Both parties cheerlead still more loudly for Israel's war

As the body count in Gaza piles up, the U.S. Congress acts overwhelmingly to insinuate itself into the war with blind support for Israel.

Published January 8, 2009 7:24PM (EST)

(updated below)

World concern over, and opposition to, the Israeli war in Gaza is rapidly mounting:

International pressure intensified sharply on Israel on Thursday, the 13th day of its Gaza assault, after the United Nations suspended food aid deliveries, the International Committee of the Red Cross accused the Israelis of knowingly blocking assistance to the injured, and a top Vatican official defended comments in which he compared Gaza to a concentration camp.

The Israelis have deliberately made it impossible to know the full extent of the carnage and humanitarian disasters because they continue to prevent journalists from entering Gaza even in the face of a now week-old Israeli Supreme Court order compelling them to do so.  According to Palestinian sources, there are now 700 dead Palestinians -- at least 200 of them children -- and well over 1,000 wounded.  Those numbers are not seriously doubted by anyone.  By comparison, a total of 10 Israelis have died -- 10 -- almost all of them by "friendly fire."  The unusually worded Red Cross condemnation of Israel was prompted by its discovery, after finally being allowed into Gaza, of starving Palestinian children laying next to corpses, with ambulances blocked for days by the IDF.  Even with the relative "restraint" Israel is excercising (the damage it could cause is obviously much greater), this is not so much of a war as it is a completely one-sided massacre.

As a result, much of the world is urging an end to the war and acting to forge a cease-fire -- except the United States.  Here, blind and unequivocal support for the Israeli attack is actually increasing almost as fast as the Palestinian body count piles up.  Apparently, it isn't enough that we supply the very bombs being dropped on the Palestinians and use our U.N. veto power to prevent any U.N. action to stop the war or even to urge its cessation.  The U.S. Congress wants to involve the U.S. further still in Israel's war.

This afternoon, the Democratic-led U.S. Senate did just that by enacting -- via a cowardly voice vote -- a completely one-sided, non-binding resolution that expresses unequivocal support for the Israeli war, and heaps all the blame for the conflict on Hamas and none of it on Israel.  Harry Reid -- who jointly sponsored the Resolution with GOP Leader Mitch McConnell -- proudly proclaimed: "When we pass this resolution, the United States Senate will strengthen our historic bond with the state of Israel."  On its website, AIPAC is already patting the U.S. Senate on its head for "for conveying America's unequivocal and steadfast support for Israel's right to self-defense."

The Senate resolution is here (.pdf).  The very similar House version that was circulated earlier today was drafted by Israel-centric House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.).  It is here (.pdf), and is expected to pass early next week -- undoubtedly with overwhelming bipartisan support.   ThinkProgess noted yesterday that Democrats took the lead in drafting the Resolution because they did not want to be "out-hawked by the Republicans," though it's hardly unusual for Democrats to march in lockstep with Republicans on Israel more than any other issue.

It's hard to overstate how one-sided this resolution is.  It "expresses vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security, and survival of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders."  Why should the U.S. maintain an "unwavering commitment to the welfare" of a foreign country?  It "lays blame both for the breaking of the 'calm' and for subsequent civilian casualties in Gaza precisely where blame belongs, that is, on Hamas."  It repeatedly mentions the various sins of Hamas -- from rockets to suicide attacks -- but does not mention a single syllable of criticism for Israel.  In the world of the U.S. Congress, neither the 4-decade occupation of Palestinian land nor the devastating blockade of Gaza nor the ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements even exist.  That may not be mentioned.

The Resolution demands that Hamas take multiple steps towards peaceful resolution but demands that Israel do absolutely nothing.  It purports to call for a cease-fire in which the Palestinians make all the concessions and Israel makes none.  Worst of all -- in light of the Red Cross condemnation, yesterday's slaughter at the U.N. school, and other similar incidents -- the Resolution disgustingly praises Israel's conduct of the war, claiming that "Israel has facilitated humanitarian aid to Gaza with hundreds of trucks carrying humanitarian assistance and numerous ambulances entering the Gaza Strip since the current round of fighting began on December 27, 2008."

This one-sided, ostensibly "pro-Israel" bipartisan inflaming of tensions by the U.S. is nothing new.  Long-time Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller, in Newsweek, earlier this week made one of the most startling revelations in some time -- that in all the time the U.S. has supposedly been attempting to forge a Middle East peace agreement over the past 25 years, it never once, in any meaningful way, raised with Israeli leaders the damage that comes from Israeli settlements.  Specifically, said Miller:  "I can't recall one meeting where we had a serious discussion with an Israeli prime minister about the damage that settlement activity — including land confiscation, bypass roads and housing demolitions — does to the peacemaking process."

