WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 (JTA) — A pro-Israel legislator forced out of his long-term role in the new Congress is about to take on a different kind of leadership challenge.
Term limits forced him to step down as chairman of the House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee, but Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) was named Thursday to head the committee’s new subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia.
The move may assuage fears among some insiders in Congress and the Jewish community that the Middle East will receive less priority in the full committee, which has been restructured.
Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), who replaced Gilman as head of the full committee, is not known for his expertise on the Middle East, and likely will look to Gilman for guidance on a number of fronts.
Gilman had chaired the International Relations Committee since 1995. His strongly pro-Israel positions earned him the praise of a number of Jewish groups.
In coming weeks, Hyde is expected to give detailed outlines of priorities for his committee and the new subcommittee. Among other things, he is expected to reform rules governing sales of technology and other sensitive materials with potential military applications.
Gilman spearheaded legislation last fall that would have cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority if it unilaterally declared a Palestinian state. That bill, which passed the House, had the support of many Jewish groups.
His hard-line approach toward the Palestinians often put Gilman to the right of the Clinton administration and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The Bush administration is unlikely to maintain President Clinton’s intensely hands-on approach to the Mideast.
It remains to be seen how Bush will work with Congress on Middle East issues, whether he will set the tone or wait to see where Congress is headed.