Nine months after he bolted the Republican Party to become a Democrat, Long Island Rep. Mike Forbes is no longer viewed as the most strident pro-Israel hawk in the House, seeming to settle instead into the Clinton administration’s peace camp.
Forbes, a critic of the Oslo Accords who once blasted the pro-Israel PAC as the American Israel "Palestinian" Affairs Committee, has been relatively quiet as the Jewish state pondered a peace agreement with Syria and worked toward a final-status pact with the Palestinians. While no one has suggested Forbes, who represents the East End of Suffolk County, has abandoned support of Israel, some observers say he’s lost his gusto.
"He’s really not as active on these issue as he used to be," says Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America. "He just doesn’t seem to involve himself as much."
The observations come at a time when the Democratic Party, viewing the Forbes seat as key to their efforts to recapture the House, has pulled out all the stops to help his re-election. He faces Republican Felix Grucci, the supervisor of Brookhaven, in November.
"[Forbes] is one more vote to elect Dick Gephardt speaker," said Peter Kaufman, a spokesman for the state Democratic Committee.
Democratic leaders reportedly discouraged primary challengers eyeing Forbes’ seat, including Tony Bullock, chief of staff to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. And President Bill Clinton himself (in spite of Forbes’ vote for his impeachment in 1998) will host a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser for him on April 24.
"I believe he feels he should become more acclimated to the Democratic Party before he starts taking the strong stance he used to take," said Klein. "His stance on cutting aid to Arafat because of noncompliance, of not giving away the Golan and immediately moving the embassy to Jerusalem are completely at odds with the present administration."
Saying the GOP had been taken over by "extremists," Forbes switched to the Democrats last July after the man he supported against the tide for House speaker, former Louisiana Rep. Bob Livingston, resigned from Congress during the impeachment scandal, admitting he had had an adulterous affair.
Forbes did not return calls from The Jewish Week.
But the president of Americans for Safe Israel, Herbert Zweibon, said Forbes "may have changed parties, but he hasn’t changed his position. He is strong on the issue of Jerusalem and on the Golan. The problem, however, is effectiveness in terms of making a statement and getting colleagues to come along."
An activist with a left-wing, pro-Israel group, who spoke on condition if anonymity, said Congress as a whole had moderated its position on the peace process since the election of Ehud Barak last year.
"Members who have been critical earlier have in general been quieter," said the activist. "But it’s hard to say whether the softening of Forbes is part of that larger development."
Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind’s father, Mayer, died at Maimonides Medical Center in Borough Park on Sunday after a brief illness. A Czech-born Holocaust survivor and a former merchant, Mayer Hikind worked for the last 17 years as a mashgiach at Maimonides, and lived in Midwood with his wife of 55 years, Frieda. He was 89.
Among the VIPs at the shiva was Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is seeking Hikind’s support for her Senate bid. The crowded room fell into a hushed silence as she arrived, and as Frieda Hikind spoke of the family’s vigil at her husband’s bedside, Clinton recalled her own presence at the deathbed of her father, Hugh Rodham.
At one point, Hikind showed Clinton his mother’s concentration camp tattoo and spoke of his parents’ ordeal under the Nazis. "My father was in five concentration camps," he said. "That has everything to do with what I’m about."
"How could it not be?" the first lady responded.
Clinton was accompanied by Judy Rapfogel, chief of staff to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. As she left, the first lady deposited a few dollars on a collection plate for the Hatzoloh volunteer ambulance corps.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Hikind’s former ally, faxed his condolences to Hikind’s office.
Clinton’s courting of Hikind comes in the same week that she withdrew as honorary chair of a May 3 dinner for the Mosaic Foundation, a charity of Arab diplomats’ wives.
"She’s cherry-picking Jewish votes," said Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. "She knows she’ll do well in Manhattan. Now she’s trying to extend her reach to the outer boroughs."
Clinton had been honorary chair of the Mosaic Foundation for three years, but a statement from her White House staff indicated that it has only now "come to Mrs. Clinton’s attention that the event’s sponsors have chosen not to invite representatives of the Israeli government because certain states do not recognize the State of Israel."
Caroline Nolan, a spokeswoman for Clinton’s Republican rival, Mayor Giuliani, blasted the "abrupt decision to change her mind and withdraw her participation" as a "classic Clinton flip-flop."
Earlier this year the Daily News disclosed that the vast majority of vouchers for day care awarded by the city went to four Jewish Brooklyn neighborhoods where Giuliani received heavy support. On Tuesday, the city announced that $54 million (the first state funding for day care expansion in the city since 1997) would be used to create child-care slots based on an extensive needs assessment survey. The move ensures that other neighborhoods will be serviced.
"It is essential that those families that have waited longest receive the vouchers that they deserve," said Jennifer Falk, a spokeswoman for the Administration for Children’s Services. Falk also said there would be an end to the process of granting vouchers without an interview.
"All of the families on the waiting list will need to be called in to determine if they are still eligible," she said.
Rabbi Milton Balkany of Borough Park, who has steered hundreds of voucher requests to ACS from Orthodox applicants, said "every effort to make day care more available to the general community is to be appreciated."
State Sen. Seymour Lachman (D-Brooklyn) says he was amazed by the level of interest among legislators he asked to sign a letter in support of the 13 Iranian Jews awaiting trial on charges of espionage.
Signatories from both Albany houses, and across party lines, have been flooding into his office, although the letter to President Clinton and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (calling for measures to demand a fair and open trial) has already been sent. "There are 65 names so far," says Lachman, who re-faxed an updated version of the letter. "I haven’t seen an outpouring like this since the height of the Soviet Jewry movement."
Last Friday Giuliani, in a letter to his Senate rival’s husband, called on the White House to "demand that the charges against these individuals be dropped, and that they and their families be allowed to emigrate."
In her own statement, Hillary Clinton branded the trial "unfair and outrageous" and said the case "should be critical in determining future United States-Iran relations."
Among the items observed in Giuliani campaign manager Bruce Teitelbaum’s office during a recent interview: A "Slick Willie" card game featuring "President Clinton and his friends," and a doormat, which was not in use, adorned with Hillary Clinton’s face.
"People send us all kinds of crazy stuff," said Teitelbaum.