Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Both Parties Cheerlead Still More Loudly for Israel’s War

Posted in politics by allisonkilkenny on January 8, 2009

Glenn Greenwald

_45351664_006673810-1(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 later today or tomorrow — 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 ongoingexpansion 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, inNewsweek, 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 monoply on speaking for American Jews — has been superb.  They have gone much further than any Jewish group that is taken seriously in the establishment has gone, 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.

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