9. Ayalon: Israel will stand by DeLay By NATHAN GUTTMAN

WASHINGTON The first public appearance of Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) after being indicted and forced to leave his leadership position was at Wednesday night's dinner hosted by "Stand for Israel," a group of Israel-supporting evangelical Christians and Jews led by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein.

"It's really good to be here among so many old friends and brothers and sisters in the cause for justice and human freedom," DeLay opened, drawing a standing ovation from the crowed. Some shouted, "We love you, Tom."

The ousted majority leader of the House of Representatives is known to be a staunch supporter of Israel and has close ties with right wing groups and the settlers. "Tom DeLay is a true friend of Israel and has always worked for the security and well-being of the state," Israeli ambassador to Washington Danny Ayalon said Thursday. "We will keep up the close ties with him."

Tom DeLay was forced to step down, at least temporarily, from his position as House majority leader after a Texas grand jury indicted him Wednesday on charges related to illegal use of campaign contributions. DeLay has denied any wrongdoing and his lawyers claim that the prosecution was driven, in this case, by political motivation.

As majority leader, Tom DeLay played a lead role in blocking US aid to the Palestinian Authority and conditioning its restoration on reforming the PA and fighting terror. He has supported foreign aid to Israel and backed pro-Israel resolutions on Capitol Hill.

In 2003, DeLay was one of the co-sponsors of House Resolution 294 that expressed support for Israel as it fights terrorism. In his speech from the floor, DeLay said that "Israel's fight is our fight" and added that the point of the war against terror is not only to defeat terror, but also "to destroy terrorists."

As a born-again Christian, DeLay is close to the pro-Israel Evangelical circles and has said in the past he believes that the land of Israel was given to the people of Israel by god and should not be divided. He opposed the US-led peace plan known as the road map, calling it a "road map to disaster," and has been a critic of the Sharon government's disengagement plan.

In a 2003 speech at the Zionist Organization of America conference, DeLay said about his latest tour of Israel, "I didn't see any occupied territories, I only saw Israel."

Israeli officials said Thursday that, even though Tom DeLay was a great supporter of Israel in his leadership position, they do not think Israel's stand in congress will be affected by his departure, since there is a strong support base for Israel in both parties and in both houses of Congress.


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