US Jewry's Political Clout

Jerusalem Post, Opinion Section, February 15, 1994

The recent scolding of United Jewish Appeal officials by top members of the Labor Party is part of what some say is a concerted effort to reduce the organized US Jewish community to its "proper" political size. 

It may also reflect an attempt to undermine the credibility of the current leadership and enhance the stock of those who have always been "politically correct."


These suspicions explain Prime Minister Rabin's blunt reprimand of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee in August 1992.


The echoes of that widely publicized rebuke - directed at one of the most respected lobbying organizations in Washington - still reverberate in the corridors of the administration, Capitol Hill and the Jewish organizations. It has seriously impaired AIPAC's ability to advance Israel's concerns in the US.


After 44 years of starring on the team shaping US-Israel relations, American Jewish politicos have been largely sidelined. They are hardly consulted on critical decisions which impact on ties between Jerusalem and Washington.


They are deterred from initiating new legislation and projects designed to expand cooperation between two countries. Moreover, they've been urged to keep a low political profile (in the bilateral context), "lest it upset the direct line of communications between the two administrations."


Unlike the attitude emanating from Jerusalem, President Bill Clinton has held US Jewish activists in high political esteem, appointing an unprecedentedly large number of Jews to executive positions.

He is aware of their centrality in the domestic political scene, their unique role in his 1992 victory and their potential impact on the future of critical legislation (e.g, crime, health care, deficit reduction, unemployment). He is also aware of their crucial role in his effort to retain a working Democratic majority in both Houses in the 1994 election, and of their importance to his own 1996 reelection bid.


Some 60 percent of early (1992) campaign funds in Democratic congressional races was raised from Jewish sources, as was 50 percent of the financing of Harris Wofford's 1991 senatorial campaign, which exposed George Bush's vulnerability and became the turning point in the 1992 presidential election.


THE GULF war shed light on the role of the Jewish community, even in the shaping of US foreign policy.


Thus, it was Jewish lobbying on and off Capitol Hill - in concert with the administration - which played a key role in forging a comfortable bipartisan congressional majority for "Desert Storm."
Jewish political involvement also contributed to the shaping of public and media support and to the moderation of antiwar protests before and during the war.
A similar effort (though narrower in scope) was launched by the Jewish community when it was drafted by president Ronald Reagan to promote his highly controversial "Star Wars" (SDI) initiative on the Hill.


On the other hand, Jewish hesitancy (resulting from conflicting signals out of Jerusalem! ) during the decisive stages of the 1991/2 campaign for loan guarantees played into the hands of president Bush and weakened the stance of Israel's friends in Congress.


Internationally, Russia, other CIS Republics, China, East Europe, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and other countries have viewed US Jewish organizations as a preferred political target audience. In fact, they have adopted a US Jewry-driven policy toward Israel.


They assume that improved ties with Israel plays well in Jewish circles in the US, which may be willing to use their political clout in order to eliminate restrictive US policies or to extend foreign aid.


Overlooking the political significance of US Jewry can be at the expense of major Israeli interests. It defies political reality in the US, it ignores the constitutional role of lobbying and the separation of powers, which may reflect badly on Israel's attitude toward Congress.


Reactivating the "American Jewish political player" has become vital in view of the growing vulnerability of foreign aid.

Another factor that enhances the importance of a strong American Jewish community is the proliferation of conventional and non-conventional weapons in the Middle East, continued inter-Moslem conflicts, unstable regimes and a rising tide of Islamic fanaticism and terrorism.


Finally, a politically well-connected Jewish community is indispensable in the effort to resist pressure to establish a Palestinian state, forsake the settlements, withdraw to the '67 lines, re-divide Jerusalem and accept the legitimacy of the PLO's "right of return."


Any Israeli government should recognize that.