WELCOME TO WASHINGTON

By Ori Nir With Reporting by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Published March 07, 2003, issue of March 07, 2003.

Israel has yet to submit its special request for American aid — an expected $4 billion in financial aid and $8 billion in loan guarantees — but there already are campaigns to block, curtail or condition the package.

This week, the Arab American Institute called on its supporters to call the White House and their representatives in Congress to declare that “Enough is enough — the United States should not reward Israel’s behavior” in the West Bank and Gaza, the institute’s action alert said.

The institute’s call comes on the heels of a campaign launched last month by Americans for Peace Now calling for linking the aid to a freeze on Israeli expenditures for developing Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

Congressional aides said, however, that those campaigns do not seem to be resonating on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress are balking at taking a position that might be perceived as critical of Israel, they said. A settlement freeze also has been made a part of the American-European “road map” to peace, and so is linked to Palestinian reforms rather than to American aid.

But at least one member of Congress, Democrat Lois Capps of California, has attempted to advance the Peace Now campaign on Capitol Hill.

“There is a proposal circulating in Congress to precondition the loan guarantees on an immediate, credible freeze of all settlements,” Capps told a House budget committee hearing last week. She also demanded that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz address her concern that financial aid was being granted to Israel without any strings attached.

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United Jewish Communities, the roof body of North American Jewish federations, is losing its top Washington advocate. Diana Aviv, UJC vice president for public policy, will leave her position in June to become president and CEO of Independent Sector, a prominent coalition of more than 700 philanthropic and public interest groups.

Observers say UJC will be hard pressed to replace Aviv, who has gained the admiration of colleagues and fellow Jewish organizational representatives in Washington. A top lobbyist, Aviv has during the last decade secured steady federal funding — reportedly between $5 billion and $7 billion annually — for social service agencies linked to the federation system.

“She is a consummate professional,” said Jess Hordes, who directs the Washington office of the Anti-Defamation League. “She is passionate about her work, committed, knowledgeable, networked and has done a great deal to advance the agenda of the Jewish federations.”

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said the UJC will “have some very big shoes to fill.”

In recent months Aviv has been walking a tightrope, gently but firmly opposing components of President Bush’s social-service agenda while trying to avoid alienating key Republican donors within the federation system.

According to insiders, possible candidates to replace Aviv include Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center, and Reva Price, Washington representative of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

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Most Americans view Israel as America’s second closest friend, but do not support giving it more aid, according to the results of two public opinion polls published this week.

One poll, conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corporation for Fox News among registered voters, showed that an overwhelming majority (90%) thinks Great Britain is a friend, followed by Israel (70%). Turkey comes in third with 52%. France received only 38%, just a little more than Saudi Arabia (30%) and less than Egypt (41%).

A Zogby International poll conducted last month showed that most Americans don’t think their support of Israel should be translated into more dollars and cents. Likely voters were asked: “As a result of the potential war with Iraq, there is a $12 billion aid package for Israel being proposed. This is in addition to the $3 billion annual aid that Israel receives. Do you support or oppose the additional aid package for Israel?” By an almost 2-1 margin (57%-29%), respondents opposed the additional aid package.

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FBI Director Robert Mueller last week promised to protect Muslim Americans against hate crimes. His statement comes after he allegedly ordered FBI field offices nationwide to develop demographic profiles of their regions — including surveys of local mosques — prompting an outcry from civil rights organizations, including several Jewish organizations. In a meeting with the chairman of the Islamic Institute, Khaled Saffuri, Mueller said he is “vitally concerned that the rights of Muslim, Sikh and Arab Americans be protected.”

An Islamic Institute statement following the meeting, citing FBI statistics, said that thus far the FBI has charged 17 people at the federal level and 129 at the state and local level for hate-driven crimes toward the Muslim, Sikh and Arab communities. It has investigated 414 accounts of hate crimes involving those same communities.



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