WASHINGTON (Jun. 29)
Jewish organizational leaders and Washington insiders alike predict the resignation of Thomas Dine as executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee will not affect the clout of the powerful pro-Israel lobby.
Nor is there a sense that other groups in the pro-Israel community will suffer a negative ripple effect from Dine’s resignation.
Dine, considered one of the most effective political professionals in Washington, stepped down Monday following protests over remarks he made that were seen as disparaging fervently Orthodox Jews.
Pro-Israel officials expressed regret at the AIPAC executive’s departure, but seemed convinced that Dine had built such a strong organization during his 13 years at the lobby that his work would continue almost without interruption.
“AIPAC has never been stronger, in terms of its financial situation, its membership and its grass-roots outreach,” said Steven Grossman, the lobby’s president.
Lester Pollack, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, expressed the opinion that Dine’s resignation would not have much impact on the pro-Israel community’s effectiveness.
“The objectives of the organization transcend the role of one individual,” he said.
LOBBY EXPECTED TO ‘BOUNCE BACK’
The sense here was that after a period of readjustment, during which AIPAC would install a new executive director, the organization would pick up where it left off.
“There’s only one AIPAC — I have no doubt it will bounce back,” said Seymour Reich, president of the American Zionist Movement. “There’s nothing to replace it, and the community needs it.”
“The institution is so deeply respected, the cause it stands for is so strongly supported, and Tom Dine is so personally liked, that AIPAC will be able to overcome its problems,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
One pro-Israel member of Congress said that the way Dine handled his departure would also help ensure AIPAC’s continued effectiveness.
“He resigned with dignity, and he didn’t let it be a prolonged distraction or dispute within the organization,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). He predicted that the departure would therefore have “a minimal negative impact on the organization.”
While most in the Jewish community had fond words for Dine, they also praised other staffers at AIPAC, who, they said, would carry on Dine’s work in fostering strong U.S.-Israeli relations.
“Dine or no Dine, the AIPAC legislative folks are always on top of every issue,” said one pro-Israel Capitol Hill aide who deals with AIPAC staffers on a regular basis.
“The key to succeeding on the Hill is infor- mation, and they have everything you need,” the Hill aide said.
Officials at other Jewish groups said they did not feel they would have to fill in for AIPAC during its transitional period, because of the strong staff Dine had assembled.
NO ‘ACTIVITY VACUUM’ LIKELY
“There’s a rock-solid staff at AIPAC. I am confident there won’t be an activity vacuum,” said Matt Brooks, executive director of the National Jewish Coalition, a group dedicated to increasing ties between Jews and the Republican Party.
Many in the Jewish community also said that since the cause for which Dine worked, sustaining good relations between the United States and Israel, remains a popular one, it will not suffer because of Dine’s departure.
The current climate of U.S.-Israeli relations is balmy, they said, in part because President Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin have forged a good working relationship, unlike their predecessors.
And despite the Jewish community’s apprehension that the country’s current preoccupation with domestic economic problems would weaken U.S. support for Israel, this Congress has remained every bit as pro-Israel as its predecessors.
Foreign aid legislation, for example, passed the House of Representatives relatively easily in mid-June, despite initial fears in the Jewish community that a package with $3 billion in aid for Israel would have a tough time on Capitol Hill.
Dine’s resignation will not make “even a ripple in the U.S.-Israel relationship, or in Israel’s ability to get aid from the Congress and the administration,” said Stuart Eizenstat, a former Carter administration official who is active in the Jewish community.
Some expressed the view that because U.S.-Israeli relations are stronger now than they were in the Bush-Shamir era, AIPAC’s role in Washington is not as crucial as it once was.
“There was a time when AIPAC was such a singular focus,” said Steve Gutow, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “It was the only real place where there was a conversation going on.”
But at this point, Gutow said, “the focus isn’t quite as singular as it was during the Bush administration.”