WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 (JTA) It appeared as if they were trying to defend the Golan Heights from Room 105 in the Cannon House Office Building.
A contingent of at least 100 American Jews and Christians from across the country converged on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to lobby against any U.S. aid to support a peace deal between Israel and Syria.
The lobbyists estimated such aid could reach $100 billion although, at this point, Israel has only requested $17 billion.
They also were voicing their opposition to stationing U.S. troops on the Golan to monitor a possible deal.
Although negotiations between Israel and Syria have broken down during the last several weeks as the sides have differed over which issues to discuss first and as violence has flared up again along the Lebanon border, those opposed to Israel giving up the Golan were not taking any chances.
From Room 105, Herbert Zweibon, chairman of Americans for a Safe Israel, commanded his troops, telling them which lawmakers’ office to visit and what to say.
“No money, no troops,” Zweibon said.
“If Israel wants to do this they can, but the United States should not support” a deal, he added.
Ira Kahn, from Skokie, Ill., sounded like he was in battle.
“Stay with your units,” he barked as he led his charges to a meeting in the Rayburn House Office Building.
The activists in Kahn’s group and in other units had set up 100 appointments with House and Senate staffers. They planned, during their lobbying blitz Tuesday and Wednesday, to drop off information packets at every one of the 535 offices that make up the maze on Capitol Hill.
They were armed with a number of talking points, which they detailed to Hill staffers.
Their position contrasts sharply with the views of most of the organized Jewish world, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, which has already begun laying the groundwork to garner support in Congress for an aid package to bolster any eventual Israeli-Syrian deal.
But this week, Capitol Hill belonged to the opponents. Among the points they were making to the congressional staffs:
U.S. troops stationed on the Golan would be open to terrorist attacks;
Polls show that Americans oppose U.S. taxpayer money going to support a peace deal; and
Syrian President Hafez Assad is a criminal who can’t be trusted.
They also carried video tapes depicting the strategic importance of the Golan Heights to Israel and wore bright orange buttons saying: “NO U.S. TROOPS ON THE GOLAN!”
During one lobbying meeting with a House Republican staffer, Richard Hellman, the president of the Christians’ Israel Public Action Campaign, discussed the talking points. The staffer, who asked not to be identified, was receptive to their views, saying that his boss was skeptical of Assad.
However, the staffer said he would not rule out supporting some kind of aid package if a deal is reached.
But those who converged on Capitol Hill from Cleveland, New York, Chicago and other cities want to make sure that does not happen.
Dr. Harvey Finkelstein, a radiologist from near Louisville, Ky., said he believes Israel is making a mistake in negotiating with the Syrians about a potential withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
“I have been very disturbed, very upset by the prospects of a deal with Syria,” he said. “It’s just a monumental folly.”
Asked how he could not trust Prime Minster Ehud Barak, Israel’s most decorated soldier who helped capture the Golan in 1967, Finkelstein said: “We have the right to our independent opinion. We are Americans. We’re not Israelis. But he’s wrong as far we’re concerned.”
“There’s nothing that can replace the strategic advantage of the Golan, the water supply, and there is no indication from the Syrian side that they are going to really establish peace,” he added.
Mahala Glazer, one of 15 students from Cleveland associated with the Betar Zionist Youth Organization and Bnei Akiva, a religious Zionist youth movement, said she was concerned about the safety of her friend’s family that lives in Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel, which regularly gets shelled by Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon.
She also was skeptical of Barak, who has spent much time since his election trying to woo Syria back to the negotiating table.
“A lot of people think he is making the wrong decision,” Glazer said. “I guess that he thinks he knows what he is doing he’s been a head officer in the military but he doesn’t share his views. So we don’t really know what is going through his head and why he’s doing this, even though I feel a lot of Israel would be opposed to it because the Golan is so vital to the country.”