The president of the Zionist Organization of America has criticized newly formalized guidelines establishing how Jewish organizations should lobby on Capitol Hill.
Morton Klein, whose recent actions sparked the communal drive to formalize such guidelines, has charged that the guidelines were decided in an “undemocratic fashion.”
Drawn up at a special meeting last week of the present and former chairmen of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the guidelines reaffirm the organized Jewish community’s long-standing position that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is the Jewish community’s primary lobbying agent on matters affecting U.S.-Israel relations.
AIPAC had requested the meeting specifically to deal with Klein’s activities last month at a late-night House-Senate conference committee meeting which hammered out final language for the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act.
The legislation on foreign aid, with its $3 billion allocation to Israel, is the centerpiece of AIPAC’s lobbying efforts.
Klein attended the session because of his concern over the fate of a particular amendment to the legislation that strengthened the link between U.S. aid to the Palestine Liberation Organization and its compliance with the peace accords.
AIPAC officials have charged that Klein acted in “an amateurish and hostile fashion” and that his actions contributed to an early morning threat by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to dissolve the conference without passing the foreign aid bill.
Others have disputed that claim and Klein says the AIPAC criticisms reflect the lobby’s jealousy over his effectiveness.
AIPAC had originally requested that the Conference of Presidents undertake “disciplinary action” against Klein.
FOCUSING ON GUIDELINES FOR THE FUTURE
But the Conference of Presidents, an umbrella organization of some 50 Jewish organizations, decided to focus instead on guidelines for the future.
Klein, who contends he did nothing wrong, had demanded an open meeting. When his request was rejected, he boycotted the session.
The guidelines, described by Conference of Presidents officials as a reiteration of long-standing practice, stipulate that Conference of Presidents members are expected to “consult and coordinate” with AIPAC before lobbying on U.S.-Israel issues, according to a statement issued by Lester Pollack, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents.
But Klein remains unbowed. He maintains he has consulted and notified AIPAC officials of his lobbying activities and will continue to do so in the future.
And he continued to call for a public apology and withdrawal of the charges by AIPAC.
He further condemned the manner in which the Conference of Presidents determined the guidelines.
“This statement came out of a handful of ex-chairmen; not from the 50 organizations” who comprise the conference, Klein said. “I believe it is not appropriate for a handful of chairman to issue an edict for the entire conference to follow,” he said.
Pollack said that the former chairmen play the role of an informal cabinet for the conference, “based on their vast history and experience with the organization.”
He added that a future meeting of the entire conference will discuss the guidelines, and that “anyone who feels they want to discuss these guidelines has an open forum to raise it.
“The community has operated successfully for decades under these guidelines. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he added.
But while the guidelines describe AIPAC as taking positions reflecting the “policy consensus” of the Conference of Presidents, Klein said he believes that the time for consensus has passed.
‘WHY SHOULD AIPAC HAVE UNILATERAL RIGHT?’
“Now, it is no longer possible to speak with one voice on many issues because there are several voices that represent the Jewish community. It’s very important for AIPAC to understand that,” he said.
“Why should AIPAC unilaterally have the right to determine for the entire Jewish community what is done on the Hill, without consultation and coordination with all 50 organizations?” he asked.
Apparently referring to disagreements among American Jews regarding the current Middle East peace process, Klein said, “If the Jewish community is split 50-50 on an issue, how can AIPAC reflect a consensus of the Jewish people? How can they decide which 50 percent they will support?”
AIPAC and Conference of Presidents officials dispute the notion that American Jews are evenly divided on the Israeli government’s policies.
“The community is not divided 50-50,” Pollack said.
According to AIPAC President Steven Grossman, who attended the Conference of Presidents session, “There is consensus on a whole host of issues.”
Outside the key players in the current controversy, the guidelines concerning coordination with AIPAC are seen as nothing new.
“It’s a position I support and supported all along, because AIPAC is enormously valuable for the American Jewish community in every respect,” said Robert Lifton, past president of the American Jewish Congress.
“If every organization is going to go off on their own, our message” will be unclear, agreed Deborah Kaplan, president of Hadassah.
Some Jewish leaders said they are struck by the irony that Klein first came to the attention of national Jewish leadership as the champion of preserving the community’s consensus and the primacy of AIPAC’s lobbying efforts.
Klein, in early 1993, led the battle against admitting Americans for Peace Now to the Conference of Presidents. Peace Now was ultimately admitted to the umbrella organization.
One of the key issues that Klein stressed at the time was Peace Now’s lobbying on the Hill for policies at odds with those of AIPAC.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.