In view of the number of editorials, articles and letters that have been published criticizing and castigating my role in the appropriation of $8 million for schools for North African Jewish refugees in France, I believe that I should express my side of the story. I would like to respond to the points raised in The Post's editorial of Jan. 3.
The Post questioned whether these persons qualify as official "refugees." To provide some background, there are approximately 400,000 North African Sephardic Jews who have been forced from their homelands by years of persecution or outright expulsion. Apparently for reasons of their darker color and accented French language, they are not a "popular cause" even among the Jewish population at large. Furthermore, there is currently an increase in France of neo-Nazi sympathy, and at least one organization, the far right National Front, has called for expulsion of all North African immigrants from France.
I suppose it would be easy to turn our backs on these people, as our nation has done, to our shame, to other Jews in the past. But I chose not to. I might add that if we are to be guided by the State Department's official classification of refugees, we should be ignoring many individuals fleeing military oppression in South American countries.
The Post attributes my support for this "pet project" to a campaign contribution I received from Zev Wolfson, whom it termed "one of Sen. Inouye's largest campaign contributors." For the record, I did not know until this controversy erupted that Mr. Wolfson contributed $1,000 to my reelection campaign in 1985. I am not aware of any other contributions from him. I have since checked on whether any other members of the board of directors of the charitable organization Ozar Hatorah made any contribution to me, and the answer is no.
It is widely known that I am a longtime supporter of Israel because of my belief that the preservation of this democracy is vital to our nation's interests in the Middle East. Also, I have long supported efforts to rectify the many injustices that Jews in our nation and abroad have been forced to endure. My support for Jewish causes and Israel began long before I became a politician. As a law student, I purchased my first State of Israel bond in 1952.
I was very much disturbed and admittedly hurt when newspaper articles and editorials suggested that my support for this project was due to a $1,000 contribution I received. It is a matter of public record that many others have contributed substantially to my campaign efforts -- without, I might add, solicitation or pressure -- and these contributors include high officials of major corporations involved in sugar and shipping, industries vital to Hawaii. I have supported the American sugar and shipping industries from my first days in the Congress, long before the receipt of these contributions. Now that I have received these contributions, does this mean that I should reconsider my support for these industries?
I have devoted many hours to assisting native Hawaiians and American Indians. There are not many ethnic groups poorer than these. Is The Post also suggesting my support is due to "ulterior motives" rather than the rightness of these causes?
As for the accusation that this project was "sneaked" into the appropriations bill, it should be noted that this proposal was included in the printed report of the subcommittee on foreign operations, made public on Dec. 3, 1987. All proceedings of the subcommittee, which I chair, the Appropriations Committee and the Senate-House conference on the appropriations bill were public, attended by the news media and representatives of the State Department.
State Department officials attended all of our meetings, including those few in which we went into closed session, at their request, to discuss matters of national security. At no time did these officials question or object to this project. The proposal was adopted unanimously, without any opposition by House or Senate members.
The Post raises a question about the constitutionality of aiding parochial schools. The U.S. program of foreign assistance to schools and hospitals abroad assists institutions in 35 countries. Many have a religious affiliation but perform services vital to their local population and are often the best means of channeling U.S. aid.
The Post asks why American taxpayers should "subsidize" education of these refugee children. Most of the funding for the schools is provided by Jewish charities in the United States and France, in addition to the French government. The organization funded under this program is a respected, nonprofit provider of educational opportunities for North African Jewish refugees in France. Currently 3,000 students are enrolled in their schools.
The schools have the personal support of the prime minister of France, Jacques Chirac, and in his capacity as mayor of Paris, he has provided several parcels of land on which to build new schools. The French minister of education has approved the schools, and their program of studies meets the requirements set by the ministry. The minister has given a written commitment to provide operating assistance for every new classroom, covering about 50 percent of the operating budget.
The U.S. government is providing a minority percentage of the aid for this project, and our funds are only for the construction of the schools. Under French law the French government cannot provide funds for construction. No U.S. money will be used for religious education or teacher salaries. The U.S. appropriation is a one-time, one-year-only allocation.
Finally, this appropriation did not occur at the expense of other refugee aid programs, for which this year the United States is allocating $350 million -- overseas programs to assist Indochinese, Afghan and African refugees. We assist these refugees, apart from reasons of human compassion, for the practical reason that aiding them abroad is less costly than permitting their admission and resettlement as immigrants to the United States.
My support for this project is based on the strong belief that it serves the best interests of our nation by promoting international goodwill and as an action of humanitarian concern.
The writer is a Democratic senator from Hawaii.