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The Arab-Israeli Battle on Capitol Hill

ISSUE:  Spring 1976

FOR informed Americans, the long-standing and intimate involvement of the United States in the Middle East provokes a sense of déjà vu with each new headline. Clashes, accords, peacekeeping, negotiations, commitments, and the locations—Sinai, Suez, Golan, Cairo, Jerusalem, etc. —have all become familiar through repetition. A recurring theme throughout has been the emphasis on America’s alliance with Israel. Over the years, Israel has always managed to retain its special friendship with the U.S., despite the attempts of several administrations to espouse policies of “evenhandedness” or to conduct “reassessments.”

There are quite a few reasons for this friendship, but some have attributed it, in varying degrees, to the success of the “Jewish lobby.” A notable example of this view was expressed in 1974 by General George S. Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “It (The Jewish lobby) is so strong, you wouldn’t believe it now,” Brown said. “We have the Israelis coming to us for equipment. We say we can’t possibly get the Congress to support a program like that. They say “Don’t worry about the Congress. “” He also charged that Jews controlled the banks and newspapers in the United States, a charge promptly and properly rebutted. Yet even some of the general’s most vehement critics, including a few U.S. Jewish leaders, admitted the presence of an effective pro-Israel lobby on Capitol Hill. They pointed out, however, that pressure groups of all kinds are, after all, a part of the American political process, and even an integral and healthy aspect of any democratic system.

Traditionally, the bastion of pro-Israel sentiment has been the Congress. There has been a consistent line of congressional support for a Jewish state ever since 1922 when a joint resolution was adopted favoring the Balfour Declaration. On Jan. 27, 1944, Congress passed another resolution declaring:

“Resolved that the United States shall use its good offices and take appropriate measures to the end that the doors of Palestine shall be opened for free entry of Jews into that country, and that there shall be full opportunity for colonization, so that the Jewish people may ultimately reconstitute Palestine as a free and democratic Jewish commonwealth.”

Today, Israel’s congressional supporters often number more than 70 in the Senate and a clear majority of the House, in many cases, up to two thirds of the membership. And, periodically, the Congress demonstrates its support of Israel in some unusually vigorous ways. For instance, during the months of reassessment of U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East by the Ford Administration, 76 Senators wrote a letter to the President, insisting that he should “make it clear” this country “stands firmly with Israel.”


The Jewish lobby in Washington is identifiable through the activities of a number of organizations and individual lobbyists. One such lobbyist is Hyman Bookbinder, the Washington representative for the American Jewish Committee, a group concerning itself with the status and security of Jews all over the world and officially non-Zionist (although there are many Zionists among its 43,000 members). David Brody represents the 53-year-old Anti-defamation League of B’nai B’rith, whose official function is to seek out and repulse what it considers opinion hostile to Jewish values. Herman Endelberg is active for the B’nai B’rith International Council. Olya Margolin speaks for the National Council of Jewish Women and Lawrence Rubin for the American Jewish Congress. Others who have represented the pro-Israel view in the Capitol have been Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Orthodox rabbis, and other Jewish groups.

But the foremost voice for Israel on Capitol Hill is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a Jewish umbrella organization. Indeed, I. L. (Si) Kenen, AIPAC’s leader until his retirement in April 1975, was often called Washington’s “chief lobbyist” for Israel. Kenen, long an active Zionist, began working with AIPAC at its inception in 1951. Kenen’s legislative assistant, David Wollack, works as AIPAC’s other registered lobbyist.

AIPAC, which is supported by contributions and the dues of its 15 to 20,000 members, engages in a typical assortment of lobbying activities and also publishes the weekly, pro-Israel newsletter Near East Report, which is mailed to 27,000 subscribers and sent free to all members of Congress, embassies, and leading opinion-makers (even the CIA receives four copies). This newsletter is often used as source material by members of Congress. In fact, congressmen, senators, and their aides call upon AIPAC to draft speeches and for other research assistance.

In comparison with other lobbies, AIPAC is rather unique. Its main mode of operation involves telephoning certain congressmen and senators (or their key staff liaisons)—those who make up Israel’s rostrum of favorable votes and supporters. Kenen’s personal approach was low-key, and often he was actually sought out by lawmakers to give his viewpoint. This personal relationship, usually with the legislator himself on a first name basis, gives AIPAC an image somewhat different from that of the hard sell lobby. AIPAC keeps voting records, knows its supporters, and works from there. Staff contact on the Senate side is especially good.

