THE WALL STREET JOURNAL MONDAY JANUARY 28, 1991
Pro-Israel Lobbyists Quietly Backed Resolution
Allowing Bush to Commit U.S. Troops to Combat
By David Rogers Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal.
WASHINGTON - When Congress debated going to war with Iraq, the pro-Israel lobby
stayed in the background-but not out of the fight.
Leaders of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee now acknowledge it worked in
tandem with the Bush administration to win passage of a resolution authorizing the
president to commit U.S. troops to combat. The behind-the-scenes campaign avoided
Aipac's customary high profile in the Capitol and relied instead on activists-calling
sometimes from Israel itself-to contact lawmakers and build on public endorsements by
major Jewish organizations.
"Yes, we were active." says Aipac director Thomas Dine. "These are the great issues of
our time, If you sit on the sidelines, you have no voice."
In the end, pro-Israel lawmakers were divided on the vote. But the lobby's influence
nonetheless was crucial, especially in helping the White House pick up Democratic
support that has typically been denied to recent presidents in other foreign policy
confrontations such as the covert war in Nicaragua. Democrats who have benefited from
large contributions by pro Israel political action committees were among the swing votes,
and the administration says that having pro-Israel liberals behind the resolution made it
easier to hold moderate Republicans as well.
One Democrat who voted for the resolution is Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, who received
$155,590 from pro-Israel PACs when he was running for the Senate in 1986. Mr. Reid
and other Democrats who voted for the resolution say their votes had nothing to do with
the assistance they have received from pro-Israel groups. Still, in states as diverse as
Nebraska, Alabama, California and New York, the administration won support by tapping
into pro-Israel sentiment; at the very least, the Israel factor reinforced some wavering
lawmakers by giving them an opportunity to satisfy an important constituency.
Rarely have the stakes been higher-or has a case of money and ethnic politics been more
sensitive and complex. The debate revealed a deep ambivalence among Jewish
lawmakers over what course to follow, pitting their generally liberal instincts against their
support of Israel. Friends and families were divided. And even as some pro-Israel
advocates urged a more aggressive stance, there was concern that the lobby risked
damaging Israel's longer term interests if the issue became too identified with Jewish or
"American Jews should have no fear in expressing their support for the president of the
United States," says Jerry Lippman, editor of the Long Island Jewish World.
Yet Aipac took pains to disguise its role, and there was quiet relief that the vote showed
no solid Jewish bloc in favor of a war so relevant to Israel. "It isn't such a bad idea that we
were split," says one Jewish lawmaker.
Iraqi missile attacks on Tel Aviv have since helped to solidify opinion; there is an effort
now to pull together in anticipation of costly demands for increased aid to Israel. People
on both sides of the issue "had Israel as part of their concern," says Malcolm Hoenlein.
executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish
But the debate has nonetheless left a trail of recriminations and political maneuvering.
Republicans see an opportunity in the war vote to drive a wedge between Israel
supporters and Democrats. GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, for instance, has chastised
pro-Israel Democrats who opposed the war resolution; the Mormon law maker recently
startled a reporter from the Washington Jewish Week newspaper by unbuttoning his shirt
to display a silver mezuzah, locket-like amulet with a Hebrew prayer inside.
New York Republican Sen. Alfonse D'Amato's list of possible re-election foes next year
includes state Attorney General Robert Abrams, who is Jewish, and Rep. Robert Mrazek,
a pro-Israel Democrat who opposed the war resolution; Sen. D'Amato lately has edoubled
his efforts to show support for Israel, making a high-profile appearance at its embassy two
weekends ago, traveling to Israel last week and Implicitly accusing pro-Israel Democrats
of joining "this chorus of' Let's give Saddam some more time.' "
The pressure to mobilize pro-Israel forces on the Gulf issue came foremost from Rep.
Stephen Solarz, the administration's chief Democratic ally in the House. After meeting
with the Brooklyn Democrat, leaders of the Reform Jewish Movement approved a
statement in December in support of the use of force, despite the misgiving of some
members. At a private dinner two weeks later, Mr. Solarz urged Aipac's Mr. Dine to have
the group play a larger public role in the debate. The congressman bluntly describes
pro-Israel lawmakers who opposed him as "tragically shortsighted" in their understanding
of American-Israeli interests.
Among the congressman's allies was his longtime friend, New York attorney Bernard
Nussbaum, who serves as finance chairman for Rep. Nita Lowey (D., N.Y.) and is on the
advisory board of the Washington Political Action Committee, a pro Israel PAC. Mr.
Nussbaum was part of a strong-albeit unsuccessful-effort by Jewish supporters of Rep.
Lowey to convince her to support the resolution. (Mr. Nussbaum refuses to discuss the
matter.) "She came under a lot of pressure," said Richard Maass, a past president of the
American Jewish Committee who opposed the war resolution. "My message to her was,
'Stand firm.' "
Like Aipac itself, Mr. Solarz's often-unnoticed strength is his ability to reach beyond his
traditional base and find votes among Southern conservatives such as Rep. Ralph Hall, a
Texas "Bell Weevil" Democrat who is warmly supportive of the New York
congressman-and Israel. More broadly, pro-Israel PACs have poured money into
campaigns for Southern Democrats not immediately identified with their cause.
For example, the Alabama delegation voted in a bloc with Mr. Bush in both the House
and Senate. At first glance, this can be ascribed to the conservative, pro military character
of the state. But pro-Israel PACs have also cultivated Democrats there in recent years. A
total of 25 pro Israel PACs gave Sen. Howell Heflin $87,350 toward his re-election in the
1989-1990 election cycle. Federal records also list $51.375 in contributions from
pro-Israel committees to then-Congressman Richard Shelby when he ousted GOP Sen.
Jeremiah Denton in 1986.
Nevada is an example of a sparsely populated state where Aipac has maximized its
leverage. Richard Bryan, a former governor and ally of Sen. Reid's, received $86,750
from pro-Israel PACs in 1987-1988-more than seven times the contributions to the man
he defeated, GOP incumbent Jacob Hecht, who is himself Jewish. Sen. Bryan voted with
President Bush on the war resolution.
Sen. Reid, whose alliance with the pro Israel lobby goes back to his days on the House
Foreign Affairs Committee, says, "I'm sure [Israel] was a factor" in his vote, "but you had
a 100 different factors." In deciding, he recalls speaking with three Nevadans: a political
science professor, a former governor and war veteran, and Dorothy Eisenberg, a
Democratic activist and the treasurer of a pro-Israel PAC based in Las Vegas that has
supported him in the past.
Ms. Eisenberg recalls speaking to the senator about her family in Israel, but though she
supported the resolution, both she and he say she never lobbied him. "I trust his
judgment," she says.
In the ease of Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore, another Democrat who voted with the
president, the ties with pro-Israel supporters are intellectual as well as political. Just as
Israel faces a hostile world, those who support it often come to favor a more muscular
foreign policy for the U.S. Mr. Solarz, who personally lobbied Mr. Gore, is part of this
school. So is New Republic editor in chief Martin Peretz, who backed the war resolution
and is a close friend of the senator as well as a major contributor to the pro-Israel
"I wouldn't think this was an Israel-driven vote for him." says Mr. Peretz, and the senator
himself agrees. Still, Mr. Gore's vote not only set him apart from many in his party but
also raised his profile among Israel supporters. "It will definitely raise his stature," says
Morris Amitay, a Washington lobbyist and pro-Israel activist. http://184.108.40.206/search?q=cache:q_BcNvQbWEQC:http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHil