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July 24, 1987 - Image 34

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-07-24

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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34

FRIDAY, JULY 24, 1987

Alaskan Caribous-And
Caribous And
The Jewish Problem?!

JAMES DAVID BESSER

Washington Correspondent

W

hat do Alaskan
caribou and Israeli
security have in
common? A lot, according to
Morris Amitay, premier lob-
byist for Jewish interests in
Washington. Not a thing, ac-
cording to the Sierra Club, the
group spearheading the drive
in Congress to declare a large
chunk of Alaska a national
wildlife refuge.
The issue centers around a
stretch of land in northern
Alaska bordering the Arctic
Ocean. According to Tim
Mahoney of the Sierra Club,
the area is the last of its kind
in North America. "It's the
home of an extraordinarily
abundant ecosystem, with
grizzly bears, polar bears,
wolverines, and — most
prominently — a very large
migratory herd of caribou,
which define the outer
bounds of the ecosystem.
This is the last undisturbed
arctic ecosystem in U.S., one
of the last in the world."
But all this icy wilderness
is also a potential source of oil
— huge quantities of oil, ac-
cording to the companies that
want to open the area up to
development. Pro-develop-
ment forces say there is a 19
percent chance that the area
contains enough oil to make
large-scale drilling econom-
ically feasible — and a 5 per-
cent chance that such a find
could turn out to be as big as
the field at nearby Prudhoe
Bay.
Environmentalists are
pressing Congress to declare
this an official wilderness
area, thus foreclosing the
possibility of drilling; the big
oil companies — according to
Mahoney, only the biggest
companies can afford a proj-
ect of this size — are pressing
the legislators to take no
action at all.
This is where the issue of
Israel's security enters the
picture. In the last year, ac-
cording to Mahoney, a num-
ber of pro-Israel groups have
been approached to support
the oilmen's cause, on the
grounds that additional
domestic oil supplies would
be a hedge against Arab
petroleum blackmail. This, in
turn, would contribute to
Israel's security needs.
"Most of the groups were
cool to the suggestion,"
Mahoney said. "But they
employed Morris Amitay,
who has written letters to

Congress based on his belief
that this oil development is
good for Israeli security."
Amitay's reputation as a
tough and effective lobbyist,
Mahoney suggests, is a po-
tent factor in the Senate,
along with Amitay's creden-
tials as an activist in the pro-
Israel community; Amitay is
a former executive director of
the American Israel Public
Action Committee known as
AIPAC. "This kind of lobby-
ing really knocks their socks
off in the Senate," Mahoney
said.
Amitay plays down the Is-
raeli angle as "tertiary,"
though he agrees that the
connection may carry some
weight with certain members
of Congress. "You have the
potential for an oil find as big
as the North Slope coming on
line at a time when the North
Slope is running out," he said
in a telephone interview. "lb
an extent, I think energy in-
dependence has always been
a Jewish community issue."
Anaitay, who represents a
wide range of business in-
terests in addition to his work
in the pro-Israel community,
argues that scientific studies
can document no environ-
mental damage as a result of
the massive oilfield develop-
ment at Prudhoe Bay. "In
fact, the caribou herd has
tripled in size, and all sorts of
flora are flourishing — and
this area is even more barren
than the North Slope."
Several congressional
sources suggest that Ami-
tay's presence on the side of
the pro-development forces is
a shrewd political move.
Although environmentalism
is no longer the sexy issue it
once was on the Hill, the big
energy companies have come
in for their share of criticism
in recent years. And the
Democratic Congress seems
eager to challenge the ad-
ministration on environmen-
tal issues.
But the issue of insulation
from oil blackmail is strong
these days, especially in light
of the unfolding drama in the
Persian Gulf. The somewhat
indirect connection with the
pro-Israel cause, at least right
now, is a political plus.

Rumania: The Carrot
Or The Stick

Like cicadas, the issue of
issue of Most Favored Nation
status for the government of
Rumania keeps reappearing
in regular cycles. The latest
episode in the continuing

Metzenbaum: hasty

melodrama came last week,
when the Senate defeated a
"killer amendment" intro-
duced by Sen. Howard Met-
zenbaum (D-OH), a measure
designed to overturn an
earlier action stripping
Rumania of its Most Favored
Nation (MFN) status for six
months.
The MFN designation, a
stepchild of the Jackson-
Vanik amendment, was in-
tended to offer incentives to
Communist nations in Eur-
ope to clean up their acts in
the area of human rights. In
theory, MFN status is
granted only when a nation
demonstrates significant pro-
gress towards relaxing official
repression of minorities.
But the question of
whether Rumania is improv-
ing its treatment of Jews and
other minorities is a topic of
lively debate here. The nature
of this debate is putting the
Jewish leadership in the
unusual position of working
for concessions to a govern-
ment that is still closing
synagogues. The debate may
also be pitting Jewish groups
against the American repre-
sentatives of other Rumanian
minorities, who want to wield
the MFN bludgeon in a
slightly different fashion.
According to several Senate
staffers involved in the
discussions, lobbying by
Jewish groups was particular-
ly heavy on the side of the
amendment calling for a
restoration of MFN status.
One Senate aide, who has
been involved in a number of
Jewish causes, said that the
position of the Jewish lob-
byists "really stinks." The
Metzenbaum amendment,
this source said, was hastily
conceived and badly crafted.
In addition, he said, the pro-
posal earned only lukewarm
support from the American-
Israel Public Affairs Commit-

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