AIPAC’s highly organized, intensive, but low-key lobbying strategy partly explains Israel’s broadly based congressional support. This support is bipartisan, has a wide geographical base, and runs the ideological gamut from the conservative John Tower to George McGovern. The main reason for AIPAC’s success, in Kenen’s view, has been its policy of dealing with Congress, rather than the White House or State Department: “Congress has been our great strength. I don’t say that (it) determines the policy, but it makes it a whole lot easier for the Administration to make a decision.”

The wide-ranging support for Israel can perhaps be explained further by a brief analysis of the underlying predispositions held by many on Capitol Hill: 1) the image of Israel as David against a Goliath of many Arab states; 2) Israel as a democratic and egalitarian bastion in the midst of autocracy; 3) the socio-cultural linkage between Israel and the West, especially this country; 4) conservatives in particular may accept the necessity of keeping Israel strong to counter “radical” Arab governments and the presence of the Soviet Union in the Middle East; 5) the acceptance of Jews as a productive, “positive” American ethnic group; 6) the fear of being labeled an “anti-Semite”; 7) the feelings of guilt or sympathy arising from the memories of the Nazi persecution of Jews, and 8) the need to make good on an “American commitment.”

The feelings of many congressmen generally reflect the sentiments of much if not most of the American public. Americans continued to support the Israelis during and after the Yom Kippur War, reflecting the same basic pattern of support for them that existed in 1967, 1969, and 1970: about 50 per cent sympathetic to Israel, less than 10 per cent sympathetic to the Arabs, the rest uncommitted or opinionless, according to Gallup surveys. (It must be noted here, however, the public, worried about a superpower confrontation in the Mideast and reflecting a neo-isolationism resulting from the Vietnam experience, opposed sending weapons to Israel by a 7—5 margin.)

Favorable reaction to the Arab cause is notably less widespread. Sympathy exists for the plight of Palestinian refugees, especially among religious organizations, but the task of fund raising has been extremely difficult. There has been a reassessment of U.S. Mid-East policy among some academics and some students of the New Left. Finally, the Arab cause has been espoused by some black militants. But these narrowly based sectors of the public have had little cumulative effect on government policy. In sum, it would appear that pro-Israel lobbying has basically acted to strengthen pre-existing attitudes, especially since the opposing viewpoint has not been so thoroughly represented.


Some members of Congress have so consistently supported Israel that they have become recognized as “champions of the Jewish cause.” Abraham Ribicoff, Jacob Javits, Henry Jackson, and, to a lesser extent, Hubert Humphrey have become identified with Jewish issues in the Senate. In the House, Jonathan B. Bingham of New York and Charles A. Vanik of Ohio have been active supporters of Israel and other Jewish causes. These men work “out front” to win votes.

The real organizers and directors of Jewish efforts on Capitol Hill, however, are certain key staffers in the offices of these members, Richard N. Perle (aide to Jackson), Morris L. Amitay (aide to Ribicoff), and Albert A. Lakeland (aide to Javits) have spearheaded activity on the Senate side. Another leader during the last Congress was Mark Talisman, aide to Representative Vanik.

The coordinated effort of these staff people results in the passage of key legislation. For example, Perle, Amitay, Lakeland, and Richard Gilmore of Senator Humphrey’s staff first discussed and drafted “the Jackson Amendment” which linked a liberalization of Soviet emigration policies to American trade concessions. Throughout this process, they kept in close touch with Kenen and Gerry Goodman, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (an umbrella group ‘composed of 34 national Jewish organizations and at least 200 local Jewish agencies).

Popular pressure began to build on individual senators and congressmen after August 1971, when the imposition of heavy taxes on Soviet Jews wishing to emigrate caused a sense of outrage among U.S. Jewry. On September 26 about 120 leaders of Jewish organizations met in Washington to endorse the Jackson Amendment in principle. Calls began going out to stir up support and in the next week senators reported receiving 20 to 30 letters a day and visits or phone calls from Jews in their constituencies who had played an active role in their campaigns.

