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Congress Chooses The Jewish Political Establishment Over Truth, Justice And The "Rule Of Law"


Last week, while in Washington D.C. we were told by many on Capitol Hill of how constricting and intellectually rigid the environment has become in the U.S. Congress. Many members of Congress we learned, who have expressed their sympathies with, and lent their voice to the Palestinian cause, in the past, are feeling too insecure to make the same contributions in the present climate. Others, who don't necessarily have a vested or constituent-related interest in either side of the Middle East conflict told us that they recognize many human rights and U.S. treaty violations committed in the occupied territories but will not lift their voice to condemn such unless they are joined or preceded by other members of Congress. No one, it seems, is willing to publicize a dissenting view of U.S. foreign policy relative to Israel and the occupied territories, or disagreement with the Israeli government itself. Only a terrorist attack on American soil; a mainstream media guided by "breaking news" rather than the context of history; and the influence of the Jewish political establishment - in America and Israel - could produce this degree of bipartisanship.

But that does not change the reality that truth is on the side of those who would dare to criticize and point out Israel's transgression of U.S. law in not only its most recent actions in Palestinian-populated areas, but in its militarized conduct, throughout the past year. The Israelis are in clear violation of a stipulation in the Arms Export Control Export Act that allows the use of weapons purchased from the U.S. only for "legitimate self-defense".

Israel, as a sovereign nation and one of the biggest purchasers of US weapons, with the $2 billion a year it gets from Washington in military aid, certainly has a legitimate claim and capability to defend itself. Its vast arsenal consists of such US-made helicopters as AH 64As, AH 1Fs, AH 1Gs and hundreds of M-60 tanks and armored personnel carriers. And if that weren't enough, Israel is home to the largest collection of American fighter jets outside of the United States. That of course would be an impressive array of "made in the U.S.A." F-15s, F-16s, F-4s and A-4s.

But the argument that Israel's "legitimate self-defense" is all that has been at work in the recent escalation of the conflict is fallacious and simply inaccurate. On the surface, the weekend news of the detention of 4,185 Palestinians (announced by the Israeli Army itself) while only 121 of them were previously-listed as "wanted" by the Israelis, should raise eyebrows at the claim that the Israeli military has exercised surgical precision in its past and present military operations in the West Bank and other areas - supposedly detaining and killing only terrorists and armed belligerents. For any interested member of the U.S. Congress, the truth remains that according to the U.S. government the actions of Israel's security forces have violated human rights and U.S. law. The fact also remains that the U.S. government is obligated to do something in response to such a scenario.

Section 556 of the FY 2002 Foreign Assistance Appropriation bill ("Leahy Amendment") prohibits U.S. security assistance to "any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible evidence that such unit has committed gross violations of human rights, unless the Secretary determines and reports to the Committees on Appropriations that the government of such country is taking effective measures to bring the responsible members of the security forces to justice." The State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2001 released on March 4, states "Israeli security forces committed numerous, serious human rights abuses during the year." The report goes on to state that, "The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] generally did not investigate the actions of security force members who killed and injured Palestinians under such circumstances, leading to a climate of impunity."

Section 4 of the Arms Export Control Act prohibits the use of American weapons supplied to its allies for any purpose other than "legitimate self-defense." The State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2001 released on March 4, cites numerous examples of Israeli security forces targeting civilian areas and institutions. Beyond these examples, the Report states that Israeli forces fired tank shells, heavy machine-gun rounds, and rockets from helicopters and F-16s at targets in residential and business neighborhoods located near the sites from which the Palestinian gunfire was believed to have originated. Such Israeli actions during the year killed at least 93 Palestinians, most of whom were noncombatants, injured at least 1,500 persons, and caused significant damage to buildings, schools, and hospitals or other medical facilities.

Yet, in the face of these documented facts, members of the United States Congress - the Democratic Party's Progressive Caucus, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and the "rule of law" Republicans who impeached President Clinton - have all displayed varying degrees of laryngitis over the behavior of Israel's armed forces juxtaposed to U.S. law.

Not only has the U.S. Congress uniformly relinquished a public grasp of the facts over what is happening in the occupied territories, but it has engaged in and facilitated a proactive effort of dissent, against President Bush's handling of the war on terrorism juxtaposed to the Middle East - an activity that has not been generally accepted by the lawmaking body since September 11th. It was only a little more than a month ago that Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle was excoriated by members of Congress for expressing dissatisfaction at the manner in which the Bush administration was seeking to widen the war on terrorism into diverse parts of the world without having "finished the business" of Afghanistan.

