Jews support Clintons call to boost foreign aid

WASHINGTON — Before Warren Christopher left his post as secretary of state, he challenged the American Jewish community: Support President Clinton's quest to increase U.S. foreign aid.

The call came at a Jan. 13 luncheon with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in his honor.

"You are all aware of the dilemmas involved when a shrinking budget forces us to conduct a kind of diplomatic triage," Christopher said in his typical formal style. "That is why I ask you to continue your broad support for the resources we need to advance America's interests and uphold America's ideals."

U.S. officials regularly ask the Jewish community to support foreign aid. But this year, Clinton has made increasing foreign aid a priority, and Jewish groups are lining up to support his call.

When Clinton delivers his fiscal year 1998 budget to Congress next week, he will ask for at least $1 billion more for America's diplomacy, according to White House sources.

The United States will spend some $18.3 billion on international affairs this year, including more than $12 billion on foreign aid.

The increase would include more for the foreign aid budget as well as increased spending for U.S. missions, consulates and embassies.

Even before her confirmation last week, Madeleine Albright, the new secretary of state, echoed Christopher's call.

America cannot conduct its foreign policy "on the cheap," she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Supporting foreign aid is nothing new for the Jewish community.

Foreign aid has remained at the top of the Jewish legislative agenda since the 1978 Camp David Accords, which led to the Israel-Egypt peace treaty and launched billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Israel and Egypt.

Since the mid-1980s, Israel has received more than $3 billion a year in U.S. cash assistance. Israel receives $1.8 billion in military assistance, $1.2 billion in economic assistance and millions more to resettle refugees from the former Soviet Union.

Israel has also received U.S. guarantees on $10 billion in loans to aid in the resettlement of Jews from the former Soviet Union.

Besides Jewish groups' concern for maintaining aid to Israel, which could conceivably be threatened if overall spending were cut, they have also urged aid to Israel's peace partners — Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians.

Jewish groups look beyond the Middle East as well, and are concerned about assistance worldwide.

Overall, foreign aid has sustained a series of actual dollar-for-dollar cuts as well as a decrease in value as inflation has continued to increase.

Foreign affairs spending peaked in 1993 at $21.1 billion.

Since those cuts, aid to the Middle East accounts for half all foreign aid.

"These funds advance a vital U.S. interest and must be fully preserved," Chrisopher said. "But our aid to Israel, Egypt and Jordan will inevitably come under pressure, perhaps irresistible pressure, if other assistance programs continue to be decimated and if this imbalance grows."

Jewish groups have again joined with other foreign aid advocates. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee will lead the lobbying for the foreign aid bill.

Although foreign spending remains unpopular among many Americans, the Jewish community is not the only voice supporting increased spending.

A Brookings Institution task force and the Council on Foreign Relations recently released a report urging an additional $1 billion in foreign aid.

"The American people do not want to swap a budget deficit for a security deficit," said the report of the task force, which was led by former Reps. Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.) and Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.).

Among those backing the reports were Zbigniew Brzezinski, Alexander Haig, George Shultz, Brent Scowcroft and Cyrus Vance.