By early October 1972, the amendment had gathered 32 co-sponsors. This number notably excluded Senator Jacob Javits (R-NY), who questioned the harsh language of the amendment and feared it might jeopardize negotiations with the U.S.S.R. After meeting with Gilbert Klaperman, head of the New York Chapter of the Conference on Soviet Jewry, and further deliberations, a wording of the amendment finally acceptable to Javits was adopted. As an example of the power which Javits’s Senate leadership brings to the Jewish cause, when the Senator signed the amendment, he brought in no less than 30 other colleagues as co-sponsors. When the co-sponsorship later reached 76, more than two thirds of the Senate, Jackson introduced the amendment on the Floor.

In 1972 no effort was made to gather support in the House of Representatives. In January of the following year, however, I. L. Kenen sent letters to approximately 1,000 Jewish leaders across the country. Included in this letter was a listing of the 144 representatives who had co-sponsored the House version of the Jackson Amendment. Kenen urged the Jewish leaders to contact those local congressmen who might not have signed. One aspect of AIPAC’s power is its ability to use the organization’s extensive mailing list, compiled over the years, to back up its Washington efforts with the “snowballing” effect of grass roots support.

Mark E. Talisman was instrumental in calling upon all the representatives to co-sponsor the measure. When, in February, 238 names had been gathered (more than a majority of the House), Wilbur Mills agreed to act as chief sponsor. Obviously, to gain the support of the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee was a politically astute move. This “movement” on the part of both Houses, enabled the Congress to pursue a certain foreign policy objective which, contrary to the usual pattern, actually originated in the legislative branch. The official position of the administration was that the emigration question was an internal problem, and administration officials expressed concern that the confrontation implied by the Jackson Amendment could complicate the whole movement toward improved American-Soviet relations, the keystone of Nixon’s foreign policy. In the end, though, the administration was forced to accept Congress’s stipulation that U.S. trade concessions be linked to the free emigration of Soviet minorities. The aftermath of the Trade Bill is well-known: a rebuff from Moscow and a sharp decline in Soviet-American commercial interaction.


As one senator later put it: “Why did so many senators sign? There’s no political advantage in not signing. If you do sign, you don’t offend anyone. If you don’t, you might offend some Jews in your state.” This view pinpoints the underlying strength of the Jewish political effort: America’s 5.9 million Jewish people—and the regularity and conscientiousness of their vote. Moreover, many Jews are dependable and large campaign contributors to both congressional and presidential elections, a fact noted by a Western senator who said there were only one or two thousand Jews in his state, “but they all contribute to my campaign.” Some members support their causes even though they have virtually no Jewish constituents. One example, Senator Gale McGee of Wyoming, who consistently takes a pro-Israel stance and was awarded the “Torch of Liberty Award” of B’nai B’rith in 1966, comes from a state with almost no Jewish population. With no important “Arab vote” in the United States, the political cost of such a pro-Israel position is, of course, nearly non-existent. Others, such as Senator Jacob Javits, have large, vocal Jewish constituencies represented by such organizations as the American Jewish Congress, the Zionists of America, AIPAC (whose satellite office is in New York City), the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, and numerous smaller organizations.

Jews in America have usually been called upon to rally congressional backing for Israel when faced with threatening diplomatic shifts by the executive branch. One is reminded of the reaction to the “evenhandedness” policy of former Secretary of State William Rogers, In a speech on Dec. 9, 1969, Rogers’s call for a “balanced approach” to a Middle East settlement and the deferral of a sale of 24 additional Phantom jets to Israel prompted widespread action. On December 24, the Israeli government, through its Washington embassy, circulated a nine-page attack on the proposals to every member of Congress. The communication complained that U.S. Mid-East policy had undergone an “abrupt reversal”.

American Jewish organizations charged that the U.S. was “abandoning Israel.” The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (an umbrella for 24 separate groups) sponsored a “national emergency meeting” of about 1,000 delegates in Washington, and launched a lobbying effort within Congress, the White House, and the Department of State. From January 24 through 26 more than half of these delegates advanced on the offices of legislators, each armed with a four-page “summary of argument” provided by Si Kenen. They also carried a tally sheet to be returned to Kenen, recording the congressional response. About 230 members of Congress met with their Jewish constituents (although most had previously gotten the message). One result of these efforts was a cascade of speeches and “Sense of Congress” resolutions supporting the Israeli government’s position of “direct, unhampered negotiations between Israel and the Arabs.” About 300 representatives and 70 senators joined in the show of support.

