AIPACs new lobbyist sees foreign aid as top concern

WASHINGTON — David Gillette brings an interesting perspective from the other side of the Washington lobbying battles to his new job as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's senior lobbyist.

Gillette's last job before coming to AIPAC — excluding the time he took off to care for his baby twin daughters — was deputy assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs. Gillette coordinated the State Department's discussion with the Senate concerning legislation on Middle East, arms control and security issues.

Gillette, 37, also spent two years learning the inner workings of Capitol Hill as a top aide to then-Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), who was appointed the Democrats' chief deputy whip after the 1992 elections. He also spent a year as staff director for Chris Dodd, the Democratic National Committee general chair and the senior senator from Gillette's home state of Connecticut.

With his new job at AIPAC, Gillette is coming full circle. He started his career in Washington in 1988 at the pro-Israel lobby.

"All along I knew what really moved me was Israel and the Jewish community," Gillette said during a recent interview. "I knew at some point I would get back into trying to combine my love of politics and my sense of responsibility for Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship."

Gillette enjoyed his job at the State Department, but the intense work schedule and the birth of his daughters made him rethink how he wanted to spend his working hours.

"Having kids, you sort of reassess a little bit," he says. "If you're going to spend time away from your kids, you want it to be for something you really, really care about."

Gillette, who lives in Arlington, Va., says much of his time and energy will be focused on lobbying for foreign aid.

Despite Israel's recent proposal to reduce the total amount of U.S. foreign aid it receives each year from $3 billion to $2.4 billion over the next 10 to 12 years, Gillette says that "there are still going to be battles every year" to secure the needed funding for Israel.

Foreign aid "will remain the paramount issue, and it's the most tangible evidence of the U.S.-Israel relationship," he says.

Gillette believes Israel's proposal to phase out the $1.2 billion in economic aid and increase military aid from $1.8 billion to $2.4 billion will deflect pressure coming from some lawmakers who believed the aid was being seen as an "entitlement." However, the move could subject the aid program to further scrutiny.

"As soon as you move to another number, it just invites people to look at the program and say, `Is this aspect of the program working? Is this aspect not working?'" he says. "I think it's going to have to be carefully managed. I don't see huge problems, but it's an issue that will exist that hasn't existed to the same extent."

AIPAC also will continue to press the Clinton administration on the issue of Russian transfers of missile technology to Iran.

The Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act, which would sanction Russian firms that have provided missile technology to Iran, already has passed the House and has more than 80 co-sponsors in the Senate. The Senate will take up the measure in early April.