Jews call withholding U.N. dues blackmail

WASHINGTON — Jewish groups that back abortion rights are criticizing congressional Republicans who tied restrictive abortion language to the payment of U.N. dues — and chiding President Clinton for agreeing to the deal.

While the groups said they want the United States to pay nearly $1 billion in back dues so it can avoid losing its vote in the U.N.'s General Assembly, they argued that it should not come at the expense of family planning programs.

"The president has capitulated to a small minority of conservative lawmakers who for three years have held hostage this country's global leadership and women's health worldwide," said Bonnie Lipton, the national president of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America.

Jan Schneiderman, national president of the National Council of Jewish Women, described the efforts of Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) to attach the restrictive language to the repayment of the U.N. dues as "political blackmail" and said her group is "deeply disappointed that the administration allowed a small group of representatives to hijack U.N. funding in the name of their radical policy objectives."

Under the deal reached Sunday between Congress and the White House, Congress will approve nearly $1 billion in back dues to the United Nations, and Clinton will accept language barring family planning groups that receive U.S. aid from using their own money to perform abortions or advocate abortion rights.

While Clinton is accepting the language of the restrictions, he is expected to invoke a waiver that will nullify them.

If he does this, the administration will face a $12 million penalty to be cut from the $385 million budgeted for international family planning. While the waiver will block the restrictions, the agreement marks the first time the provision was written into law.

In 1984, President Reagan issued an executive order barring international family planning groups from receiving grants if they advocated for abortion rights. In 1993, Clinton reversed that directive and some Republicans, led by Smith, have sought to write Reagan's order into law.

Since the language is an annual appropriations bill, it will expire Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

The American Jewish Congress said it will work to make sure the language is not included in another piece of legislation next year.

"It is unconscionable that our government was put in such an untenable and offensive position in the first place," the group said in a statement. "And it would be a travesty if this agreement becomes permanent. We intend to do what we can to ensure that this agreement has no more that a 10-month longevity."

Former Sen. Bill Bradley, who is running against Vice President Al Gore for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, criticized the deal.

Gore said that while he does not like the restrictions, he understands Clinton's decision.