Meanwhile, the State Department, which viewed the attack as a deliberate attempt to misinterpret U.S. Mid-East policy to the Congress and the American public, published a “white sheet” to “clarify the misunderstandings of the U.S. position that appeared in the press and elsewhere.” Nixon turned down the request “on an interim basis,” but not without dispatching Max Fisher (a Detroit industrialist who gave more than $107,000 to Republican candidates in 1968) to explain to Jewish leaders around the country that the decision had been based on Israeli intelligence reports of superiority vis-a-vis the Arabs and to reassure them of American support should Israel really need more arms. But congressional pressure mounted, and on June 1, the Secretary of State received a letter, requesting that the U.S. supply 25 F-4 Phantoms and 100 Skyhawk fighter-bombers, signed by 73 senators of various backgrounds and persuasions. The administration ultimately, on November 18, requested $500 million under the Defense Procurement Act to grant Israel credits for the purchase of aircraft and other military equipment, a flow of arms which was to continue until June of 1971, when its cutoff prompted a new wave of appeals from Congress.

Nevertheless, congressional pressure alone did not cause the administration to reject the Rogers Plan. Of great importance was the unfolding of events such as the military build-up and direct operational role taken by the Soviets in Egypt in response to Israeli deep-penetration raids. Still, the role of Congress as an advocate of the Israeli position and the ultimate source of appropriations cannot be dismissed, since it is an integral piece of the Mid-East policy puzzle and acts as a powerful political barometer.

Once again, during the most recent period of policy review, the 1975 “reassessment,” Congress played the role of Israel’s advocate. In a show of support, the Senate voted 68 to 22 to extend until 1977 U, S. credit authority for Israel’s purchase of American military supplies, despite the administration’s suspension of weapons commitments during these months. In May, a letter signed by 76 senators urged the President to “be responsive to Israel’s urgent military and economic needs.” Sponsors of the letter, which indicated that “the basis of the current reassessment of U.S. policy in the Middle East” should be that the U.S. “stand firmly with Israel,” had no difficulty in finding signatures.

A foundation stone for the promotion of the Israeli cause in this country is its embassy which is considered among the best run in Washington. The ambassador’s role is of special importance. Yitzhak Rabin, during his stint in Washington, made maximum use of this position. Rabin, who as Armed Forces Chief of Staff during the Six Day War acquired a type of hero image, toured the country tirelessly averaging about a dozen public appearances a week. Instead of giving large parties as the Arab embassies did, Rabin would invite a few well-placed senators or administration officials to his embassy for a quiet dinner, “That’s the way you really get things done,” said one congressional observer, Furthermore, Rabin was able to establish a direct channel of communication to the White House and developed a close relationship with Henry Kissinger.

The Israeli ambassador is backed up by an embassy staff which distributes a stream of publications. After each important event, a “pink sheet” giving the Israeli viewpoint is mailed to thousands of leading Americans. Businessmen, members of Congress, government officials, and Jewish leaders are on this mailing list. There are booklets on more than 30 special subjects, such as archeology, a “Land of the Bible” newsletter for clergymen, even comic books for children. In addition, free trips are offered to many, such as public officials, newsmen, civic leaders.

The most sensitive issue regarding the Mid-East lobbies concerns the extent to which American Jewish organizations might be controlled by the Israeli Embassy. Lobbyists Kenen and Brody downplay the role of the embassy, particularly with regard to the operation of their own organizations. But the best summation of this relationship was set forth by a Washington lawyer with ties to the embassy who recently noted: “. . .over the years I have seen the attitudes that are subtly expressed by (embassy) staff members conveyed with electric rapidity throughout the Jewish community.” On questions of Mid-East policy there is often what can be called a “coincidence of interests” between broad sections of the U.S. Jewish community and Israel, and there is no need for blatant string-pulling by the latter. AIPAC and other Jewish organizations read the same signs as the Israeli government and act on them, primarily to apply pressure to Congress, while the White House and State Department may best be approached through direct diplomatic contact.


In the battle for public favor, Arab supporters have conceded that the pro-Israel lobby has the upper hand. Pro-Arab sentiment in this country is more ideologically dispersed than pro-Israel opinion—the hard line coming from student groups allied with the New Left and minority groups, mostly black. The existence of these mere “pockets of opinion” underscores the basic failure of the Arabs to gain favor in the U.S. One reason for this failure has been the geographical and cultural dispersion of Americans of Arab descent, who represent many different nationalities. Furthermore, the 1.6 million Arab-Americans, (more than 90 per cent of whom are Christians), are relatively less visible in American life than the more “close-knit,” articulate community of roughly 6 million Jewish-Americans.