Miller emphasized that by being so blindly supportive even of misguided Israeli actions, "the United States has allowed that special bond to become exclusive in ways that undermine America's, and Israel's, national interests."  The only way the U.S. can play a constructive role in the Middle East, he argues, is if it is even-handed and, most importantly, willing to criticize Israeli actions when they harm American interests (and their own) and pressure them to stop.  Matt Yglesias, in a new piece up at The American Prospect, makes much the same point.

Yet here we have, yet again, exactly the opposite behavior -- equally from both parties.  At exactly the time that worldwide horror over this war is at its peak, the Democratic-led Congress steps up to announce to the world:  "this is our war, too; we support whatever Israel does absolutely and without reservations."  We thus make Israel's wars our wars; its enemies our enemies; its intractable disputes our disputes; and the hostility and anger it generates our own.  And we embolden Israel to continue further. 

Given that we endlessly hear from our political establishment that the first and most important obligation of our leaders is to "keep us safe" -- that's the justification for everything from torture to presidential lawbreaking -- what possible legitimate rationale is there for the U.S. Congress to act in unison to involve itself in Israel's war so emphatically, and to thereby re-direct the anger over Israeli actions even further towards the U.S. and American citizens?  How are U.S. interests even remotely advanced by insinuating ourselves this way?  As Juan Cole recounted this week:

In 1996, Israeli jets bombed a UN building where civilians had taken refuge at Cana/ Qana in south Lebanon, killing 102 persons; in the place where Jesus is said to have made water into wine, Israeli bombs wrought a different sort of transformation. In the distant, picturesque port of Hamburg, a young graduate student studying traditional architecture of Aleppo saw footage like this on the news [graphic]. He was consumed with anguish and the desire for revenge. As soon as operation Grapes of Wrath had begun the week before, he had written out a martyrdom will, indicating his willingness to die avenging the victims, killed in that operation--with airplanes and bombs that were a free gift from the United States. His name was Muhammad Atta. Five years later he piloted American Airlines 11 into the World Trade Center. . . .

On Tuesday, the Israeli military shelled a United Nations school to which terrified Gazans had fled for refuge, killing at least 42 persons and wounding 55, virtually all of them civilians, and many of them children. The Palestinian death toll rose to 660.

You wonder if someone somewhere is writing out a will today.

The U.S. does enough on its own to make itself the target of worldwide anger.  Why must it take on Israel's battles as well?

The fact that this is a non-binding resolution makes it worse, not better.  It achieves nothing other than rubbing in the world's face -- including the Muslim world -- that this is not just an Israeli attack on Palestinians but an American attack as well.  As BooMan put it in explaining that virtually no mainstream U.S. politician would dare oppose this Resolution:  "This, then, creates the false impression that there is near unanimity of support for whatever it is that Israel wants to do. And let me frank about this . . . sending such a message does more to put Americans at risk than it does it protect Israelis."

TPM's Elana Schor today wrote:  "We're looking into whether any senator was bold enough to decline to co-sponsor the measure."  It will be a surprise if there were any.  Many members of Congress -- with some noble exceptions -- still remain pitifully afraid that the likes of David "Axis of Evil" Frum will accuse them of being anti-Semitic if they dare oppose Israeli actions, even in the name of U.S. interests, while others continue to be supportive of any war or proposed war waged on Muslims or Arabs -- regardless of the rationale for the war or its severity. 

Whatever the motives, for America to blindly support Israel's self-destructive and unjustified behavior does not serve Israeli interests and -- most importantly -- does not serve America's.  Blind support isn't "friendship," nor is enabling someone else's destructive behavior.  It's subservience.  And few things are as harmful or as unjust as the cowardly, lockstep behavior of both major American political parties when it comes to Israel.


UPDATE:  Since the Israeli attack on Gaza began, the advocacy of J Street -- the new Jewish-American organization designed to break AIPAC's monopoly on speaking for American Jews -- has been superb.  They have gone much further than any Jewish group that is taken seriously by the establishment, continuously expressing opposition to the Israeli offensive and infuriating those who want to maintain a neoconservative stranglehold over speaking for American Jews.  Earlier today, I asked them for their position on the Senate Resolution and, just now, this is what they sent me:

Since the first days of the crisis in Gaza, J Street has consistently called for strong American leadership to reach a ceasefire that ends all military operations, stops the rockets aimed at Israel, institutes an effective mechanism to prevent weapons smuggling into Gaza, and lifts the blockade of Gaza. Since J Street's founding, we have consistently advocated for active American diplomacy to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We support Congressional action that endorses these aims.

That statement -- by design, I would guess -- is unclear in the extreme.  It seems intended to imply -- without actually stating -- support for the Congressional Resolutions.  They say they "support Congressional action that endorses these aims," but -- conspicuously -- they don't actually say whether the Resolution passed by the Senate and to be passed by the House does so.  It's hard to see how either of the two Resolutions could be deemed to do so, given that neither even mentions, for instance, a lifting of the blockade of Gaza.  But that's the statement J Street issued.

