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Congressional anti-Israel voices muted

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WASHINGTON, Sept. 30 (JTA) — It’s anyone’s guess which party will hold the majority in Congress come November, but one thing is for sure: Several leading anti-Israel voices no longer will be heard in the Capitol’s halls. That’s because a number of representatives whom Jewish activists have deemed anything from “not a friend of Israel” to “anti-Israel” are not returning to their jobs. Some lost primaries and some are aiming at higher office, but the departure of these lawmakers — together with the expected victory this fall of dozens of strong supporters of Israel — signals the advent of a particularly pro-Israel Congress for the next two years. “Support for Israel among candidates running for Congress has never been higher,” said an American Israel Public Affairs Committee official who follows elections closely. “That’s a reflection of the strong support Israel enjoys throughout the country now.” Among those who will not serve in the next House of Representatives are: • Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.), a former key House committee chairman and vocal opponent of U.S. aid to Israel; • Rep. David Bonior (D-Mich.), the No. 2 Democrat in the House of Representatives; • Rep. James Traficant Jr. (D-Ohio), who riled the Jewish community with his support of accused Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk; • Earl Hilliard (D-Ala.) and Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), two African American legislators whose defeat was aided by funds from the Jewish community; • Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), who also opposed aid to Israel; and • Rep. John Sununu (R-N.H.), who is considered by some to be soft on terrorism. Hilliard and McKinney lost their primaries in high-profile races in which Jews rallied to support their opponents. Jews from around the country opened their wallets for Artur Davis, who defeated Hilliard in the June Democratic primary runoff for Alabama’s 7th district. Activists considered Hilliard’s voting record in Congress anti-Israel, including a pro-Israel resolution in May. McKinney’s vote against a pro-Israel resolution in May added to a record of remarks over the years that Jewish activists considered insensitive, even at times outrageous. Jews rallied behind McKinney’s opponent, Denise Majette, and helped score a major upset in August. Hilliard’s and McKinney’s opponents both made pro-Israel statements during their campaigns. The Hilliard and McKinney losses sent tremors through the Congressional Black Caucus and raised tensions between Jewish and black representatives. Some political observers wonder if there might be a backlash against Israel as emotions among black lawmakers remain raw. Others say there will be no long-term impact on black-Jewish relations. Morris Amitay, a pro-Israel activist and former executive director of AIPAC, believes the pro-Israel community will benefit not just from the outcome of those two races but from changing attitudes in the Congressional Black Caucus. “I think we’ll see more positive records on Israel from CBC members,” he said. Jewish groups also are unlikely to mourn the loss of Traficant. Traficant was expelled from the House in July after a colorful, 18-year tenure that included a tempestuous relationship with Jewish constituents and organizations. For years, Traficant voted against aid to Israel — because of his opposition to foreign aid in general — in addition to his support of Demjanjuk, who is currently appealing a court order that would deport him from the United States. In recent years, his voting record on Israel had become somewhat more supportive, but Traficant still managed to get himself in trouble with the Jewish community. Just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he suggested that U.S. support for Israel had provoked the attacks, outraging Jewish groups. Traficant also ruffled feathers in the Jewish community for his criticism of Israeli actions toward the Palestinians. Sununu is leaving the House, but he will cross to the other side of the Capitol if he beats New Hampshire Gov. Jean Shaheen in the state’s senatorial race. Sununu, who is of Palestinian and Lebanese background, has come under fire for supporting U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority, though he also has voted for U.S. aid to Israel and has returned campaign contributions from Arab leaders who backed Hamas. Some Jewish support already has gone Shaheen’s way, but it remains to be seen if Jews will seek to galvanize the same support to stop Sununu that they used to defeat Hilliard and McKinney. Another sayonara goes to Callahan, who is retiring at the end of the year. As chair of the House Appropriations Committee’s powerful Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Callahan was a perpetual thorn in the side of Jewish activists as he tried to block aid to Israel during his six-year tenure. In 2000, Callahan led a charge for punitive measures against Israel unless it cancelled a weapons deal with China. He also consistently argued against early disbursal of U.S. assistance, which he believed gave Israel preferential treatment. Bonior, who gave up his seat to run for governor, was a leading voice opposing support for Israel throughout his career. Bonior’s Detroit-area district included a large number of Arab Americans. He lost in the gubenatorial primary to state Attorney General Jennifer Granholm. Another legislator the Jewish community won’t miss is Barr. Barr, who lost his primary last month to Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.), regularly voted against aid to Israel. He was one of only 58 representatives who voted against an amendment that included funding to implement the 1998 Wye River accord. □

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