Baltimore Jewish Council has mixed success on Hill

September 22, 1991|By Tom Bowman

The same day President Bush portrayed himself as a "lonely little guy" faced with "powerful political forces," several dozen members of the Baltimore Jewish Council arrived on Capitol Hill to lobby members of the Maryland congressional delegation.

The state's two Democratic senators, Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, immediately announced their support for the loan guarantees during a meeting with the group. And Ms. Mikulski issued a press release the following day criticizing Mr. .. Bush for advocating a delay.

"The Bush administration should not capitulate to the Arabs' desire to attach conditions to self-help assistance," she said. "These loan guarantees should not be linked to anything."

But the group's efforts with the Maryland House delegation were less successful. While Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd, indicated his support, most members were either uncertain or opposed.

Representative Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st, the only member who said he backed the president, is also the only delegation member who has received no money during the last campaign -- or since then -- from a pro-Israel PAC. Ms. Mikulski, by contrast, received $10,000 from the PACs within the last four months.

"I will listen to our president as opposed to lobbyists," said Mr. Gilchrest.

But those in the Jewish community who came from Baltimore tried to avoid the impression that their effort was connected with one of the strongest lobbies on Capitol Hill.

From his 10th-floor vantage point on South Charles Street, Bill Engleman scoffed at speculation that he is a force in the halls of Congress.

"I don't consider myself part of the Israeli lobby," said Mr. Engleman, a lawyer and president of the Baltimore Jewish Council, an umbrella group of more than 45 organizations, from synagogues to civic and community groups.

"That's the greatest demonstration of what democracy is all about: private citizens going to lobby," he said, painting his group as Jewish Americans concerned about the security of Israel.

Still, Mr. Engleman acknowledged that the Jewish community was more organized than other ethnic groups.

"They are not professionals; they are citizens expressing their rights," said Art Abramson, executive director of the council, who was among the group that came to Washington. He also distanced his group from AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, the premier Washington lobby for Israeli issues.

Both men criticized the president for his remarks.

"I thought it was a low blow," said Mr. Engleman. "I feel that Bush is no real friend of Israel."

"The way he phrased it was we were ganging up on the poor president," said Mr. Abramson. "We know that is not the case."

Outside the Jewish Community Center on Park Heights Avenue in Mr. Cardin's district, there were some harsh words for Mr. Bush and support for the loan guarantees.

"Who the hell is Bush to tell Israel what to do and how to do it?" said Nat Schein of Baltimore, who said the loan guarantees should go through without delay.

Nancy Goldberg of Baltimore said that the United States pressed the Soviet Union to let Jews emigrate and now should offer the help. "I'm very pro-Bush giving the loans as promised," she said.

But in districts of other delegation members, there are questions about whether the U.S. government should guarantee the loans, which will require an unspecified amount of taxpayer money.

Representative Beverly B. Byron, D-Md.-6th, said she heard rumblings about the issue in her Western Maryland district. Some constituents wonder why Israel should receive help for housing loans when such assistance could be used for housing and other needs in the United States.

Mr. Gilchrest said some in his district were annoyed by the lobbying effort. "They don't like the Israelis' lobbying against the president. They also think they're being unreasonable," he said. "I think the lobbying could backfire; that's what I'm hearing out in the district."

And some interviewed outside the Jewish Community Center also wondered whether the lobbying was worth the divisiveness and hard feelings it may create.

"AIPAC should have stayed out of it," said David Cohen of Baltimore, fearing the perception that "Jews can pressure the American Congress."

"We could have called our senators individually," he said.

But Harold Walderman of Baltimore favors the delay in the loan guarantees, a view he knows is not shared by many in the community. He recalled his rabbi telling the congregation during Yom Kippur to press the loan guarantees with their representatives.

"We don't need the people to say, 'The Jews got Congress [to back their case].' Of course it will create more anti-Semitism," he said. "As a Jew I don't want to go against Bush. . . . The Israeli government will manage."

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