One of the most conspicuous aspects of the lopsided nature of Arab-Jewish “power” is the disparity in the amount of money each group has been able to channel toward Middle East efforts. This point especially speaks for the cohesiveness of the Jewish community, which has a highly developed communal charity system and a record of giving generously to Israel, For example, during the October 1973 War, the network of Jewish philanthropic organizations raised more than $130 million in only five days. Arab-Americans, on the other hand, fewer in number and less passionately tied to the cause, raise “very humble” amounts, according to one of their leaders.

The absence of a cohesive Arab national appeal does not imply a total lack of ethnic consciousness. Americans of Arab heritage belong to about 500 clubs and associations, 220 Eastern Rite churches and mosques, and 110 student organizations—all mainly local, small-scale groups dealing with social/cultural interests, or, on the other hand, academic or student organizations, such as Arab-American University Graduates, Inc. But since these groups have not been united or oriented toward political action, there has been a notable absence of pro-Arab activity on a national level.

This situation may now be changing. State Department officials have reported an increase in letters critical of U.S. backing of Israel. The energy crisis and the October war appear to have caused some anti-Israeli feeling among Americans. But the political activity of Arab-Americans and Arab residents of this country goes back to the 1967 war. Since then, “the overdefamation of the Arabs by Zionists has been too violent,” according to Frank Marra of the National Association of Arab-Americans. And, of course, increased hostility in the Mid-East means danger to the families of many Americans of Arab descent.

Probably the oldest “politically active” group has been the Action Committee on American Arab Relations, founded in 1964 by Dr. M. T. Mehdi. ACAAR engages in picketing and other pro-Arab demonstrations, court actions in the defense of Arab . rights, FCC complaints alleging pro-Israel bias, and other activity such as coining the expression “anti-Gentileism” to refer to the prejudices of Jews towards Gentiles, as anti-Semitism covers the reverse attitude. Although Mehdi claims that ACAAR membership numbers about 50,000 (60 per cent Americans of Arab origin), many describe the organization as a one-man operation. Mehdi concentrates little on Washington (neither he nor the committee is registered for lobbying activity with the Clerk of the House) and runs no advertisements in American newspapers. Rather, he travels across the country making personal appearances and working against politicians whom ACAAR opposes.

Of Washington-based groups, several varieties exist. The American Near East Refugee Aid was created in 1968 to serve as a national coordinating agency for the relief and rehabilitation of Palestinian refugees. Its chairman, John H. Davis, has been characterized by the New York Times as “probably the best-known American who is an outspoken supporter of the Arab cause.” ANERA is essentially a charitable organization, and the group’s president, John P. Richardson, forcefully denies any lobby activities. Richardson and his staff do, however, work on Capitol Hill, providing testimony before congressional hearings on “the human needs of the Palestinians.” This testimony often includes what AIPAC calls “anti-Israel bias”—mainly descriptions of Israeli offenses in the administration of occupied territories, American Friends of the Middle East provides another proArab voice in Washington, although it does not speak directly to Congress. Rather, the group sends liaison men to Arab countries, and most of its funds are used for manpower and development projects there. In the U.S., AFME counsels Arab students for admission to American universities, sponsors programs of Arab speakers before student, church, and civic groups, and conducts an active publications campaign which includes the monthly newsletter, Viewpoints. The prestigious Middle East Institute is the focal point for Mideastern affairs. It comes under frequent attack from AIPAC although this Washington organization is not a lobby by charter or by virtue of its activities and claims to maintain a high standard of scholarly objectivity. AIPAC charges anti-Israel bias despite MEI’s forceful denials and references to its charter, which explicitly forbids partisan activities,

Until recently, groups concerned with the Arab side have either focussed on a particular issue, e.g., the Palestinian refugee problem, or on more general activities (cultural, academic), while ACAAR, the only political body, has been ideologically and stylistically unpalatable to most Arab-Americans and virtually divorced from Washington politics. An effort was made, therefore, to compensate for the absence of an effective political action group on the national level with the establishment of the National Association of Arab-Americans in 1972, the first organization to appeal to Arabs as a nonsectarian group. The NAAA’s purpose is to work as an umbrella group for Arab-Americans unable to identify with extremist pro-Arab activists. The broad goals of the NAAA are: 1) to neutralize what is said to be a bias in the American government and media in favor of Israel, and 2) to attempt to prevent further U.S. military involvement in the Mideast and military aid for Mideastern countries. Not surprisingly, NAAA is especially eager to cut off military aid to Israel. In the long run, this relatively new group now holds the most potential interest for the Arab community. Working through conventional channels, the NAAA’s explicit purpose is to involve Americans of Arab extraction more actively in the U.S. political scene—especially professionals.

