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With New Gop Leadership in Place, Jewish Activists Face a Quandary

Jewish activists here are in a quandary. When they look at Rep. Newt Gingrich’s official rise to speaker of the House of Representatives this week, many activists express grave concern over his positions on domestic issues.

At the same time, however, the same folks laud him on his solid pro-Israel credentials.

It’s a quandary Jewish activists say they are going to have to learn to live with in the wake of this week’s election of leaders for the 104th Congress.

As expected, the Republicans, which gained control of both the House and the Senate during November’s election sweep, picked Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) to head their respective houses of Congress.

Across the aisle, Democrats elected Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) as their minority leader in the Senate. In the House, Democratic lawmakers returned Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), David Bonior (D-Mich.) and Vic Fazio (D-Calif.) to the top three spots.

Gephardt is the House minority leader; Bonior, the minority whip; and Fazio, the Democratic caucus chair.

Dick Armey (R-Tex.) will hold the number two spot as majority leader under Gingrich and Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) will serve as the majority whip.

In the Senate, Democrats picked Wendell Ford (D-Ky.) as minority whip, the party’s number two position.

Republicans in the Senate sharpened their turn to the right choosing Trent Lott, (R-Miss.) a conservative alley of Gingrich, as assistant majority leader.

Reacting with conciliatory and cautious comments, Jewish leaders sought to sound a truce in the war of words about the incoming Republican leadership’s agenda.

Since the election, Jewish organizations have led the charge against the Republican push for balanced budget and school prayer amendments as well as aggressive welfare reform.

“The new leadership on the House side has made its agenda clear,” said Mark Pelavin, Washington representative of the American Jewish Congress.

While that agenda is “fundamentally at odds with the American Jewish community,” he said, “we will work with them when we can.”

“Although we acknowledge that there will be disagreements on key domestic issues with the Republican leadership, there will be key legislation on which we will be able to work together,” agreed Jess Hordes, Washington director of the Anti-Defamation League.

“But where there are differences we will not hesitate to express our opposition,” Hordes said.

On the Israel agenda, “the new leadership has demonstrated clear support of Israel and AIPAC feels well positioned to work with them in a dramatically changed Congress in what will be an enormous and doable task,” an AIPAC spokesman said.

Gingrich who “brought the house down” at last year’s AIPAC policy conference, according to many present, led Republicans in the last Congress to two record breaking pro-Israel initiatives. As minority whip, Gingrich secured the highest level of Republican support in the history of foreign aid and led the effort to secure Republican signatures on a September letter to President Clinton supporting a unified Jerusalem.

While Gingrich’s record on Israel is praised across the board by activists, Dole has a mixed record. In the past, he has floated proposals to cut foreign aid to Israel.

However one pro-Israel official said that Dole’s anticipated run for the presidency has led the incoming majority leader to sharpen his ties with the Jewish community and adopt a strong pro-Israel stance.

The voting records of the remainder of the leadership on both sides of the aisle reflect a strong pro-Israel pattern with one notable exception.

Bonior, who has a large Arab American constituency, has over the years remained critical of some Israeli policies on human rights grounds. While he has not played a prominent role on foreign policy issues, Bonior has said he would support a cut in foreign aid to Israel.

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