In a further sign that opponents of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s peace policies have an ear on Capitol Hill, the president of the Zionist Organization of America secured a coveted meeting with the House of Representative’ freshman class this week.
Morton Klein, ZOA’s national president, used the Tuesday evening session to urge members to end American financial support directly to the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Klein was one of eight speakers at the weekly gathering of the 73 Republican freshmen. Congressional aides who attended the session estimated that more than 12 members of Congress were present when Klein spoke.
Rep. Jon Fox (R-Pa.) invited Klein to speak at the session, which was attended by an additional 20 to 30 congressional aides.
In an interview, Klein said he used his five-minute speech to detail what is required of the PLO, told the members that it has not complied with its agreements with the PLO and asked them to support a bill on the subject introduced this week by Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.)
D’Amato’s bill proposes cutting off all direct aid to the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. Under his proposal Palestinian institutions in the West Bank and Gaza could receive money only if the PLO complies with its accords.
D’Amato’s bill comes as Congress is considering the renewal of legislation that would enable continuing financial assistance to the PLO. D’Amato’s proposal is not expected to gain much support in Congress.
The meeting marks the second time Klein has pulled off a coup on Capitol Hill to meet with freshmen.
In January, Klein and Frank Gaffney, director of the Center for Security Policy, briefed the Senate’s freshman class, urging them to oppose stationing U.S. troops on the Golan Heights as part of a possible Israeli-Syrian peace deal. Five freshman senators attended that meeting.
Officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, were unaware that Klein spoke to the freshman class.
Last year, after a bitter fight erupted between AIPAC and the ZOA during the congressional foreign aid debate, Klein agreed to “coordinate and consult” with AIPAC on any visits to Capitol Hill.
AIPAC had accused Klein of putting the foreign aid bill in jeopardy when he lobbied members in what they termed an unprofessional manner. Klein vehemently denied the charges and maintained his right to lobby members of Congress.
The Conference of Presidents brokered a truce between ZOA and AIPAC, which had requested disciplinary action against Klein.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations reiterated the position that AIPAC is the sole lobbying arm of the Jewish community and that all members of the Conference of Presidents must coordinate and consult their activities with the pro-Israel lobby.
After the Tuesday briefing, Klein maintained his right to meet with the freshman without telling AIPAC.
“I made it crystal clear to (AIPAC Executive Director) Neal Sher about ZOA’s concerns about PLO compliance and told him we will be speaking to as many congressmen and senators as we can,” Klein said in an interview.
AIPAC officials could not be reached for comment. AIPAC has taken the position to support continuing aid to the PLO, while updating and strengthening provisions calling for stricter compliance.
In the wake of the Klein meeting, many Jewish activists who favor continuing aid to the PLO as an important part of the peace process said they are re- evaluating their strategies.
“The Jewish community needs to be more vocal and unambiguous in our support. We need to step up our efforts,” said Martin Raffel, associate executive vice chairman of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.
“All of us, and I don’t exclude NJCRAC, ought to re-examine whether our efforts have been effective,” said Martin Raffel.