October 28, 1999
Barred from partisan politics, nonprofit Jewish groups must muzzle their views
With nearly $2 billion in aid to fund the Wye agreement still trapped in the budget battle between congressional Republicans and President Clinton, pro-Israel activists and Israeli officials are engaged in one of their most intense lobbying efforts in years.
A few hundred activists and several top Israeli officials descended on Capitol Hill this week to urge lawmakers to provide the aid requested by the president before Congress adjourns this fall.
Two hundred members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who were in Washington for a previously scheduled meeting, met with 150 lawmakers on Monday and Tuesday, including Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who recently expressed some concerns about the aid.
Other Jewish groups have also stepped up their efforts to secure the aid, which was pledged by Clinton when Israel and the Palestinians signed the Wye accord a year ago.
Clinton asked Congress to provide Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians with $1.9 billion in special funds to help implement the deal which, among other things, called on Israel to undertake a further withdrawal from the West Bank in three phases in exchange for an aggressive Palestinian effort to root out terrorism.
The Anti-Defamation League and Hadassah are sending letters supporting the Wye aid to every member of Congress.
The ADL was also planning to advertise this week in two Capitol Hill newspapers read widely by lawmakers and their staffs. The ads discuss the "the critical importance of the Wye commitment and the damage that could result from the delay of funding."
Martin Raffel, associate executive vice chairman for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella group of local community relations councils, said officials at community councils across the country were urging members of their local communities to urge their lawmakers to support the Wye aid.
Wye has become one of the focal points in the battle over spending priorities between the Republican-controlled Congress and the Democratic-controlled White House.
Last week, Clinton vetoed a $12.6 billion foreign aid bill that narrowly passed both houses of Congress because it fell $2 billion short of his request and does not include funding for Wye. The bill included nearly $3 billion in economic and military aid for Israel.
"As we have made clear," National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said last week at an event sponsored by the Israel Policy Forum, " the president will not sign a foreign operations bill that does not contain" the Wye aid.
As part of the Israeli lobbying effort, top government officials made a pilgrimage to Capitol Hill urging key lawmakers to appropriate the aid. Interior Minister Natan Sharansky, who accompanied Netanyahu to the nine days and nights of talks last October at Wye, a secluded retreat on Maryland's Eastern Shore where the agreement was reached, told lawmakers last week that the aid promised by Clinton was a key factor in the Israelis decision to agree to the deal, under which they would incur substantial costs to redeploy troops and dismantle bases.
Dennis Ross, the U.S. special Middle East coordinator, told a private meeting earlier this month that Congress' failure to appropriate the aid would be "devastating" to the peace process, according to sources who attended the off-the-record briefing held by the Israel Policy Forum.
Republican leaders could not be immediately reached on Tuesday after the lobbying blitz.
But Howard Kohr, executive director of AIPAC, said there is support for Wye aid on Capitol Hill now, although the exact legislative vehicle for aid is still not clear.
"The rhetoric of 'We support Wye' has to be met with the actions," Kohr said. Nearly 100 members of the House -- 91 Democrats and six Republicans -- have signed a letter urging the House leaders to "make full and immediate funding for the Wye River agreement a high priority" before Congress adjourns this year.
The letter, which is still being circulated, is being spearheaded by Reps. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), Mark Foley (R-Fla.) and Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.).
A similar letter, circulated by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in the Senate, was signed by 22 senators-19 Democrats and three Republicans -- and sent to the president, Lott and Senate Minority Leader Tom Dashcle (D-S.D.) last month.
Although pro-Israel activists have said both Democrats and Republicans in Congress support the Wye aid but are struggling to find the money to fund it, top Republicans have made clear in the last week that they are not thrilled with shipping more aid overseas and have pitted foreign aid against domestic spending.
For their part, Clinton administration officials and Democrats have criticized Republicans for being "isolationists."
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), said in an interview that it is "absolute poison" the way in which Republicans are playing foreign aid against Social Security and other domestic programs.
How and Wye
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