Frustrated by the strength of the highly organized and effective pro-Israel lobby, NAAA has launched an effort to make known the Arab point of view by: appearances before congressional committees, maintaining a dialogue with officials at the White House, State Department, and Department of Defense, monitoring of news media, talks before political clubs, and attempts to impress upon individual lawmakers (expecially those who do not have Jewish constituencies) that changes in Washington’s Middle East policy are imperative. With a current affiliated membership of about 200,000 across the country, NAAA is striving to provide the coordination for pro-Arab associations in cities with a significant number of Arab-Americans such as Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Boston. The goal is to become an umbrella organization for the 800 or so Arab-American groups in the U.S.

To counter the general predisposition in this country toward Israel, the NAAA tries to show that current U.S. aid-to-Israel policies are detrimental to the long range interests of the United States in the Middle East. For instance, on Oct. 25, 1973, members of both Houses of Congress received a flood of telegrams in opposition to the proposed $2.2 billion aid appropriation to Israel—these telegrams kept away from anti-Israel criticisms and instead cited concern about possible U.S. military intervention abroad as well as the argument that U.S. money ought to be used to help our own citizens at home, “No Vietnam in the Middle East” is a common theme. “We’re an all-American organization,” says Peter Tanous, NAAA’s founder, Another example of the NAAA’s political sophistication is that it explicitly declines to solicit funds for use in Arab lands. In fact, Tanous, president of NAAA at the time of the October War, spoke out to discourage donations, This was in marked contrast to the massive drive of the United Jewish Appeal. Tanous charged that the United Jewish Appeal would upset the country’s balance of payments by sending millions of tax-free dollars to Israel.

Some Arab leaders are encouraged by the slight rise in pro-Arab sympathy from 4 to 8 per cent between 1967 and 1975. Furthermore, a majority of Americans consistently oppose U.S. military involvement in the Middle East. Helen M. Haje, who singlehandedly manages NAAA’s Washington office on a full-time basis, noted a significant rise in inquiries for literature, plus growing membership files. But the major question remaining is, how is this intensification of activity affecting sentiment on Capitol Hill?

“About Arab lobbying on the Hill, there is no comparison with the Jewish effort,” says a congressional aide with the House International Relations Committee. “Only several of the Arab embassies make any direct contact, and as for Arab-American groups, their contact is on an arms-length basis— letter-writing, mailing flyers, and literature, no consistent personal meetings. If there’s a coordinated Arab effort, I don’t see it.” Arab leaders themselves concede that they have not been effective in changing the Congress’s views, blaming the overwhelmingly pro-Israeli sentiment in the United States and the division among their own ranks. Yet”, the efforts of the NAAA are giving rise to the first stirrings of change. Indeed, NAAA’s efforts have resulted in a direct meeting with the President. On June 26, 1975, an eleven-member delegation met with President Ford and Secretary Kissinger for almost an hour to press the viewpoint of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and call attention to Israeli “intransigence.” This session was viewed as a success, and the delegation left the White House praising Ford’s “fair and evenhanded approach.”

Realizing that Congress presents one of their foremost challenges, the NAAA has committed its support to those members who have endorsed its objectives of a “balanced approach” in the Middle East: for example, Oregon Republican Senator Mark Hatfield, South Dakota Democratic Senator James Abourezk, and Representatives Lee H. Hamilton (D-Indiana) and Paul Findley (R-Illinois). The most vocal Arab defender is Senator Abourezk, a first term senator and former House member. Abourezk often personally consults and aids advocates for the Arab cause. Abourezk also maintains close ties with Arab-American groups through speaking engagements. The senator received a great deal of publicity as a result of the $49,425 paid to him for 14 speeches delivered in 1973, all but $2,400 coming from Arab-American organizations. Abourezk increased his receipts from speaking engagements from $2,990 in 1972 to $49,425 because, he explained, as the first American of Lebanese descent to serve in the Senate, he found himself much “in demand” as a speaker for Arab-American functions.

