Palestinians light candles to honor the late South African leader Nelson Mandela as they mourn in Gaza City, Gaza, Dec. 8, 2013.
LEFT: Marwan Barghouti in Tel Aviv District Court on the opening day of his trial, Aug. 14, 2002; RIGHT: Nelson Mandela is released from prison, Feb. 11, 1990.
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 11, 1983, Page 8
Paul Findley, throughout his career as a Republican member of Congress, was frequently on the cutting edge of controversial issues. He called for the "normalization" of U.S. relations with the People's Republic of China long before the idea was generally acceptable to the American public or to any American Administration. During the early days of the civil rights debate, he moved way out in front of his own party leadership in advocating legislation. He was also one of a small but hardy band of believers in the federal union of the U.S. and the North Atlantic democracies—and introduced a bill in Congress towards that end. But none of the positions he took on such issues ever came close to doing him in. What finally ended his 21 years on Capitol Hill was his willingness over the years to speak his mind on Middle East issues—but in ways which did not please the pro-Israel lobby in this country.
Mr. Findley acknowledges that opposition from the lobby was far from being the sole cause of his failure to win his bid for re-election last fall. The major factor was the "re-districting" by the state of Illinois of his constituency, which took away from him the area where he had been born and went to school, and replaced it with a heavily Democratic industrialized district with a high rate of unemployment—at a time when Republicans were being blamed for the recession.
Tipping the Scales
"Despite everything, it was a close race," he says. "And the lobbying effort was enough to tip the scales against me. I think that without it, I could have won."
The root of the lobby's campaign against Mr. Findley—who had long advocated U.S. negotiations with the PLO and the use of aid as leverage against Israel—was the raising of huge sums of money for his opponent. "I have a print-out of all the political action committees which have been formed throughout the U.S., mainly by Jewish Americans, for the purpose of supporting pro-Israel candidates—and there was not a single one of these committees which did not provide funds for my challenger. This gave him the resources to run an extremely effective campaign—resources which were far greater than what I had available."
Somewhat paradoxically, Middle East issues as such were rarely referred to in the campaign by either of the contenders. And Mr. Findley is now sorry about it. "At the strong urging of my campaign advisors—professionals in their field—I mentioned the Middle East as little as possible during my campaign, and the PLO not at all, except when the subject was raised by a direct question. As I look back on it, I think that was a mistake. I should have talked very plainly and openly, showing the relationship between the interests of my district and peace in the Middle East. It could have helped a lot—who knows?"
From now on, as Mr. Findley settles into his new career in Washington as a consultant, author and lecturer, he will have no such inhibitions imposed on him by well-meaning political friends, and you can bet that he will be heard from loud and clear. His first major project, now underway, is to write a book on what he calls "the effects of the Arab-Israeli dispute on free institutions" in the U.S.
"I've been appalled at the reluctance of citizens to speak up on the Arab-Israeli issue, if they have opinions that don't conform with a pro-Israel perspective," Mr. Findley says. "They feel intimidated, knowing that somehow they will pay a price for their views. I intend to illustrate through the experiences of specific individuals just how this intimidation has been carried out and how it has encroached upon our freedoms."
Besides writing the book, Mr. Findley is now acting as consultant to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, for which he gives about two lectures a month in various U.S. cities. He also does some other consulting work not related to the Middle East, which is only one of his many intense interests.
Among the others is agriculture, which has resulted in "a client or two," as he puts it, in the agri-business field. Problems of world hunger have always been high on his list—he received a citation from a national association in 1975 for his work in the "advancement of agriculture and the prevention of famine"—and in this connection will be visiting China this summer, at the invitation of the Chinese government, to attend a soybean symposium. In 1978, he had organized and led an agricultural trade mission to that country.
Mr. Findley got his first exposure to Middle East affairs just over a dozen years ago, when the House's subcommittee for Europe, on which he was serving, was handed responsibility for Middle East questions as well. Later he made numerous trips to the region, including an unusual one to South Yemen in 1974, during which he secured the release of a constituent who had been jailed there on spy charges.
Mr. Findley was born in Jacksonville, Illinois, 62 years ago, and graduated from Illinois College, where he was a Phi Beta Kappa. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and has written two books: one on Abraham Lincoln and the other on agricultural commodity programs.