HONOLULU, JAN. 5 -- Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) said today that he supported an $8 million congressional appropriation to build schools for North African Jews living in France to help preserve their Jewish identity and, in the long run, save money for U.S. taxpayers.
It was Inouye's first full response to the controversy generated by his successful efforts to include the money in the $600 billion spending bill Congress approved last month.
The State Department said it opposed the appropriation. But Inouye said today State Department officials sat in on all the drafting sessions and never objected when congressional committees were writing the law.
Inouye said he supported the $8 million item, after he was briefed on the plight of 400,000 North African Sephardic Jews by officials of the New York-based Ozar Hatorah organization. Zev Wolfson, a friend and campaign contributor, is a board member of Ozar Hatorah.
Ozar Hatorah, founded in the late 1940s to aid North African Sephardic Jews, will receive the money. Inouye said the French government has offered land and teachers and support for regular instruction in French scholastic subjects.
But funds for religious and language instruction must come from elsewhere, he said. Because Sephardic Jews are "not a popular cause" among mainstream U.S. Jewish charities, Ozar Hatorah turned to him for help, he said.
Inouye said it would be "outrageous" to suggest he supported the appropriation because Wolfson made a $1,000 contribution to his last senatorial campaign.
"He is a good friend of mine. But this one here is not the result of someone who made a contribution," Inouye said. "I don't solicit money. I don't have to," said Inouye, who is regularly reelected by large majorities.
Inouye, one of Israel's staunchest congressional supporters, said his action is a reflection of his longstanding affection for the Jewish people, who have been the object of persecution and dislocation throughout history, he said.
"Their religion, language and culture is the thread that provided their survival," he said. The proposed schools would act to preserve those values, Inouye said.
He said the appropriation is in the interests of the United States because many of the North Africans might move to the United States if they cannot find satisfaction in France. Many of them have lived in France for more than a decade.
Inouye said the $8 million is not out of line in a budget that includes $25 million to support Soviet Jewish immigrants and $19 million for Indochinese refugees. The bill classifies them as refugees, even though neither France nor the United Nations does. rt term compromise aid package was seen by some liberal Democrats as a sellout to pro-contra forces.
Not so, said Inouye. In fact, he said, the language of the law containing the contra appropriation includes "extraordinary procedures" designed to force a final showdown vote on contra aid by Feb. 3 in the House and Feb. 4 in the Senate.
"Up or down, it will be a clean shot," Inouye said. "This is something everybody has been talking about. For the first time since we got involved in this contra business the United States Congress representing the American people, will have a chance to vote on this issue up or down."
Inouye said he would vote against any admninistration proposal that contains continued military "lethal" aid to the contras. And he predicted that, based on current positions by members of Congress, aid would be cut off.
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