To the Editor:

Raphael Danziger and Bradley Gordon would be much more convincing as advocates of the continued value of U.S. aid to Israel if their organization, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, would not lose its principal role if U.S. aid were ended. As a member of AIPAC for many years, I think it has done a magnificent job pursuing that aid. But if aid programs were ended, would there be any further need for AIPAC?

American aid to Israel will end sooner or later, a fact that virtually all Israeli politicians recognize and even welcome. On September 21, 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin himself told a meeting of the Labor Party that Israel must wean itself from aid to be truly independent. "The time has come . . . to tell ourselves, `Let's live from the fruits of our own labor,'" Rabin said.

Maybe the leaders of AIPAC should prepare for that day by rethinking the organization's activities and introducing new programs. For example, AIPAC might undertake a public-relations campaign on behalf of Israeli interests comparable to the one being conducted by Saudi Arabia on behalf of Arab and Muslim interests. It might seek to reduce the historical hostility of Foreign Service Officers toward Israel. It might prepare materials on the Middle East for use in the schools. Any of these would serve Israel's interests better than retaining the organization's focus on large-scale aid.

Yale M. Zussman

Raphael Danziger and Brad Gordon reply:

We are gratified that Yale M. Zussman describes AIPAC as having done a "magnificent" job in pursuing U.S. aid to Israel.

But we do not agree with him that "AIPAC would lose its principal role if U.S. aid were ended," nor do we accept Mr. Zussman's view that it was the fear of such loss that drove us to write in support of aid. Aid is indispensable to Israel's strength and to its ability to take risks for peace. No doubt, Israel will eventually have to wean itself from U.S. aid -- and the sooner the better. But as long as the peace process is incomplete, threatened and fragile; as long as dangerous enemies such as Iran are pursuing nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons; and as long as Israel continues to receive and absorb over 70,000 immigrants every year -- the equivalent of 3.5 million immigrants per year in the U.S. -- Israel will need our help.

Our answer to Mr. Zussman's question, "if aid programs were ended, would there be any further need for AIPAC?" is a resounding "yes." Since its inception nearly four decades ago, AIPAC has invested all of its efforts in strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship and in ensuring that Israel -- America's most important ally in the Middle East -- remain strong and thriving. Our principal mission is to educate every member of Congress and congressional candidate on issues critical to U.S.-Israeli relations; we do this not only through traditional lobbying on the Hill, but also through a nationwide grassroots operation whose activists maintain contact with their representatives in all congressional districts. We also work directly with the Executive Branch, and are in constant communication with print and electronic media throughout the country. Our newsletter, Near East Report, reaches 55,000 readers, including every congressional office, key U.S. officials, and other influential individuals and institutions. AIPAC, furthermore, is the leading organization preparing today's college students to be tomorrow's pro-Israel political activists and leaders.

We have never regarded aid as AIPAC's raison d'etre and we never will. Ensuring aid to Israel has been one -- but only one -- major focus of our activities. To name just a few additional issues on our agenda:

Promoting the peace process. We have supported the peace process since its inception, and have worked hard to help it succeed. We are now working with Congress and the Administration to ensure that the U.S. continue to minimize the risks Israel has taken for peace, and that it fully support Israel if things do not go well. Aid is an essential component in attaining these vital objectives; but with or without our aid, we will make sure that all the available means are employed to achieve them.

Strategic cooperation. AIPAC has been instrumental in building the strategic alliance between the U.S. and Israel. We continue to initiate new ideas to further deepen the vital strategic cooperation between the two allies.

Economic cooperation. AIPAC has played an important role in initiating the Free Trade Area between the two nations -- the first the U.S. has established with any country in the world. We are working with Congress in further facilitating U.S.-Israeli trade, as well as industrial, agricultural, and high-tech scientific cooperation. Our Shared-Values Initiative promotes many proposals that advance and highlight the mutual benefits the U.S. and Israel provide each other in civilian areas.

Thwarting Israel's enemies. AIPAC has long been known for its efforts to deny U.S. weapons to Israel's enemies. Today we are engaged in major congressional initiatives to deny funds to Iran, which has emerged as Israel's most dangerous long-term enemy, and a threat to the West generally.

Helping immigrant absorption. Our efforts to facilitate immigration to Israel go back to the 1970s, when we helped achieve the Jackson-Vanik Amendment which eventually opened the gates of the Soviet Union to massive emigration to Israel. We later supported loan guarantees for immigrant absorption, and we are engaged in passing additional legislation to facilitate this magnificent humanitarian project.

. . . And the list goes on.

Mr. Zussman and other supporters of AIPAC can rest assured that we are pursuing the broadest possible agenda in support of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. We will continue to promote aid to Israel as long as necessary; and we will be around to make sure that the relationship continues to thrive after the aid is no longer needed.