On a related note, MediaBloodHound has the details on the very interesting story of how AP caused to vanish into thin air the tough questioning by its reporter of the U.S. State Department regarding Gaza.

Recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza and reaffirming the United States’ strong support for Israel.




1st Session


Recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza and reaffirming the United States’ strong support for Israel.


January XX, 2009


Mr./Ms. XX (for him/herself, Mr./Ms.……) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs.


Recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza and reaffirming the United States’ strong support for Israel.


Whereas Hamas was founded with the stated goal of destroying the State of Israel;


Whereas Hamas has been designated by the United States as a Foreign Terrorist Organization;


Whereas Hamas has refused to comply with the Quartet’s (the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations) requirements that Hamas recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence, and agree to accept previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians;


Whereas in June 2006, Hamas illegally crossed into Israel, attacked Israeli forces, and kidnapped Corporal Gilad Shalit, whom they continue to hold today;


Whereas Hamas has launched thousands of rockets and mortars against Israeli population centers since 2001, and has launched more than 6,000 thousand such rockets and mortars since Israel withdrew its civilian population and its military from Gaza in 2005; 


Whereas Hamas has increased the range and payload of its rockets, reportedly with support from Iran and others, putting hundreds of thousands of Israelis in danger of rocket attacks from Gaza;


Whereas Hamas locates elements of its terrorist infrastructure in civilian population centers, thus using innocent civilians as human shields;


Whereas Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement on December 27, 2008, that “We strongly condemn the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and hold Hamas responsible for breaking the ceasefire and for the renewal of violence there;”


Whereas on December 27, 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, “For approximately seven years, hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens in the south have been suffering from missiles being fired at them … In such a situation we had no alternative but to respond. We do not rejoice in battle but neither will we be deterred from it. …The operation in the Gaza Strip is designed, first and foremost, to bring about an improvement in the security reality for the residents of the south of the country.”


Whereas the humanitarian situation in Gaza, including shortages of food, water, electricity, and adequate medical care, is becoming more acute;


Whereas Israel has facilitated humanitarian aid to Gaza with hundreds of trucks carrying humanitarian assistance and numerous ambulances entering the Gaza Strip since the current round of fighting began on December 27, 2008;


Whereas on January 6, 2009, before the United Nations Security Council, Secretary Rice stated that: "The situation before the current events in Gaza was clearly not sustainable. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis lived under the daily threat of rocket attack, and frankly, no country, none of our countries, would have been willing to tolerate such a circumstance. Moreover, the people of Gaza watched as insecurity and lawlessness increased and as their living conditions grew more dire because of Hamas's actions which began with the illegal coup against the Palestinian Authority in Gaza…A ceasefire that returns to those circumstances is unacceptable and it will not last”; and


Whereas, the ultimate goal of the United States is a sustainable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will  ensure the welfare, security, and survival of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders, and a democratic  Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the State of Israel.


Now, therefore, be it


Resolved, That the House of Representatives--


(1) Expresses vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security, and survival of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders, and recognizes its right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against Hamas’s unceasing aggression, as enshrined in the UN Charter;


(2) Reiterates that Hamas must end the rocket and mortar attacks against Israel, recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence, agree to accept previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, and verifiably dismantle its terrorist infrastructure;


(3) Encourages the Administration to work actively to support a durable and sustainable cease-fire in Gaza , as soon as possible, that prevents Hamas from retaining or rebuilding its terrorist infrastructure, including the capability to launch rockets and mortars against Israel,  and thereby allowing for the long-term improvement of daily living conditions for the ordinary people of Gaza;




(4) Believes strongly that the lives of innocent civilians must be protected to the maximum extent possible, expresses condolences to innocent Palestinian and Israeli victims and their families, and reiterates that humanitarian needs in Gaza should be addressed promptly and responsibly;


(5) Calls on all nations


           (A) to condemn Hamas for deliberately embedding its fighters, leaders, and weapons in private homes, schools, mosques, hospitals, and otherwise using Palestinian civilians as human shields,            while simultaneously targeting Israeli civilians; and


(B) to lay blame both for the breaking of the “calm” and for subsequent civilian casualties in Gaza precisely where blame  belongs, that is, on Hamas;


(6) Supports and encourages efforts to diminish the appeal and influence of extremists in the Palestinian territories, and strengthen moderate Palestinians who are committed to a secure and lasting peace with Israel;


(7) Calls on Egypt to intensify its efforts to halt smuggling between Gaza and Egypt and affirms the willingness of the United States to continue to assist Egypt in these efforts;


(8) Calls for the immediate release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been illegally held in Gaza since June 2006;


(9) Reiterates its strong support for a just and sustainable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict achieved through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in order to ensure the welfare, security, and survival of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders, and a viable, independent and democratic  Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the State of Israel.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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