In the course of a recent telephone conversation, a relative said he had received a letter from Sen. Robert Packwood (R-Ore.) and had some questions for me: What sort of guy was Packwood? Did I know that the letter said there was a "conspiracy" to deny him reelection because he was a friend of Israel? What should be done? my relative asked. Easy, I said. Throw the letter in the trash.
There are many reasons to admire Bob Packwood. He is a leading proponent of women's rights. He is a Republican moderate (virtually an oxymoron these days), a champion of civil rights and a wise and conscientious member of the Senate. There are few flies on Bob Packwood.
But one of them is his willingness to be just another politician who panders to the paranoia of the Jewish community. The "conspiracy" that recently alarmed my relative apparently does not amount to much. Packwood has been able to turn over $32,000 of his own campaign funds to the Oregon GOP to help it regain control of the state legislature. It is not immediatedly clear how this will benefit Israel.
Packwood is certainly not the only politician who knows how to milk the Jewish community. Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) is another. A recent Cranston letter says he is in trouble for, among other things, his steadfast support of Israel. Unlike Packwood, Cranston does not shy from naming the culprit. It's Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who is probably the best fund-raising issue the Democrats have had since the Great Depression. "Helms has made the choice clear. It's our freedom or Helms's anti-Israel mandate." Oh.
The giggles you hear are coming from the Senate. In the first place, it is not likely that anyone would run for statewide office in California as an anti-Israel candidate. And second, ol' Jesse has seen the light -- or maybe the green. Campaign contributions or ideology, it matters not. The senator from the Pleistocene era is now an Israel supporter.
Next on the list is Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.). His letter says he has been "targeted for defeat" by an organization of Arab Americans. He says he had to raise $240,000 by March 10 -- a date, his office later said, that is of no real critical importance. But Arab opposition or no Arab opposition, Specter faces no primary opponent -- and none of the Democratic senatorial candidates are considered anti-Israel.
Enough! The fact is that anti-Israel members of Congress are few and far between. The reasons for that are obvious. Israel is both admired and liked by the American people. It is a fellow democracy, an anticommunist bastion in a key area of the world. What that does not explain, the affluence and political activism of the American Jewish community does. With pride and affection, it has made Israel its ward. No 1986 congressional election is going to change any of that.
But that is not the impression you get from various fund-raising letters. Even where all the candidates support Israel and it is not an issue, the fund-raising letters sound the alarm. Conspiracies are said to be everywhere. Arab oil money, for some reason more odious than, say, Jewish money or NRA money, is alleged to be buying Congress.
In Washington, a community sometimes united by cynicism, fund-raising letters are excused as a bad thing you are forced to do on the way to doing so much good. They are designed to alarm, to excite, to scare and, like pornography in film, it does not matter that they bear little resemblance to real life. Passion brings in the bucks.
But there are few issues in which the backdrop is the Holocaust and the feared prospect is yet more deaths. To my relative, that is what Israel means. He believes what he reads. He thought his computerized letter actually came from Packwood. He believed "a conspiracy" was out to defeat a pro-Israel senator and replace him with someone hostile to the Jewish state. None of that was true.
At stake in this election is not the security of Israel. More and more it is the