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Political Overkill

By Joseph C. Harsch

The Christian Science Monitor, 08/16/1984

 

Spokesmen for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the central pro-Israel lobbying organization in the United States, have been telling regional Jewish audiences around the country that Sen. Charles H. Percy (R) of Illinois is one of their primary targets for 1984.

This is overkill. AIPAC has long since demonstrated its ability to influence the Congress.

A letter from former Republican Congressman Paul Findley of the 20th Illinois District to the Wall Street Journal July 19 is relevant. It says that ''in 25 years (AIPAC) has lost only two legislative battles, each time failing narrowly to block military sales to Saudi Arabia.''

AIPAC did not lose the fight against Representative Findley in 1982. It contributed the bulk of the funds used by Mr. Findley's opponent, Richard J. Durbin - $685,000 out of a total of $750,000. Mr. Durbin won on a pledge of full support for Israel. Mr. Findley had committed two sins in the eyes of AIPAC. He had favored suspending US funds to Israel to dissuade Israel from using American weapons in its invasion of Lebanon. He had favored inviting Yasser Arafat to the United States for peace talks and had twice met with Mr. Arafat.

Mr. Findley concludes from his own experience with AIPAC that its ''future defeats are unlikely. AIPAC is seen as being able to elect its friends and defeat its enemies.''

Senator Percy has committed no such sins in AIPAC's books. He is credited by such staunch Jewish friends and supporters as Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R) of Minnesota with putting through Congress last year an extra appropriation of $475 million for Israel above the budget recommendation of the Reagan administration.

He was endorsed during his recent primary campaign by former Sen. Jacob Javits of New York. He is supported now by many prominent Illinois Jewish leaders, including Rabbi Seymour Cohen of Chicago's Anshe Emet synagogue.

But he has so far refrained from favoring the transfer of the United States Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And he supported the Reagan administration on selling American arms to Saudi Arabia, at the urgent request of President Reagan.

There is an issue here of AIPAC's reputation for political power. Does it in fact have the ability it seemed to show in the Findley election to set up or pull down senators and congressmen?

Senator Percy cannot in fairness be called unfriendly to Israel. But he has on two issues failed to conform to AIPAC's wishes. He supported his President and the leader of his party, President Reagan, on the matter of selling arms to Saudi Arabia. (That arms deal was proposed and strongly favored at the Pentagon and supported by President Reagan.)

And Senator Percy has so far refrained from committing himself on the location of the US Embassy in Israel. (Even the friendliest Arab countries have said that they will break diplomatic relations with the US if the embassy transfer takes place. This could mean even Saudi Arabia and Morocco breaking with the US and turning to Moscow for support.)

Why does AIPAC make political war on Senator Percy when the senator's only AIPAC faults have been to support his President on two points of marginal concern to Israel itself?

In logic the plausible reason is that AIPAC feels that it needs more control over the Congress in the dangerous days for Israel which lie ahead.

Israel is suffering from 400 percent inflation. It has just had an election with inconclusive results. The new government will be a weak and unstable coalition. Nothing else is politically possible. This weak government will not be able to go over from the old Menachem Begin policy of military expansionism to a new policy of peace with the Arab neighbors. Since a peace policy is impossible in the foreseeable future, Israel must have increasing American aid.

Israel is today America's most heavily subsidized client. On a per capita basis it is the most subsidized client of a great power in history. But even this has not headed off 400 percent inflation.

Senator Percy is vulnerable. He is a liberal Republican in conservative political times. The AIPAC attack could make a decisive difference on election day. If he does go down under AIPAC attack, then AIPAC's reputation as a setter up and a puller down of congressmen and senators - will be enlarged.



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