of more than $600 million from current levels.

Authorization bills provide the legal authority and set the policies for spending money, and appropriations bills allocate the funding.

Wednesday’s action marked the first time the House passed a foreign aid authorization bill since 1985. In recent years, legislators were unable to agree on language for an authorization bill and only appropriation bills were passed.

The House was also scheduled to vote on a bill authorizing funding for State Department programs.

No date has yet been set for the Senate to vote on its foreign aid legislation. Fiscal year 1994 begins Oct. 1.

The Jewish community has been actively involved in lobbying and educating members of Congress about foreign aid issues, and this week Jewish officials participated in a variety of events stressing the importance of foreign aid not only to recipients but to Americans.

Because of domestic economic concerns, foreign aid has not been a popular issue here this year, and there were some concerns that the aid to Russia, in particular, would be watered down.

JEWISH GROUPS PROMOTE AID TO RUSSIA

Jewish organizations, including the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, have been active in a coalition of approximately 60 groups pushing for passage of the Russian aid legislation.

The coalition, including groups ranging from trade to agriculture organizations, joined Congressional leaders at a press conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to urge passage of the foreign aid legislation.

A statement released by the NCSJ on Tuesday said that aid to Russia was crucial to provide the democratic reform and stability needed for minorities, including Jews, to lead secure lives in the former Soviet countries.

B’nai B’rith distributed a letter Tuesday to members of Congress urging support for the economic assistance plan for Russia.

On Wednesday, an amendment was defeated in the House that would have cut the Russian aid by $700 million.

In addition, on Thursday afternoon, during consideration of the appropriations bill, the House defeated an amendment that would have cut another $1.6 billion in supplemental 1993 money to Russia.

One Jewish leader who has been actively pushing for the Russian aid package was pleased at the results Thursday afternoon.

Mark Levin, executive director of the NCSJ, said the votes demonstrated the House’s determination “to send a strong message to Yeltsin and the pro-democrats that the United States is committed to seeing the establishment of a democratic process and a free market economy take hold in Russia and the other newly independent states.”

Aid to Russia was also made contingent on Russia’s refraining from selling destabilizing conventional weapons to Iran, a clause strongly supported by Jewish groups.

CONCERN ABOUT AID TO ISRAEL

There had also been some concern among Jewish groups that aid to Israel would be under attack, because Israel is the largest recipient of American foreign assistance.

The Clinton administration has strongly supported continuing Israel’s and Egypt’s current aid levels, at least for fiscal year 1994.

Egypt, the second-largest recipient, will continue receiving $2.1 billion in U.S. aid.

In the appropriations bill passed Wednesday, provisions were made for Israel to spend $475 million of its military assistance aid within Israel itself instead of in the United States, thus providing a boost to the Israeli economy.

In addition, Israel would receive its money earlier than many other aid recipients.

Also, the U.S. government would be prohibited from selling arms to countries complying with terms of the Arab boycott of Israel, following a one-year period after the enactment of the legislation.

Jewish groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, had organized efforts to rally support for aid to Israel.

AIPAC organized a satellite conference Wednesday night linking citizens around the country with Jewish leaders, including AIPAC President Steve Grossman; AIPAC Executive Director Thomas Dine; Larry Rubin, executive vice chair of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council; and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.).

The National Jewish Coalition, a group promoting Jewish Republican political activity, co-sponsored a briefing Tuesday by former Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick for Republican House freshmen on the importance of foreign aid.

On the Senate side, Jewish groups were among those testifying at a foreign aid hearing Tuesday.

Dine of AIPAC told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations Tuesday that a continuation of Israel’s $3 billion annual level of assistance from the United States was important to the success of the Middle East peace talks between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Jerome Segal, president of the Jewish Peace Lobby, in his testimony to the same subcommittee, said more attention needed to be paid to programs promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Many other witnesses testified, including representatives of Arab American groups.

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