Americans in Israel set up PAC as voice in US election
The political action committee, that oddly American political animal, has come to Israel. And the fact that the first known PAC outside American soil has put down its roots here emphasizes - especially in a United States election year - Israel's uniquely intimate outlook on the US political system.
Officially, Israel is never so nearly silent on US political developments as during an American election year.
This seems doubly true now, when US-Israeli ties have recovered from strains over the war in Lebanon to enter what Israel's Premier Yitzhak Shamir termed during last November's US visit one of their ''finest hours.''
US military and economic aid to Israel has reached a record level -more than between the Americans and Israelis and even negotiations on a ''free-trade'' accord at a time when Israel's strapped economy is hungry for export earnings.
As one newspaper here put it, Israeli politicians in a US election year fear being ''accused of interference in the American political process'' and thus sparking anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic backlash in the US.
The fear is cemented by an abiding White House concern that the close American ties to Israel may inflict irrevocable damage on US relations with even moderate states in the Arab world.
One of the Americans' traditional Arab friends, Jordan's King Hussein, sounded off recently at what he suggested was US policy subservience to ''Israeli dictates.''
Thus, Israel has generally steered clear of this year's American campaign.
The Israelis are aware of, and clearly pleased with, the ceaseless activity of pro-Israeli lobby and campaign groups in the US. To many Arabs, the lobbying represents nothing short of a ''Zionist'' conspiracy. To Israel, it is simply a facet of democratic participation by a segment of the US electorate that is especially united, committed, active, and politically aware.
The Israelis themselves have been taking a low profile on US campaign issues from candidate Jesse Jackson's anti-Semitic remarks, to candidate Ronald Reagan's decision to send new antiaircraft missiles to Saudi Arabia. A small group of Americans here did, however, proclaim the slogan ''Ruin, Jesse, Ruin'' and form a group called Jews Against Jackson.
Even on the question of moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, Israeli officials have stayed purposefully on the sidelines - even as the two leading Democratic presidential hopefuls, Walter Mondale and Gary Hart, vied publicly to see who could sound more ''pro-Israeli'' on the question in the run-up to April's New York primary.
The Israeli government knew the White House was fully committed to keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv, and out of the disputed holy city that Israel has declared its capital. The decision was to avoid encouraging a US congressional showdown that would, without getting the embassy moved, still risk tainting Israeli-US ties.
''The embassy issue is one example of why we're forming our PAC,'' explains Newton Frolich, a former Washington lawyer who is spearheading the effort to bring together the estimated 50,000 US and dual US-Israeli citizens here. Mr. Frolich, who moved here eight years ago, says the PAC's first organizational session will come next week and that a mailing has already gone out to some 11, 000 American families in Israel.
He argues American residents here are in a unique position to see all the implications of questions like the embassy one.
''Many of us have been concerned about the strident (nature of the) issue of moving the embassy,'' he says. ''None of us is against moving the embassy. . . . But this is overdoing an issue, at a time when America has been so forthcoming (to Israel). There is a limit to how far friends can push each other. . . .''
Mr. Frolich says the new PAC, called the Americans in Israel Political Action Committee, is a way for Americans in Israel ''to keep making their contribution'' to the US political process. He foresees a main role for PAC members as meeting with US congressmen or other visitors to explain ''in a common language'' the facts of the Middle East conundrum.
''We are totally independent of the Israeli government,'' he volunteers. ''We have no ties . . . that would contradict the whole idea behind the PAC, which is for Americans here to contribute their own perspective, their eyes and ears,'' to US policymaking for the Mideast.