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Few question Congress' blind support for Sharon

2 reports:

1) Few question Congress' blind support for Sharon - [The Atlanta
2) Israel shows its muscle dealing with Congress - [St. Petersburg
Few question Congress' blind support for Sharon

BY Martha Ezzard


One of the rituals in Washington for neophyte candidates is to stop by
the office of the
American-Israel Public Affairs Committee on First Street and recite a
litany of loyalties
to Israel. A million-dollar-a-year lobbying group with a board of
influential Jewish
leaders, AIPAC then unlocks the door to thousands of dollars in campaign
contributions to

Faithful votes thereafter for the $3 billion annual aid package to
Israel can result in
generous campaign donations, though non-discrimination and other issues
are important to
the organization, too. Over the past decade, pro-Israel interests have
given $41 million
to candidates, two-thirds of which have gone to Democrats. (Muslim and
Arab interests
have mustered not quite $300,000 to give away during the same period).
Now, though, comes
Ariel Sharon, an extreme-right Likud leader with whom the right wing of
the GOP -- led by
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas -- wants to identify.

Ignoring the president's ongoing struggle to enlist moderate Arabs and
Muslims to help
eliminate the al-Qaida threat, Republican leaders in the House and
Democratic leaders in
the Senate entered into a schoolyard-like contest to see who could be
the best pro-Israel
cheerleader, approving resolutions that made Sharon appear as blameless
for the loss of
any innocent lives as Mother Teresa.

Liberal House Democratic Whip Nancy Pelosi of California voted with
DeLay and 351 other
House members. Even Georgia's John Lewis let the partisan game playing
overcome his
humanitarian instincts. In the spirit of the "gotcha" game, Lewis said
after the vote
that he wasn't going to stand by and let DeLay "drive a wedge" between
the Democrats and
their Jewish friends. So he spoke on the floor for the Republican
resolution in words
that might have been from an AIPAC script: "One of the reasons I have
always been so
supportive of Israel is that even when it acts to defend itself, it also
continues to
reach out its hand in peace to its neighbors."

In the Senate, the only two "no" votes came from Democrats who are
hardly bleeding-heart
liberals: Sens. Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Ernest "Fritz" Hollings
of South
Carolina. Both decried the action as simplistic and ill-timed.

Hollings' floor remarks the week before Sharon's visit to the United
States were
refreshingly blunt. Declaring that he has a 35-year pro-Israel voting
record, Hollings
said Sharon's retaliation for the suicide bombings has gone beyond
self-defense. He said
the Israeli leader "is making more terrorists than he is getting rid of
" -- a prediction
that came true with yet another suicide bombing last Wednesday.

"In my judgment, it was wrong for Ariel Sharon to go to the Temple Mount
in-your-face kind of politics and leadership, to bulldoze camps, and to
settlements, all condemned by the United States. Then, along comes this
amendment like there is no awareness of the complexity of this
situation," Hollings said.

Hollings condemned Yasser Arafat's continued fostering of terrorism
against Israel, but
he had already raised hackles previously by calling Sharon "the Bull
Conner of Israel."
Though he's not up for re-election this year, Hollings surely knew his
opponents would be
poised to label his remarks anti-Semitic.

Sure enough, South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson responded with an
op-ed piece in
The Washington Times calling for Hollings' apology. In the
bumper-sticker style that subs
for foreign policy debate today, Wilson accused Hollings of comparing
Sharon with Saddam
Hussein. (Hollings had pointed out accurately that the United States
condemned Hussein
for not allowing U.N. inspectors in, but refused to condemn Sharon for
not allowing a
U.N. team to inspect the Jenin refugee camp, turned to rubble by Israeli

Former U.S. Sen. Wyche Fowler from Georgia, who served four years as
ambassador to Saudi
Arabia, offered this insight last week, one that money-conscious members
of Congress
can't seem to get: "You can criticize the Sharon government as not being
in the best
interests of Israel without being critical of Israel." But that's way
too complicated, of
course, for 30-second TV spots in an election year.


Israel shows its muscle dealing with Congress

By SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN, Times Senior Correspondent (e-mail


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

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

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

"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 $297,000.

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
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

"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 said.

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."