WASHINGTON (Sep. 30)
Dozens of members of Congress are urging President Clinton to stop an Israeli government- owned company from exporting thousands of semiautomatic guns to the United States.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has enlisted the support of two-thirds of the Senate Democrats in her quest to stop the Israel Military Industries from sending modified Uzi and Galil semiautomatic weapons to the U.S. for commercial sale.
In addition to Feinstein, five Jewish senators signed the letter to Clinton.
“Mr. President, we do not need more assault weapons on the streets of America. We urge you to use your executive authority as President to prevent this transfer of arms to American streets on behalf of public safety,” the 30 senators wrote.
A similar letter from Rep. Walter Capps (D-Calif.) has attracted 22 House members, including six Jewish lawmakers.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms recently approved modified versions of the Uzi and Galil for import. Israel Military Industries modified the guns to avoid the 1994 assault weapons ban which included other versions of these guns.
President Bush originally banned the import of Uzis and Galils after five children were killed and 30 wounded in their California schoolyard by a similar weapon in 1989.
At least a dozen other countries have received similar permits to export their guns. Feinstein has said that any state-owned companies will face similar congressional pressure.
“It is my hope that the Israeli government will lead the way and set an example that others will follow,” Feinstein said.
Last week Feinstein, along with her 29 colleagues, sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requesting that he stop the export.
Israeli officials have stressed that the government has complied with U.S. law and promised that he would respond to Feinstein.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, during a mission last week to Israel, had planned to raise the issue in their meeting with Netanyahu, but ran out of time. Instead they spoke to his spokesman, David Bar-Illan, whom council officials said expressed surprise at the problem and stressed that Israel complied with U.S. law.
As Feinstein awaits an Israeli response, she is trying to keep attention focused on the issue.
“It is my personal hope,” Feinstein said in a speech on the Senate floor last week, “that a nation that understands perhaps better than most, the paramount importance of any government’s responsibility to ensure the safety and security of its people will understand that there is a moral issue at stake here that far outweighs any commercial value the sale of these weapons holds for their country.”
In an effort to ratchet up pressure on the Israeli government, Feinstein sent the letter to 18 Jewish groups that she listed at the bottom of her letter to Netanyahu.
The National Jewish Democratic Council urged members to sign the Capps letter to Netanyahu.
“As an American Jewish organization we ask that you don’t confuse your steadfast support of Israel with the sale of Israeli-made assault weapons in the United States,” NJDC wrote to members of Congress.
Signing the letter “signifies your commitment to the safety of American streets. It is not a reflection of your support for Israel.”
Although the American Israel Public Affairs Committee officially took no position on the issue, at least three House aides said AIPAC lobbyists, when asked, had urged them not to sign the letter.
For now, the most vocal Jewish support for Feinstein has come from the Jewish Council.
“Feinstein’s initiative reflects our shared concern about the transfer of assault weapons to the U.S. by foreign companies and governments,” the group said in a statement released Tuesday. It also urged the administration and Congress to find a way to strengthen the ban against the import of assault weapons.