Jewish groups fight over congress vote

AIPAC and other Jewish groups pressure congress over anti-Hamas bill.

rice to aipac 298 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
rice to aipac 298 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
While the US House of Representatives is getting ready to vote on the bill limiting aid to the Palestinian Authority, Jewish groups are sending mixed messages to members of Congress regarding the bill. The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) circulated a memo on Monday among congressmen in favor of the bill, known as the Palestinian anti-terrorism act of 2006. Under the headline "Vote Yes," AIPAC leaders wrote: "We strongly support this legislation and urge you to vote for it". In the memo, AIPAC answers "frequently asked questions" about the bill and tries to address concerns about the language the bill uses on issues of humanitarian aid, ties with moderate Palestinians and US policy toward the PA. "The goal of this legislation is not to punish the Palestinian people but to make clear that the United States will not support a Palestinian government seeking the destruction of Israel," the memo states as a response to the question of whether the proposed bill punishes the Palestinians for electing Hamas in January. Jennifer Cannata, a spokeswoman for AIPAC, said that the organization "sent out the memo as a resource to members of Congress and [their] staffers on the legislation." In an unusual move, the memo was countered Tuesday by a memo sent to congressmen by another Jewish group - Americans for Peace Now. The APN letter takes on AIPAC's answers one by one and claims they do not reflect correctly the language of the legislation which members of congress are expected to vote upon. "Unfortunately, the AIPAC 'FAQs' sheet contains a number of serious inaccuracies and misrepresentations about the bill and its potential impact," APN's letter reads. Lewis Roth, assistant executive director of the organization, acknowledged that it was unusual for one Jewish group to counter the opinions of another, but he stressed that "the stakes are so high" that the group decided to act. Other American Jewish groups known for their dovish approach are also lobbying Congress against the proposed language of the anti-Hamas legislation. The Israel Policy Forum sent an e-mail to Congress members urging them to vote against the bill in its current version, and Brit Tzedek v'Shalom sent a similar letter to the lawmakers, in addition to asking its 34,000 members to mobilize against the bill. Israel is not directly involved in the debate, though it has voiced support for the principles of not providing funds to Hamas and demanding that Hamas adhere to the requirements of the international community, while also supporting prevention of a humanitarian crisis in the PA territories. Israel has not called for cutting off all aid to the Palestinians, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was quoted Wednesday as supporting the Quartet's decision to form a mechanism through which funds can be channeled to the Palestinians. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to discuss the issue of aiding the Palestinians when he speaks to both houses of Congress in two weeks. He will also meet with a group of Jewish leaders while in Washington. The anti-Hamas bill is expected to be brought to a vote next week, after passing a procedural hurdle in the House Judiciary Committee. The administration is trying to modify the bill before the vote and favors a more moderate version, similar to one which was introduced in the Senate.