WASHINGTON If you listened closely, you could hear, beneath the noisy sex scandal roiling the 109th Congress, cries of victory and sighs of defeat from the pro-Israel and Jewish community.
The revelation last week of salacious electronic exchanges between Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) and teenage congressional pages and the threat that allegations of a cover-up now pose to the Republican leadership dominated coverage of Congress’ last days before it recessed for midterm elections.
The news all but overwhelmed one of the busiest weeks of the congressional year, with Jewish victories on care for the elderly, abortion, evangelism in the military, and funding for Israel defense programs; qualified wins on funds to protect Jewish institutions and Iran sanctions; and losses on civil liberties and Palestinian Authority sanctions.
Here’s a rundown of how the chips fell on some issues of interest to Jewish and pro-Israel lobbies:
Iran sanctions, partial victory: Pro-Israel groups and Democrats expected the U.S. Senate to easily pass the version of the Iran Freedom Support Act that the U.S. House of Representatives passed overwhelmingly in April.
The new version offers language extending such sanctions to companies that provide nuclear assistance to Iran – a narrowing of the original sanctions, which targeted all economic relations.
Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, defeat. This act, which would ban most U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority unless it renounced terrorism, disarmed terrorist groups and recognized Israel, already was written off this summer because of irreconcilable differences between House and Senate versions.
Homeland Security funds for non-profits, partial victory. Jewish community lobbyists lobbied hard for Congress to force the department to release $’5 million allocated for non-profits in ‘006.
Jewish institutions got most of the $’5 million budgeted in ‘005, and were using it to reinforce security at federations, schools and synagogues. Homeland Security wanted to keep the ‘006 money for first-responders, but an attack this summer on the Jewish federation building in Seattle, which killed one staffer, changed the dynamic.
The UJC and the other groups had hoped for another $’5 million in the ‘007 budget, and language encouraging states and local communities to consider at-risk non-profits in doling out money, but neither provision was forthcoming.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee scored a victory in a separate bill setting up an office within the Homeland Security Department that would coordinate cooperation with counterparts in Israel, Britain, Australia, Canada and Singapore.
Evangelism in the military, victory. A wall-to-wall coalition of Jewish groups opposed language to be included in the Defense Authorization Act that would have allowed military chaplains to mention Jesus in their official prayers.
Appropriations for U.S.-Israel programs, victory. An AIPAC priority, the $460 million allocated for such programs in the U.S. Defense Appropriations bill is separate from the $’.8 billion Israel receives each year in assistance.
The allocation includes $135.6 million for Israel’s Arrow missile interceptor program, a proven success. Within that allocation, Congress set aside $18.4 million to develop a system to intercept short-range missiles, an outcome of the difficulty Israel faced in stopping Hezbollah missiles during this summer’s war in Lebanon.
Military tribunals, defeat. Republican majorities in both houses guaranteed passage of a bill that grants Bush considerable leeway in defining what constitutes torture and allows him to remove habeas corpus, the centuries-old right of a prisoner to appeal his detention.
Abortion rights for minors, victory. A broad array of Jewish groups, including the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish community relations councils; the National Council of Jewish Women; the Reform movement; and the AJCommittee opposed a bill that would have made it a crime to take minors across state lines to have abortions.
Elderly care, victory. The Older Americans Reauthorization Act that passed last week codified the Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities program pioneered by the UJC in 40 communities. The communities facilitate at-home living for elderly in their home communities. JTA