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March 19, 1988 - Image 49

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-03-19

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

ashington —
In a community bounded by
touchy issues, it is perhaps
the touchiest of all: Jewish in-
fluence in American govern-
ment. It is both sought after
and denied.
Consider last year's succes-
sion of proposals to sell arms
to Saudi Arabia. Pro-Israel
groups, led by the American
Israel Public Affairs Commit-
tee (AIPAC), worked swiftly
and efficiently to mobilize
congressional opposition to
each new Administration
plan. "Dear colleague" letters
were written and signed by
many legislators; key votes
were lined up long before any
official tallies were scheduled;
members of the pro-Israel
community called friends in
the House and Senate; facts
and figures documenting the
case against these sales
spewed out of photocopy
In several cases, the
resulting explosions of op-
position doomed the arms
sale proposals before the Ad-
ministration could formally
announce them.
It was a good year for pro-
Israel lobbyists, and behind
the scenes, they were proud of
their work on issues like arms
sales, debt restructuring for
Israel, foreign aid and the
closing of the U.S. offices of
the Palestine Liberation
But there was no boasting,
at least publicly, and no ex-
pressions of gratitude from
other segments of the Jewish
community. Pride in the suc-
cesses of Jewish lobbyists
and complaints about the ag-
gressive tactics that won
these victories — both
responses are discussed only
in hushed tones, for fear of
jeopardizing those very

A New Assertiveness

There is a curious -paradox
here. Jewish influence is being
wielded with a new asser-
tiveness. Yet it is a subterra-
nean assertiveness, steeped in
the knowledge that Ameri-
cans are ambivalent about
the spectacular growth of the
lobbying industry. And there
is a lingering suspicion that
age-old prejudices give a
special onus to the idea of a

Jewish lobby.
There is pride in the way
Jewish lobbyists have mas-
tered the maze of power and
influence in Washington, and
used this knowledge to pro-
duce dramatic benefits for the
community and its number
one cause, Israel. Pro-Israel
political action committees
(PACs), the other side of the
equation that adds up to
political power, have pro-
liferated, making the cause of
Israel almost as important to
candidates in Nebraska as it
is in New York.
Yet there is constant fear
that too much visibility may
provoke a backlash of anti-
Semitism and undo the gains
of recent years.
And increasingly, there is
concern about the long-term
consequences of these new
political realities. Will they
suffocate the democratic pro-
cess in a kind of endless
trench warfare between com-
peting special-interest
groups? Will they generate
support for Israel that is
broad, but not very deep?
"Lobbying is a very nuts-
and-bolts kind of business,"
says a Senate aide who works
with lobbyists every day,
"and it's becoming more so.
It's easy to forget what the
nuts and bolts add up to. I
don't want people to lose-
sight of the fact that we've
supported Israel for all these
years because of some pretty
basic values we share, not
because of politics."

Coalition Partners

And will these changes
isolate the Jewish communi-
ty from the groups that have
traditionally been its "coali-
tion partners," and thereby —
because the Jewish communi-
ty is numerically small —
reduce Jewish clout?
"Coalitions are important,
politically," says Rabbi David
Saperstein of the Religious
Action Center of the Union of
American Hebrew Congrega-
tions. "The risk in being too
narrow is that you send out
the message that you talk a
good game about issues like
civil rights and economic
justice — but when push
comes to shove, you are will-
ing to support even can-
didates who are against these

things, just because they're
for your basic issue."
Or has that fragmentation
already occurred, with the
new style of lobbying merely
a necessary adjustment? Co-
alition politics, according to
proponents of the new real-
politik, do not count for much
in today's fiercely competitive
legislative environment.
"When Jews engage in coali-

American Jewish Committee
are still heavily involved in
these areas, as well • as the
fight for Soviet Jewry.
But the growth of Jewish
influence began in earnest
with the establishment of
Israel in 1948. It is a can-
didate's stand on Israel that
determines where most
Jewish money goes in elec-
tions. It is here that Jewish

"I don't think the Jewish interest
is well served — and the pro-
Israel community — when the
American public thinks that our
only criterion for choosing
candidates is their position on
Israel," says Hyman Bookbinder.

tion politics, we generally
give more than we get," says
Morris Amitay, former ex-
ecutive director of AIPAC
and now a leading lobbyist in
These kinds of questions
are at the center of a debate
that has raged among Jewish
activists for years. Clear
answers have not yet emerg-
ed from the dust of political
combat. But as the Reagan
years wind to a close, there is
a new urgency to the discus-
sion; the next Administration
may not provide such fertile
soil for the growth of the pro-
Israel lobby.

Jewish Influence

Long before the birth of the
modern state of Israel, Jewish
groups were lobbying on
Capitol Hill, primarily on
social welfare and refugee
issues affecting a variety of
minority groups. Organiza-
tions like the American
Jewish Congress and the

influence is most felt and
most controversial.
Some analysts point to
three stages in the evolution
of the pro-Israel lobby. The
first phase began in 1948,
with Israel's independence
and a U.S. government that
may have supported the new
state in theory, but hardly in
The shadow of the Holo-
caust hung over the nation,
and Israel's supporters
staked out the moral high
ground. Pro-Israel lobbyists
stressed the moral necessity
of Israel, the basic values the
new nation shared with the
United States and the status
of Jews everywhere as under-
The second stage came
with the confidence generated
by the Six Day War in 1967.
The War sowed seeds of a new
assertiveness. It also began
the vastly increased depen-
dence of Israel on U.S. money
and weapons, a change that

raised the ante in the U.&
Israeli relationship.
The last major turning
point, according to these
observers, was the 1981 bat-
tle over the sale of AWACs to
Saudi Arabia.

AWACs Controversy

After a bitter struggle,
AIPAC narrowly lost the
fight to prevent the sale of the
sophisticated warning and
command aircraft. But the
defeat may have been a vic-
tory in disguise; according to
several participants, it
opened the eyes of Jewish ac-
tivists to the potential power
within their grasp.
"The AWACs fight was the
first time the Jewish com-
munity took on an Admin-
istration by itself, without
trying to work through poli-
tical coalitions," says one ac-
tivist here. "It changed in
some basic ways how we
viewed ourselves."
The AWACs controversy
firmly established the single-
issue, tightly focused mode of
lobbying as the standard for
the pro-Israel community.
Gone was what younger lob-
byists scornfully called the
Goyim" approach of their
predecessors. Coalition
politics and multi-issue
politics took a back seat to
the new single-issue groups.
It also resulted in a sharp
increase in AIPAC member-
ship — from about 9,000 in
1980 to over 50,000 in 1985.
The AIPAC staff increased
correspondingly; by 1988,
there were more than 70
employees working at the
group's Washington offices
with five full-time lobbyists.
The grass-roots activism of
its membership, supporters
say, is an indispensable com-
ponent of AIPAC's power on
the Hill.
At the same time, the
political landscape of
Washington was changing. In
the old days, a Jewish
representative like Hyman
Bookbinder could wield in-
fluence by simply tapping a
few key committee chairmen,
a few friends in the White
House. The process was per-
sonal and direct, based on
longstanding ties of friend-



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