When Rep. Tom DeLay officially stepped down from his position as House Majority Leader last Thursday, the move sent up a gleeful yelp from America’s left, but DeLay had a strong following in this area, especially among Israel’s supporters, and many believe that he will be a sorely missed ally of the Jewish state.
DeLay raised tens of thousands of campaign dollars from the Jewish community here through fund-raisers run by NORPAC, an Englewood-based single-issue political action committee that raises money to keep pro-Israel politicians in office. In DeLay, NORPAC found a powerful ally, who according to the PAC’s president, Dr. Ben Chouake of Englewood, could make a telephone call and get things done for Israel.
For instance, said Chouake, three years ago Israel’s economy was in shambles because of the intifada and a sag in tourism. Israel wanted to build a defense perimeter, but it had no money. DeLay at the request of Israel’s supporters, demanded an aid package for Israel that resulted in $9 billion in loan guarantees through the Iraq Supplemental Bill.
"You have no idea. It really is an amazing help to have someone like that in power," said Chouake. Do you realize what he could get done with a phone call?"
And because of DeLay’s willingness to wield his power in Israel’s favor, NORPAC and its leaders publicly stood by the Texas Republican as his legal problems mounted. It continued to stand by him despite allegations of campaign funds improperly gained and appropriated and despite a Sept. ‘8 indictment in Texas on charges that he conspired in ’00’ to use some of that money to redistrict Texas’ political map. After the indictment, DeLay was forced by congressional rules to step down temporarily from his House Majority Leader post until he was cleared.
While NORPAC stuck only to supporting DeLay’s campaign efforts, a number of local NORPAC members contributed heavily to DeLay’s legal defense fund, according to a report released by the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan watchdog group that keeps an eye on congressional money. According to that report, the congressman raised $177,000 for his legal fund in the third quarter of ‘005, from 7’ private donors. Of those, 33 came from the New York-New Jersey area, and nearly $30,000 came from ” donors in Bergen County.
"It’s a big number," said CRP’s executive director Larry Noble of the size of DeLay’s legal fund. "But he was a party leader at the time."
Noble said, in a telephone interview, that money for such defense funds often comes from a politician’s reaching out to individual donors or through private fund-raising events.
Off-the-record sources said that DeLay has held private fund-raisers in the New York area, which Chouake confirmed, but he declined to discuss them. "There have been private events," he said, "and they are private."
But while NORPAC members may have been at the events, the organization is no longer supporting DeLay because, after disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, with whom DeLay has been tied, pleaded guilty last week to charges of mail fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy charges, DeLay announced that he would not try to regain his position as the House Majority Leader.
"He’s done," said Chouake of DeLay’s days of getting huge support from his organization. " He’s finished as majority leader, so basically in terms of our issue [he’s lost his power]."
There had been rumors that local Jews had started a legal fund for Abramoff, who identifies as an Orthodox Jew, but those rumors were privately debunked. And Chouake said that he had not heard of any private fund-raising events for the lobbyist. "It’s not like he was doing his lobbying for the greater good of the community," he said. "Everyone seems pretty upset with him. Frankly I think his activity has been very unhelpful."
As for now, NORPAC is waiting to see who will fill the power void left by DeLay, and its members are hoping that it is someone who will be as strong a supporter of Israel as DeLay was.
"This is a guy who stuck his neck out for Israel," said Chouake, "whatever you think of his politics."