The NAAA also maintains ties with the Arab embassies located in Washington. Delegates to an association political symposium were entertained at various Arab embassies. Contacts between pro-Arab groups and Middle East governments vary, however, by organization. In contrast, Mehdi’s Action Committee on American Arab Relations and the American Near East Refugee Aid group each report little contact with the embassies of Arab states. Mehdi, who, like other pro-Arab activists, has travelled extensively in the Mideast has observed: “The Arab governments are really not part of the 20th Century. They have hundreds of problems of their own . . . Hardly any of them have come to power as a result of elections and free campaigns. So they do not quite understand the need for spending money in America to change public opinion.”

There is a general consensus that the Arab embassies have indeed suffered from understaffing and generally a failure to understand the American mind. In the early 1970’s the Jordanian ambassador, Abdul Jamid Sharaf, who was educated at the American University in Beirut, was considered the most effective spokesman for the Arabs because he maintained a cool composure and argued on the basis of what was good for the United States. Now, in the mid-1970’s, the Arab embassies are increasing their public relations efforts, and therefore their effectiveness. The Egyptian embassy has established the most consistent personal relationships on Capitol Hill and follows hearings on a regular basis. Eleven members of the Egyptian Parliament travelled throughout the United States last April, and Egyptian President Sadat became the first Arab leader ever to address Congress last fall. The governments of Iraq and Saudi Arabia have launched advertising campaigns to outline their positions on Mideast issues, and the Omani, Jordanian, and Kuwaiti Embassies send out booklets and other literature.

The League of Arab States, a regional organization of 20 Arab nations, located in Cairo, maintains an Arab Information Center in Washington as well as in four other U.S. cities. Trie center’s $250,000 operating budget is financed by the Arab governments belonging to the league. Yet, despite the existence of this Washington office, an organized effort to keep in touch with Congress has been almost nonexistent. What handicapped the league for a number of years was a lack of professionals who understood American public relations and persuasion techniques. But this, too, is changing. The league engaged a U.S. public relations firm in 1974 to bring its case to the public. The information center distributes literature to a variety of Arab-American groups and to newspapers.

Furthermore, certain individuals are effectively propagating the Arab case. Lebanese editor Clovis Maksoud, a representative of the league, made a successful speaking tour from February through May 1974. He was in this country again in 1975, conducting a four-month speaking engagement which took him from coast to coast on behalf of the Arab League. And, because of his Capitol Hill contacts, Maksoud was able to arrange the historic November 1974 meeting between certain legislators and members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s delegation to the United Nations. Abdul Mawjoud Hassan, the Arab Information Center’s director, is one of the most authoritative agents working for the Arabs. Under his directorship, the league reprints favorable U.N. speeches. Hassan does not organize all-expenses-paid trips, but he does arrange for the hotel bills of visiting congressional members to be paid by host countries. Having been acquainted with the United States for two decades, Hassan now feels that time is on the Arab side in the campaign to woo American favor.


Foreign governments do not contribute financially to the NAAA. That association depends on the nondeductible contributions of U.S. citizens—either individual contributions for advertising or membership fees. Other organizations, on the other hand, receive a great deal of funding from business forces sympathetic to the Arabs—oil, banking, airline, and shipping industries. Oil interests, for example, are strong supporters of the American Friends of the Middle East, which, since its exposure as an indirect recipient of CIA funds, has cut its budget by more than one half. American Near East Refugee Aid also receives aid from oil and pharmaceutical companies. Gulf Oil donated $2.2 million to ANERA following the October War, an increase from the $10—15,000 which it had received before that time. In fact, the most heartening development for the Arab cause has been the concern expressed by businessmen and government officials worried about the $1.6 billion American investment in Middle East oil and the possibility that the United States might be forcing the Arabs into the arms of the Soviet Union. Since American oil companies have donated more than $9 million to various Arab groups over the past nine years, they would appear to be a potential counterforce to the pro-Israel lobby.

