Paul Findley, 11-term GOP congressman from Illinois, at 98
WASHINGTON — Paul Findley, an 11-term Republican congressman from Illinois who was known for supporting civil rights and opposing the Vietnam War and whose overtures to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat brought sharp criticism, died Aug. 9 at a hospital in Jacksonville, Illinois. He was 98.
He had congestive heart failure, said his son, Craig Findley.
Mr. Findley was the publisher of a small-town weekly newspaper when he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1960 from a district once represented by Abraham Lincoln. He invoked Lincoln in his campaign rallies and could quote his speeches from memory.
During his 22 years in Congress, Mr. Findley served on the agriculture and foreign affairs committees while cultivating an image as something of a maverick. He was a ‘‘conservative Republican’’ when he first ran for Congress, but he consistently supported civil rights legislation proposed by Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s. In 1965, Mr. Findley appointed the House of Representatives’ first African-American page.
A Navy veteran of World War II, Mr. Findley was skeptical of US military involvement abroad. As early as 1967, he called for a review of US policies in Vietnam and drafted a resolution asserting that the executive branch had usurped congressional authority by committing US troops to an overseas conflict.
He was an author of the War Powers Resolution of 1973, commonly called the War Powers Act, which was designed to require the president to notify Congress of foreign military engagements.
Mr. Findley was a critic of wasteful Pentagon spending and grew particularly upset in the 1960s about a German-made machine gun that cost almost $75 million — but hadn’t been produced after six years.
He angered farmers in his rural district by pushing to reduce federal agricultural subsidies, saying they disproportionately benefited a few wealthy landowners. He introduced legislation to limit federal agricultural subsidies to $20,000 per farm. After years of rejection, the measure finally passed the House in 1973, over the objections of then-House minority leader Gerald R. Ford, only to be stripped from a Senate agricultural bill.
Mr. Findley also bucked his party’s leadership in 1973, when he introduced a resolution to begin impeachment proceedings against Vice President Spiro Agnew, who later resigned amid a corruption scandal.
In 1974, Mr. Findley helped obtain the release of a schoolteacher from his district who had been arrested in South Yemen and charged with being a spy. In his travels, Mr. Findley visited refugee camps and reached out to Arafat and other Arab leaders.
At the time, Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization was designated a terrorist group by the US government. Mr. Findley did not support recognition of the PLO, but he said in 1980 that ‘‘it makes sense for us to talk to the PLO, to communicate with them and try to influence their behavior. It would reduce tension and conflict in that area. We can’t wish the Palestinians away — they’re a fact.’’
When asked if his views gave legitimacy to the PLO and terrorism, Mr. Findley said, ‘‘That’s the position of the Israeli lobby and the Jewish lobby.’’
Some people denounced his remarks anti-Semitic — an accusation that Mr. Findley and several mainstream Jewish organizations rejected. Increasingly, Mr. Findley began to speak out against what he considered a monolithic congressional lobbying effort to support Israeli policies at the expense of Palestinians.
The issue seeped into his congressional re-election campaigns, and in 1982 he was defeated by Richard Durbin, who is now a Democratic US senator from Illinois.
Paul Augustus Findley was born June 23, 1921, in Jacksonville, a small city about 30 miles from the Illinois capital of Springfield. His father suffered from Parkinson’s disease, and his mother, the chief breadwinner, was a high school cafeteria worker.
Mr. Findley was a 1943 graduate of Illinois College in his hometown and was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. He served as a Navy officer in the Pacific during World War II.
After a year as a journalist in Washington after the war, he became the editor and publisher of a weekly newspaper in Pittsfield, Illinois. He sold the paper, the Pike Press, in the 1990s.
Mr. Findley published several books, including a 1979 history of Lincoln’s years in Congress. His best-known book, published in 1985, was ‘‘They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby,’’ in which he criticized the influence of lobbying on behalf of Israel. Anyone who didn’t go along, he said, risked being branded anti-Semitic, ‘‘the most powerful instrument of intimidation.’’
Critics called his analysis simplistic and biased in favor of the Palestinian cause.
In the 1980s, Mr. Findley helped found the Council for the National Interest, which focused on policies in the Middle East. After retiring to his hometown of Jacksonville, he wrote and gave speeches, often in support of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group promoting the image of Muslims.
Mr. Findley published an autobiography in 2011.
His wife of 65 years, the former Lillian Gemme, died in 2011. Survivors include two children, Craig Findley of Jacksonville and Diane Findley McLaughlin of Fort Collins, Colo.; a sister; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Mr. Findley believed, as Lincoln did before him, that a politician should be willing to reject outmoded ways of thinking that no longer fit the times.
‘‘With the passage of time,’’ he once said, ‘‘world conditions have changed, and so have my views.’’