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Jewish Lawmakers Were Divided over Whether to Authorize Force

January 15, 1991
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Jewish members of Congress were as divided as their colleagues in the votes Saturday in which both the Senate and House of Representatives adopted resolutions authorizing President Bush to use the U.S. armed forces to expel Iraq from Kuwait.

The split was mainly among Democrats, since both Jewish Republicans in the Senate and all six Jewish Republicans in the House voted to give the president the authority to use force if Iraq did not leave Kuwait by the Jan. 15 U.N. Security Council deadline.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) was the only Jewish Democrat in the Senate to vote for the authorization, which was adopted by a 52-to-47 vote. The five other Jewish Senate Democrats wanted to continue using sanctions against Iraq beyond the Jan. 15 deadline.

But in the House, where the resolution was adopted by a vote of 250-183, liberal, pro-Israel Democrats, both Jewish and non-Jewish, could be found on both sides of the issue.

The division was primarily between those who wanted to give international sanctions imposed on Iraq more time to work and those who felt action was needed now.

But it was also between those who feared using force against Iraq would engulf the United States in another Vietnam war and those who feared inaction would be like the appeasement of Hitler at Munich that led to World War II.

The principal architect of the House resolution was Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y), who began his political career in 1966 managing the unsuccessful primary campaign of a congressional candidate opposed to the war in Vietnam. Eight of his Jewish Democratic colleagues supported his resolution Saturday.

But the 17 other Jewish members of the House voted against authorizing military force now.


In the debate, Solarz observed that in Vietnam, “vital American interests were never at stake. In the Gulf, they are.”

He said that the “great lesson of our time is that evil still exists, and when evil is on the march, it must be confronted.”

Other Jewish members of Congress simply argued that there were few real alternatives.

“Saying we need more time for sanctions is an excuse for doing nothing,” said Rep. Mel Levine (D-Calif.)

But Rep. Lawrence Smith (D-Fla.) argued that the sanctions were working. He warned that war would bring terrorism, since Saddam Hussein “is a lunatic, and he will blow up any object that he wants to get at Americans. That means we are all at risk.”

Smith, like other opponents of the resolution, said he would not want to see American troops lose their lives. “I would rather that they sweated in the desert than be buried in that desert,” he said.

Lobbyists for Jewish organizations took a low-key approach to the congressional votes, which came after three days of debate. But when asked by members of Congress for their views, many Jewish lobbyists pointed to statement in support of Bush’s policy adopted Jan. 9 by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“We support the policy of the Bush administration in going the extra mile to seek a peaceful resolution of the Gulf crisis while being prepared to take the required steps — including the use of military force — to achieve the goals of the international community in opposing Saddam Hussein’s aggression,” the statement read.

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