On somber day, DeLays spirits raised by pro-Israel groups support

washington | Just hours after Tom DeLay stepped aside as a Republican leader because of his indictment in a campaign finance scandal, he walked into a standing ovation from people who think the Texan’s views on money, demographics and borders are just fine.

Just fine when it comes to the Middle East, that is.

“We love you Tom!” screamed supporters at the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a pro-Zionist group that hosted a conference in Washington this week.

The Republican majority leader’s temporary resignation Wednesday, Sept. 28, embittered not just the network of corporate and social conservatives whose causes he forcefully championed, but also the pro-settler lobby in the United States.

“Tom DeLay has been a friend of Israel through thick and thin, and we are pleased and proud to welcome him this evening as a friend of Israel,” Rabbi Yehiel Eckstein, the IFCJ founder, said in introducing DeLay.

“You’re choking me up here,” DeLay responded.

In a Congress generally regarded as overwhelmingly pro-Israel, DeLay stood out for extending those sympathies to Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, even standing with them against Israel’s government.

Jewish leaders were stunned this summer when DeLay told a closed meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that instead of relinquishing the Gaza Strip, Israel by biblical rights should be expanding its territory.

Gary Bauer, a onetime Republican presidential candidate who helped organize the IFCJ event this week, persuaded DeLay not to cancel his scheduled appearance despite the indictment, telling the congressman he would receive a much-needed warm welcome. He did.

“So how was your day?” he said to laughter and applause. “Thank you for allowing me to come under the present circumstances.

The charges against DeLay are based on accusations that he played a role in circumventing a Texas law that bans the use of corporate money in state elections. The prosecutor in the case, a Democrat, alleges that corporate money funded a Republican victory in the Texas legislature in 2002. The legislature re-drew the congressional map in Texas in the 2004 elections, consolidating the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives with an additional five seats.

DeLay told the IFCJ audience he would fight the charges. “I fear no evil, the truth is on my side, and make no mistake, justice will be served,” he said to applause.

Minutes later, he again cast events in biblical terms as he described the fight against terrorism that he said Israel and the United States share, and added that the battle requires “setting aside personal inconvenience and adversity and recovering from our setbacks.”

DeLay opposed the $300 million the Bush administration succeeded in pushing through Congress for Palestinian aid this year, and he was behind the rigorous oversight that is slowing its disbursement.

“He wasn’t simply a guy who would vote for aid or a pro-Israel resolution,” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, which took the lead in trying to rally opposition in the United States to Israel’s evacuation of Jewish settlers from Gaza this summer. “He cared about Israel in every fiber of his being. He was a very strong supporter of the belief that God gave this land to the Jews and this was the Jews’ land. He was one of the few congressmen to be concerned about giving Gaza away.”

Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the majority whip replacing DeLay for now, also supports Israel. DeLay is keeping his seat in Congress and says he expects to return to his leadership post by December.

Ron Kampeas

Ron Kampeas is the D.C. bureau chief at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.