Tags: paul findley | lincoln | arafact

Remembering Ex-GOP Rep. Paul Findley, Friend of Arafat

The late Rep. Paul Findley, R-Ill.
The late Rep. Paul Findley, R-Ill. (CQ Roll Call via AP)

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Friday, 16 August 2019 06:38 AM Current | Bio | Archive

"Paul Findley, 'Arafat's Best Friend,'" blared the headline in the Jerusalem Post days after the news that former Rep. Paul Findley, R.-Ill., died at age 98 on August 9.

The article by Douglas Broomfield, a onetime legislative director for the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC), recalled Findley's 1978 trip to Damascus, Syria where the congressman befriended Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat.

Although the U.S. would accept the Palestinian Directorate as a legitimate government and Arafat died a chief of state, the PLO and its boss were perceived quite differently in 1978.

Arafat and the PLO, wrote Broomfield, were "considered terrorists by the United States and running a terrorist state-within-a-state in Lebanon, from which they routinely shelled Jewish communities in northern Israel and launched terrorist attacks on civilians."

Friends and foes of Findley universally agree that had the moderate Republican not embraced Arafat and repeatedly defended him, he might have survived the hostile redistricting of 1981 and won a 12th term the following year against Democrat (and current Illinois Sen.) Dick Durbin.

"In a district that is so rural and where Paul's work on the House Agriculture Committee was critical, we could never understand why he went on the Foreign Affairs Committee — let alone why he got mixed up with Arafat," Craig Kararo, who worked on Findley's 1974 re-election as a teenage Republican, told Newsmax.

In his final years, in speeches, articles, and two books, Findley made clear his animosity toward what he called the "Jewish lobby"—writing that it suppressed free debate and shaped U.S. foreign policy with a pro-Israel slant.

In all, this was a very strange saga for the moderate Republican who represented the U.S. district once held by his boyhood hero Abraham Lincoln.

The son of a life insurance salesman in Jacksonville, Illinois, the young Findley grew up with two passions: politics (he volunteered as a teenager for Republican Alf Landon's presidential campaign in 1936) and writing. Having purchased a mimeograph machine in high school, Findley made extra money writing and printing bulletins for the local Presbyterian church.

After graduation from Illinois College, Findley saw action as a U.S. Navy lieutenant in World War II. Following his discharge, he made an early dream come true by joining two friends in purchasing the Pike County Republican newspaper and becoming its managing editor.

His other dream — politics — was realized later. In 1960, Illinois' 20th District was open. Two state's attorneys, a former White House staffer, and Findley were in the all-important Republican primary.

Findley and his wife Lucille blitzed the district's 14 counties in their 1955 Oldsmobile. He called inflation "the worst tax of all," opposed federal aid to education, and delighted Rotary Clubs with a speech on Lincoln in which he concluded with the 16th president's moving "House Divided" speech. He won the primary handily and went on to win the seat.

In 1962, the freshman Findley found himself redistricted into the neighboring turf of centrist Democrat and seven-term Rep. Peter F. Mack. The two often sat together in the back of the House and got on well. Mack slammed Findley for opposing public television, the space program, a higher minimum wage, and national healthcare.

"I changed my mind later on, quite quickly, but that was my philosophy and my campaign," Findley later said. "I defended my Neanderthal position effectively. I guess there were a lot of Neanderthals in the district at the time, and I had a comfortable margin when I beat [Mack]."

In the 1960s, citing the words of Lincoln, Findley embraced the cause of civil rights. He also became one of the first Republican House members to oppose the Vietnam War ("We should have understood that Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist, more than a communist") and, in 1973, he was the principle author of the War Powers Act that checks a president's war-making authority.

He also supported the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and the controversial Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion at the national level.

"I said I felt that the court's handling of it was satisfactory," Findley later recalled. "And I said the court may have a different view later on, but we ought to leave it to the court."

By the 1970s, Findlay's increasingly non-conservative votes irked conservatives who once supported him. In 1980, he faced a serious primary challenger from the right in Quincy Mayor Dave Nuessen and was held to 55% of the vote.

Two years later, with his status as "Arafat's best friend" the issue and challenger Durbin matching him dollar-for-dollar in campaign funds, Findley lost by 1,610 votes.

"I have his autographed book, 'They Dare To Speak Out,' on my bookshelf," former Rep. John Napier, R.-S.C., who served with Findley on the House Agriculture Committee, told us.

"We did not always agree. But he was a thoughtful person, and I admired his independence. When we disagreed, we did so agreeably, never in a disagreeable way. That, I believe, is the hallmark of statesmanship. He was a wonderful congressman who represented his constituency in an honorable manner."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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"Paul Findley, 'Arafat's Best Friend,'" blared the headline in the Jerusalem Post days after the news that former Rep. Paul Findley, R.-Ill., died at age 98 on August 9.
paul findley, lincoln, arafact
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2019-38-16
Friday, 16 August 2019 06:38 AM
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