Even as embattled GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff was reported to have turned on House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the Texas Republican’s other right-wing Jewish allies are rallying to his defense.
“DeLay is arguably the best friend Israel has in Congress,” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, which adamantly opposes the creation of a Palestinian state. “He’s not simply a guy who you go for help. He gets other guys to help. A guy like DeLay will call you [to ask] what can he do.”
Republican activist Jeff Ballabon, head of the conservative Center for Jewish Values, also came to the Republican leader’s defense. “DeLay’s concern for Jewish survival and his active friendship for Israel are deep and personal,” Ballabon said. “They existed long before the Oslo terror war and long before Jewish organizations or fundraisers ever discovered him. Those in the Jewish community who have come to appreciate the depth and magnitude of his friendship ought to stand with him now.”
A crack in DeLay’s right-wing Jewish support appeared to emerge this week, when Newsweek published a report citing an unnamed source saying DeLay was being bad mouthed by Abramoff, a longtime political ally. According to the report, Abramoff told a confidant that DeLay “knew everything” about who had financed his ethically questionable trips abroad. An Abramoff spokesman denied the magazine report.
DeLay, an Evangelical Christian who recently blocked Bush administration plans to provide direct aid to the Palestinian Authority, has been taking fire in the press from Democrats and even two Republicans lawmakers over three trips abroad that allegedly were paid for by lobbyists, which would have violated House ethics rules.
At least two of the trips, a 1997 visit to Russia and a 2000 trip to England and Scotland, allegedly were financed by entities with links to Abramoff. A longtime friend and associate of DeLay, Abramoff raised hundreds of thousands for Delay’s political causes and charities, and employed many former DeLay staffers in his lobbying operations.
DeLay has denied knowing that any lobbyists funded the trips. He has said the trips were sponsored by a Washington-based conservative think tank, the National Center for Public Policy Research. Abramoff, an Orthodox Jew and vocal supporter of right-wing Israeli causes, served on the center’s board.
Jews have figured prominently in DeLay’s defense — both as advocates and whipping boys. In Congress, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, an observant Jew who is the House Republicans’ chief deputy majority whip, has been key in spearheading the GOP pushback on DeLay. The Republican strategy has been to blame DeLay’s problems on the “liberal media” and the Hungarian-born Jewish billionaire financier George Soros.
A Soros-funded left-leaning group, Campaign for America’s Future, has been running ads drawing attention to DeLay’s alleged ethical lapses. Soros emerged as a lightning rod of GOP criticism when he spent $27 million during the 2004 campaign on various efforts to defeat President Bush.
“Tom DeLay has been the staunchest defender of Israel in Congress today. He has been an extremely effective leader on the House floor,” Cantor said in a statement to the Forward. “Congressional Democrats and their billionaire liberal allies like George Soros can’t accept that he beats them at the ballot box and on the House floor. I think it is becoming apparent to the American people that these attacks are not about Tom DeLay. They are about Democrats using any means necessary to regain the majority.”
A spokesman for Soros, Michael Vachon, responded: “Blaming Soros is another desperate attempt on Delay’s part to avoid taking responsibility for his ethical lapses. Evidently, Tom DeLay is better at making accusations than at taking responsibility for his own actions. For the record, while Soros has funded the Campaign for America’s future in the past, he is not a funder of their efforts to highlight DeLay abuse of his power and position.”
Abramoff is being investigated by the FBI, the IRS, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and a federal grand jury over alleged fraud and overcharges in $66 million in fees he was paid by Indian tribes involved in casino gambling. His problems have rocked his Maryland Jewish community, where he was famous for having started a short-lived Jewish day school, the Eshkol School, and the District of Columbia’s only kosher deli, Stacks, also defunct. The school and an Abramoff-controlled foundation that supported its activities have figured in the Senate investigation of Abramoff’s lobbying. An avatar of Jewish Republicanism, Abramoff frequently spoke out in favor of an alliance with evangelicals to support maximal Israeli positions.
This week, Abramoff courted even more controversy. A story in the April 18 edition of Newsweek quotes an upset Abramoff railing at DeLay and his aides for maintaining that they did not know about Abramoff’s role in financing the Republican lawmaker’s trips. “Those SOBs,” Newsweek quotes Abramoff as saying about DeLay and his staffers. “DeLay knew everything. He knew all the details.” Newsweek sourced the remarks to an unnamed companion with whom Abramoff lunched last week.
Abramoff, however, is denying the story. “Mr. Abramoff strongly denies making the comments attributed to him in the April 18 issue of Newsweek,” Abramoff spokesman Andrew Blum wrote in an e-mail. “He is furious that in the media’s latest attempt to create a story where none exists, it now seeks to pit him against those that he has known and supported for years. Even Mr. Abramoff’s unidentified lunch companion referred to in the Newsweek article has flatly denied ever stating that Mr. Abramoff said these things. He can only hope that those who know him best know better than to believe everything they read.”
Newsweek “stands behind its story,” said magazine spokesman Ken Weine.