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August 08, 1986 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-08-08

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The Perils of
Single-Issue Politics

The American Jewish community's preoccupation with Israel has
• pushed it into unholy alliances with right-wing groups, but the
trend may be ending in the harsh glare of reality.


Special to The Jewish News

. . . Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who
knew not Joseph— Exodus 1:8.

F r

he 27th Annual Washington Con-
ference of the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee, held April 6-8 at the
Washington Hilton, was a luminous suc-
cess. The VIP reception drew dozens of
congressmen, senators, and candidates for
office, eager to demonstrate their commit-
ment to Israel. Invitations circulated on
good stiff paper inviting the recipient, for
example, "to join Senator Chris Dodd, a
friend of Israel and a member of the
Foreign Relations Committee, for cham-
pagne and strawberries in the Lincoln
East Room." The national security brief-
ing was conducted by CIA director Wil-
liam Casey himself. The discussion of ter-
rorism was led by the attorney general,
Edwin Meese III. On the dais in the caver-
nous grand ballroom, before an audience
of over 1,000, Senators Edward Kennedy
and John Heinz brought down the house
by vowing to block an arms sale to Saudi
Arabia that neither AIPAC nor the gov-
ernment of Israel actively opposes.
The Reagan administration had begun
by sponsoring an ultimately futile quest
for detente with the radical Arabs; the sale
of an advanced flying surveillance system,
the AWACS, to the Saudis; and a delay of
delivery of advanced fighters to Jerusalem
to punish Israel for retaliatory raids into
Lebanon. The early 1980s had seen a cam-
paign-finance environment awash in petro-
dollars, new Republican secretaries of


Friday, August 8, 1986


state and defense fresh from the Arab-
oriented Bechtel Corporation, and a
Senate with several right-wing Republican
freshmen entirely unknown to the Jewish
Yet by 1986 AIPAC's executive direc-
tor, Thomas Dine, could report euphorical-
ly, "Despite the budget-cutting mood here
in Washington, the [1985 foreign aid]
legislation contained the most generous
Israel aid package ever: three billion
dollars in regular aid plus an additional
$1.5 billion in emergency economic aid. All
the funds are grants. The three billion
dollars in aid represents an increase of
$400 million over the previous fiscal year,
and a doubling of grant assistance since
1983." He could report further that the
House had aproved the Israel free trade
agreement 422 to zero; that the Senate had
consented to the long-delayed Genocide
Convention; and that joint U.S.-Israel
military maneuvers have become routine.
As Israel has seemed more strategical-
ly and economically vulnerable, AIPAC
and a new spate of pro-Israel political ac-
tion committees have emerged as the
dominant forms of Jewish political activ-
ity. (AIPAC, despite its name, is not a
PAC. It is a registered lobby, but gives no
funds to candidates.) Since 1981 some 70
pro-Israel PACs have been founded. By
1985, in a general political climate of pro-
incumbent campaign-finance and single-

issue politics, they were giving about 60
percent of their funds to Republicans and
over 90-percent to incumbents. So success-
ful has this strategy been that only a hand-
ful of far-right legislators cannot be
counted today as friends of Israel.
Yet these achievements are not without
their political complications. American
Jews, while undoubtedly more politically
centrist now than, say, two decades ago,
still voted almost two-to-one for Walter
Mondale in 1984. Yet the Israel connection
is now delivering Jewish financial backing
to candidates far to the right of positions
that most Jews hold on most issues.
Incumbent conservative Republicans have
discovered a cynical formula. They have
only to demonstrate sufficient loyalty to
Israel, and they can all but lock out their
Democratic challengers from a substantial
fraction of Jewish support, even when the
challenger is more sympathetic to such
other deeply held Jewish concerns as
separation of church and state. In fact, in
this new environment even liberal can-
didates whose dedication to Israel is, if
anything, more authentic — even liberal
candidates who are Jewish — are at a
disadvantage compared to conservative
converts, because there is no need to
reward loyalty that comes naturally. If the
Republicans keep control of the Senate in
1986, a lopsided year when 18 Republicans
are seeking reelection, the Israel nexus will
be a significant factor.
Not only is substantial money flowing
from Jewish PACs to far-right Republi-
cans, but in several key states the most
viable Democratic challengers have been
dissuaded from making the race. The GOP
has no such problems. Republican challen-
gers can count on an, ocean of business
support. Democrats depend on labor and
wealthy idealistic liberals, many of them
Within the community of mainstream
Jewish organizations, the continuing rise
of AIPAC and the sudden rise of pro-Israel
PACs has prompted an anguished debate
about whether Jews are being perceived as
a single-issue community. The Israel-first
strategy has created odd alliances between
Jewish organizations and New Right
Christian evangelicals, whose philo-
Semitism with regard to the Middle East
has thus far failed to translate into sen-
sitivity to Jewish domestic concerns such
as school prayer. (And in practice, even
Israel is such a low priority for the evan-
gelicals that the Christian Voice congres-
sional scorecard fails to include a single
Mideast vote.) There is today a startling
alliance between some Jewish organiza-

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