Israel shows its muscle dealing with Congress
By SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN,
Times Senior Correspondent
St. Petersburg Times
May 12, 2002
During the 2000 election campaign, pro-Israel groups were among
the biggest contributors to U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch of Florida.
The Fort Lauderdale Democrat got $23,400, more than he received
from groups representing education and health care interests.
But Deutsch says the pro-Israel money had nothing to do with his
May 2 vote for a controversial House resolution expressing unequivocal
support for Israel.
Nor, he says, did the money affect his decision to join three other
members of Congress in flying to Israel that day to hand-deliver
the resolution to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"I honestly have no much idea how much money I was given,"
Deutsch said. "And it's irrelevant in terms of anything."
Others aren't so sure.
"Clearly the giving by the pro-Israel interests has an impact
in Congress," says Larry Noble, executive director of the Center
for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C., organization that monitors
campaign financing. "You can't say it's the only thing that
impacts Congress in terms of the resolution, but it clearly does
have a lot of impact."
According to the center, pro-Israel groups have contributed $41.3-million
to federal candidates and political party committees since 1989.
In the same period, pro-Arab and pro-Muslim interests have given
Of course, congressional support of Israel is neither new nor surprising.
The United States has been Israel's closest friend since 1948, when
President Harry Truman became the first world leader to recognize
the new Jewish state. Despite its small size and scarce natural
resources, Israel absorbed hundreds of thousands of Jews from around
the globe and built a thriving country -- with the help of billions
in U.S. aid -- that is the only democracy in the Middle East.
But critics say Israel's continued occupation of land seized during
the 1967 Middle East War has stymied peace and contributed to the
violence that has claimed the lives of 489 Israelis and more than
1,500 Palestinians since September 2000.
The latest crisis came in late March when Israel, in response to
a suicide bombing that killed 28 Jews, invaded several Palestinian
cities. President Bush found himself caught between Arab demands
to stop the incursion and Israel's insistence on destroying the
"infrastructure of terrorism."
It was amid Bush's attempts to end the crisis that the House passed
the resolution expressing solidarity with Israel and condemning
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Although 352 members voted yes, there was enough concern about
the measure that 82 others voted no or didn't vote. Some opponents
said the resolution would hurt America's ability to act as an evenhanded
broker in Mideast peace negotiations.
"This one-sided resolution will only fan the killing frenzy,"
charged Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio. "It offers no encouragement
for the Arab states to have a place at the peace table. . . . Israel
cannot make peace alone. This resolution envisions no Palestinian
state. At its worst, I fear it represents crass domestic politics
in this election year."
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., argued that the resolution failed to
take into account that neither Israelis nor Palestinians had fully
honored the 1993 Oslo peace agreement.
"Let us get that straight," he told his House colleagues.
"Neither side is an angel."
Florida's Deutsch countered that Israel's fight against Palestinian
attacks and America's fight against al-Qaida are one and the same.
"There is no Yasser Arafat exemption to the war on terrorism,"
said Deutsch, who is Jewish and has many Jewish voters in his state.
Hours after the resolution passed, Deutsch and three other House
members flew to Israel aboard a U.S. Navy plane. At least one Israeli
newspaper called the trip a "fact-finding mission" although
any facts gathered came from the Israeli side. Deutsch said he and
his colleagues asked to meet with Palestinians but were told that
was impossible unless they agreed to see Arafat. They declined.
"The consensus is that it's a post-Arafat era and he's a terrorist,"
Deutsch said in a phone interview after his return last week. The
four also asked to go to the West Bank and Gaza Strip but were warned
by the U.S. Embassy in Israel that it would be too dangerous, Deutsch
Instead, the delegation met with Israeli leaders and visited victims
of terrorism. One of the "most constructive" parts of
the trip, Deutsch said, was seeing the large amount of weapons Israel
seized from the freighter Karine A as they purportedly were being
smuggled into Gaza in January.
"This was a very, very sophisticated operation that I did
not have a sense of at all until we got there," Deutsch said.
The bipartisan delegation was led by Rep. James Saxton, chairman
of the Special House Oversight Panel on Terrorism. The Ohio Republican
listed pro-Israel groups as among his biggest contributors in the
last election, with a total of $29,900.
Historically, groups supporting Israel have funnelled about two-thirds
of their contributions to Democratic candidates. But that may change.
"You hear talk that Republicans think the pro-Israel vote
may be easier to get this time and that it may be easier to break
some of that money away from Democrats," says Noble. "If
it does shift, it may be due in part to the support Israel has been
getting from Republicans and conservatives."