A group of prominent Jewish businessmen in Virginia, hoping to influence the state's congressional delegation, is forming a political action committee to back candidates who are supportive of Israel.
The group, which organizers hope will raise at least $100,000 for the 1984 elections, is the latest in a growing number of pro-Israeli PACs that have been formed around the country in recent years. In 1982, for example, newly formed Jewish and pro-Israeli PACs were credited with playing an instrumental role in several races, including the defeat of Rep. Paul Findley (R-Ill.), one of the few congressmen who had urged U.S. negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The new Virginia PAC, however, would be the first such group in a state where the Jewish community traditionally has been less politically organized than elsewhere. Many Jewish leaders say, moreover, they have been disappointed with some of the positions of the Virginia congressional delegation, particularly Republican Sen. John W. Warner's strong stand in favor of the 1981 sale of sophisticated AWACS radar planes to Saudia Arabia.
"If you think the Virginia congressional delegation has always taken a position favorable to Israel, you haven't done your homework," says Irving Blank, a Richmond lawyer and Republican contributor who has been active in the PAC's formation.
Warner press aide Irene Ford said this week that the senator's stance on the AWACS sale had brought him heavy criticism from the Jewish community. The new PAC, she said, would not cause him any concern nor would it affect his votes in the future.
"Senator Warner basically tries to do what he feels is in the best interests of this country," Ford said. "But I don't think anyone can say he's not been a supporter of Israel."
Although the idea has been discussed by Jewish leaders for some time, plans for the new PAC first crystallized during a political action seminar conducted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a Washington-based, pro-Israeli lobbying organization, at the Hyatt Hotel in suburban Richmond Sunday and attended by Gov. Charles S. Robb and Warner.
Shortly before the seminar began, a group of about 10 prominent Jewish leaders met for breakfast and agreed to begin organizing the PAC. The group consisted of activists and contributors from both political parties, including Leonard Strelitz, owner of a Tidewater-based furniture store chain and a key fund-raiser for Democratic Senate candidate Richard J. Davis last year and Walter Segaloff, owner of a Newport News specialty store chain and fund-raiser for Davis' successful GOP opponent, Paul S. Trible.
"We're for a balanced policy in the Mideast," said Segaloff, who said this would mean supporting candidates who are "anti-PLO" and supportive of Israel. Segaloff said, however, this does not necessarily mean "you're pro the present government of Israel."
Ron Cathell, the communications director of the National Association of Arab Americans, said this week that his group has "positively identified" 24 PACs that have been formed by "pro-Israeli, Jewish American activists." The largest is the New York-based National PAC, which contributed $542,500 to candidates in the 1982 congressional campaigns, making it the largest noncorporate or labor-union connected PAC in the country, according to a recent Federal Election Commission report.
Cathell said the Arab group is considering setting up its own PAC to counter the pro-Israeli influence. "It is definitely in our game plan that not just one PAC but a number of PACs be formed that represent the Arab-American point of view in time for the 1984 elections," said Cathell.