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Was Frank Lautenberg sufficiently pro-Israel?

Frank Lautenberg, the New Jersey senator who helped facilitate the emigration of thousands of Soviet Jews, died on June 3, 2013, at 89. (United States Senate)

Frank Lautenberg, the New Jersey senator who helped facilitate the emigration of thousands of Soviet Jews, died on June 3, 2013, at 89. (United States Senate)

Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post berates AIPAC for what she calls its “fawning” remembrance of Frank Lautenberg, the longtime New Jersey senator who died yesterday:

As for Lautenberg, AIPAC’s fawning can be chalked up to the gradual lowering of the bar for Democrats in an era in which most are pro-Israel, except when inconvenient. They therefore chose to overlook Lautenberg’s support for anti-Israel Chuck Hagel for defense secretary and his demands for a unilateral settlement freeze by the Jewish state. It wasn’t so long ago (1988 to be exact) when he signed a letter to George Shultz lambasting publicly then prime minister Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir on Israel’s negotiating posture. AIPAC, I suppose, chose to overlook Lautenberg’s muteness during this administration when the president “condemned” Israel for building in its capital.

“Fawning” suggests a transactional relationship. Rubin does not make clear what AIPAC derives, exactly, from praising the dead.

According to Rubin’s standard, the Republican Jewish Coalition also is lowering the pro-Israel bar:

Frank Lautenberg was a staunch supporter of Israel and a leader in Jewish communal life. He served his country during World War II and in decades of dedicated public service. His work in the Senate helped thousands of Soviet Jews and other victims of religious persecution to reach freedom. He was a proud Jew and a proud American.

Lautenberg’s Israel record, as the RJC notes, predates his time in the Senate; As UJA chairman in the 1970s, he oversaw an increase in fundraising for — and concomitant growth in U.S.-Jewish identification with — Israel in the country’s dark post-Yom Kippur War years.

Some of the most earnest praise I’ve heard for Lautenberg, paradoxically, comes from Jews whose views are diametrically opposed to his liberalism. This is because his signature 1989 law, the Lautenberg Amendment, facilitating emigration from the former Soviet Union and Iran, flooded this country with Jews whose politics trend more conservative than those of the established community.

I don’t know if Lautenberg ever considered whether he was “undercutting” his natural Jewish constituency when he wrote the law, or whether he cared that its inadvertent end was the advancement of Rubin’s stated mission, which is to correct what she sees as the skewed liberal temperament of the American Jewish community. From what I knew, he championed the law because he believed in extending to others the freedom of political and religious choice that was his birthright.

Joe Biden has started a kind of audio blog, “Being Biden.” Yesterday, he gave it over to his friendship with Lautenberg.

UPDATE: Gil Hoffman, a longtime Israel correspondent at the New Jersey Jewish News, outlines Lautenberg’s Israel record for the Jerusalem Post — including more than 80 visits to the country. Hoffman goes into detail about how Lautenberg first heard of the Sept. 11 attacks while visiting Israel.

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