That same patriotic Congress gave the red carpet treatment to former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week and Mr. Netanyahu took the opportunity to mince few words in his characterization of the Bush administration's prosecution of the war on terrorism and Middle East diplomacy as inappropriate and an exercise of "selectively abandoning" core principles. Republicans like House Majority Whip Tom Delay and Democrats like Senator Charles Schumer of New York, piled on where Mr. Netanyahu left off, warning the Bush administration to not abandon its best friend in the region, Israel.

While President Bush continued to at least feign a demand that Israel withdraw from the occupied territories, the legislative branch of the United States government was opening its doors to hear and amplify the voice of a foreign ex-Prime Minister who was defiantly rejecting and dismissing the call of an American President. So much for the mantra of "we stand behind the President", that one could hear ad nauseum from Democrats and Republicans alike, since September 11th. What is it about the relationship between American lawmakers and Israel that would cause such an about-face?

Such uniform bipartisanship is largely the result of the disproportionate influence that the Jewish Political Establishment led by the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations wields. AIPAC, is the more active of the two powerhouses, where Congress is concerned. Whether it be a public attempt to keep sanctions on Iran and Libya; weapons transfers from occurring between Russia and Iran; or a private attempt to keep U.S. lawmakers away from an embrace of Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed, AIPAC need to hardly cajole a member of Congress to step up to the plate to accomplish the objective.

It does not matter if the assignment that AIPAC gives a member of Congress is to write new legislation, oppose existing legislation, or to simply sign a public letter of support of an AIPAC position (which 80 out of 100 U.S. Senators are known to regularly do) the lobbying organization gains a level of dutifulness, responsiveness and loyalty that is staggering and which represents a good use of its financial and human resources. AIPAC, 51 years old, has an annual budget of about $412 million and a staff of over 140 people. The organization carefully spends more than $1 million a year lobbying members of Congress, hoping to win their support.

There is no comparable pro-Palestinian, pro-Arab, or pro-African lobby. An as a result, although there are believed to be as many as 80 members of Congress that are at least sympathetic to the cause of the Palestinians, their voice is voluntarily muted.

Ironically, one of the better hopes to change this imbalanced reality on Capitol Hill, may be another pro-Israeli lobby started by Tikkun Magazine founder Rabbi Michael Lerner which is seeking to establish peace in the Middle East conflict by promoting greater American involvement in the region while criticizing and "condemning" the actions of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Chairman Yasser Arafat with a relatively even-hand. The "AIPAC alternative" Tikkun Community, styles itself as pro-Israel without being anti-Palestinian; and as a result is able to criticize the policies of the Israeli government without being viewed as "pro-Palestinian" - a near impossible feat to successfully accomplish in today's mainstream media.

No doubt, many members of the U.S. Congress may find such an alternative to be increasingly palatable, as it is offered by a movement, led by members respected by influential segments of the Jewish community. The cover to be provided by amplifying the voice of an authentically Jewish "AIPAC-alternative" may free U.S. lawmakers of the fear of being labeled as anti-Semitic or even, "pro-terrorist", upon criticizing actions of the Israeli government and U.S. foreign policy, throughout the world.

In addition, the 535 members of the legislative branch of government may take strength from the steps that England, Germany and France are taking in moving toward an arms embargo of Israel in the face of documented accounts of unnecessary civilian deaths caused by Israeli military action.

Certainly a call from U.S. lawmakers to Chairman Arafat and moderate Arab leaders to condemn violent acts against Israeli civilians can be married with a demand that the Israeli military not use its weapons against Palestinian civilians. The lives of Palestinian civilians should be worth as much as those of Israeli civilians, in the eyes of the members of Congress. The exclusive condemnation of civilian deaths suffered by Israel at the hands of "suicide bombers"; in the face of the loss of innocent lives at the hands of the Israeli military, represents a devaluation of the lives of the Palestinian people. Despite the disingenuous cries of "moral equivalence", by American lawmakers, this disrespect of human beings should not be that hard to detect.

Until an environment of fear and intimidation is removed from the United States Congress and a spirit of respect for the truth, the "rule of law" and the principle of justice enters within, there can never be the assumption of an appropriate diplomatic role for the U.S. in the Middle East nor will the principles of freedom and equality that undergird a lasting peace ever be established. As it is written in Isaiah 59:14: "And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter"


Monday, April 15, 2002

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