The Subcommittee on Multinational Corporations of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last year noted the activities of oil companies in promoting Arab interests. Testimony and memoranda presented by syndicated columnist Jack Anderson and executives of the Aramco oil consortium alluded to the actions of Aramco representatives in meeting with Undersecretary Joseph Sisco and other high officials of the State Department, White House, and Department of Defense. In these meetings, it was warned that American oil interests would be threatened if there was evidence of increased U.S. support for the Israeli position. It was disclosed that James Akins, U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, had sent a telegram to an Aramco official encouraging the companies to “use (their) contacts at highest levels of government to hammer home the point that oil restrictions are not going to be lifted unless the political struggle is settled in a manner satisfactory to the Arabs. Industry leaders should be careful to deliver this message in a clear unequivocal way so that there could be no mistake about the industry position . . .”

Not only were there private efforts on behalf of the Arab side—for example, on July 23, 1973, Otto N. Miller, chairman of Standard Oil Company of California, sent out a letter to stockholders and employees urging American support for Arab aspirations for peace and suggesting that the U.S. should work more closely with the Arab governments “to build and enhance our relations with the Arab people”—but there was also a move to emphasize the importance of Arab oil through the news media. Both SOCAL and Mobil initiated publicity campaigns which urged greater public understanding of the Arabs and support for their efforts to resolve the Middle East conflict. In June 1973 Mobil ran an advertisement entitled, “The U.S. Stake in Middle East Peace,” in newspapers across the country. Bob Dorsey, chairman of Gulf Oil, revealed that his company gave $50,000 for a program to promote U.S. “understanding” of the Arab side.

Many of the largest American oil companies are not shy about their direct interest in the political developments in areas which affect their operations. Speakers from both Aramco and Occidental appeared before the delegates to the NAAA symposium to discuss the role of Arab-Americans in the energy crisis. But the general complaint among many Arab-American groups is that these companies do not do enough. ANERA’s Richardson, for instance, complained that insurance, banking, and shipping interests which have strong ties to the Mideast “have shown extreme reluctance to contribute. . . . They work from this point: “How much is not giving going to hurt us?”“

There is, of course, a recognized “oil lobby,” although it is considered “cautious” in propounding the Arab viewpoint. Best known are lobbyists Frank Ikard, Peter W. Woofter, Jack Ware, and Tom Barksdale of the American Petroleum Institute and Aramco’s vice-president Mike J, Ameen, Jr. The API’s 1974 budget was $15.7 million. When asked why the oil lobby, since it was so strong, had not worked more actively on behalf of the Arabs, an Aramco official replied, “You’re talking to the converted. In fact, King Faisal said to us, “We’re asking you to stand up for your own interests. “”

Clearly, the oil companies are the most powerful domestic supporters of the Arab side in the “lobby war.” But their continued role depends on the internal developments of countries in that area—what power and interests the oil companies are allowed to keep in the Arab countries. Yet, when Richard Shadyac, vice-president of the NAAA proclaims, “The day of the Arab-American is here,” he also adds, “The reason is oil.” This is not to say that the Israelis have a monopoly on the “moral, idealistic” arguments; but given the overwhelmingly pro-Israeli American predispositions mentioned earlier and the fact that Jewish supporters are so successfully organized in comparison to pro-Arab groups, it seems unlikely at the present time that their position can be effectively challenged. For the moment, Arab sympathizers find it useful to stress to the American public the “self-interest” issues—oil, non-intervention, the need to cut spending.

Yet it is easy to attribute too much power to the Jewish lobby. After all, the lobby concentrates on Congress, and Congress is not preeminent in foreign policy decision-making. Ultimately, the White House and the top-level bureaucrats at the Departments of State and, to a lesser extent, Defense, play a more significant part in determining U.S. relationships with foreign powers, and this is especially important in Middle East policy. Prime examples of this were the “reassessment” interlude of 1975 and the orchestration of the Sinai Agreement by Henry Kissinger—both moves reflecting the decisions of the executive branch. And indeed, if the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. were as successful as it is sometimes believed, America would be even more heavily committed to Israel than it is, and there would be less of a tendency to give aid to the Arab side or to try to “balance” U.S. support to both sides. Furthermore, there would be less concern on the part of Israeli officials that the United States may sacrifice Israeli interests for Arab friendship. Given the energy squeeze, the no-more-Vietnams syndrome, the reluctance of Americans to sanction military intervention, and the increased “objectivity” of press coverage, the Arab side is optimistic. And if the NAAA succeeds in drawing together the different Arab groupings and molding them into a unified force, this may well present a future threat to the “influence gap” that AIPAC and the Jewish-American community have created over the years.


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