U.S. Congress in Rare Display of Unanimity--on Israel

Here's an AP lead you don't see every day: 

Members of Congress are falling over one another to show their support for Israel.
 

While much of the rest of the world watches the Gaza war in horror and scrambles for a cease-fire, U.S. lawmakers are pressing the Obama administration to take no action that puts pressure on Israel to halt its military operations.

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And you won't see this lead today, unless you were on Twitter and fast on your feet this morning. It was quickly scrubbed from an AP report on, well, Congress members falling all over each other to publicize their support for the IDF campagn in Gaza. A hasty rewrite followed yet another twitter micro-squall provoked by the unusually blunt AP tweet, built on the lead, linking to the story:

 

As far as I can discern, the only thing problematic about the lead was its unusual frankness. As the summer recess looms, Congress has, indeed, as AP's revised lead puts it, "scrambled" to offer material and rhetorical support to Israel, among other measures digging up a $225 million aid boost to shore up Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system, during a time when it has shown a thorough unwillingness to work across the aisle on virtually any other issue confronting the nation, including the humanitarian crisis at the U.S. border. And over the last few days Congress members seem to have been competing mightily to express the most unquestioning support for the Israeli campaign in Gaza, which began July 1 when IDF forces shelled Gaza targets in retaliation for the murder of three Israeli teens whose bodies were discovered on June 30. The crisis escalated over the ensuing days; last night was one of its bloodiest. More than 100 Palestinians were killed and the Gaza Strip's lone power plant damaged.

Most viewers of the carnage in Gaza, presumably even those who are consistent supporters of Israel, at a minimum have experienced at least conflicting emotions after witnessing the prolonged suffering of the Palestinans in Gaza—the UN estimates that more than 70 percent of the casualties in Gaza are noncombatants—but not so the folks in the U.S. Congress. They have never been able to unanimously agree on any proposed U.S. military action, but they are apparently 100 percent on board for the current IDF campaign to "mow the lawn" in Gaza. On July 19, following the passage of a similar House measure the week before, the Senate passed a unanimous resolution that: "reaffirms its support for Israel's right to defend its citizens and ensure the survival of the State of Israel; condemns the unprovoked rocket fire at Israel; calls on Hamas to immediately cease all rocket and other attacks against Israel."

The resolution, which does not even bother to include a word of concern about the fate of Gaza's residents, accepts at face value Israeli claims that the current conflict has been provoked from the start by Hamas missiles, which had largely been dormant since 2012, even as more doubts have been raised about the timeline of events and the true target of the Netanyahu government. Journalists and critics in Israel and the United States argue that Gazans are merely brutalized pawns in a larger campaign meant to dismantle the unity government reconnecting the West Bank's Fatah with Gaza's Hamas and that Israel forces provoked the military confrontation toward that end. U.S. Senators even explicitly endorse that goal in point 4 of their resolution, which calls on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas "to dissolve the unity governing arrangement with Hamas and condemn the attacks on Israel."

Yesterday House Speaker John Boehner added his voice to the congressional chorus: "At times like this, people try to isolate Israel. We are here to stand with Israel, not just as a broker or observer but as a strong partner and a trusted ally.

"What does that mean?" he asked, before adding in an apparent dig at the Obama administration, "well, it doesn't mean issuing vague, on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand statements. No, it means backing up our words and showing solidarity with our friend."

On Monday U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), showed some solidarity, introducing the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014, an updated version of the bipartisan legislation introduced in March 2013, that, among other measures, authorizes an increase of $200 million in the value of U.S. weapons held in Israel, to a total of $1.8 billion. (The weapons stockpile is intended for use by U.S. forces in the event of a regional crisis, but it can also be used by Israel in the event of an emergency with Israel reimbursing the U.S. for any weapons used.)

Meanwhile, a new potential casualty of the Gaza offensive may be the Obama administration's efforts toward a peaceful resolution of the dispute with Iran over its suspected development of nuclear weapons. Congressional critics of those negotiations are attempting to link the effort to the conflict with Hamas, calling for the end of further talks with Iran.

Also this week a group of U.S. Senators, including Marco Rubio of Florida, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, delivered a sharply worded letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after he described Israel's military operations as an "atrocious action."

Even Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has suggested in the past a cut-off of the U.S.'s $3 billion annual military aid to Israel, said this week that no one should question Israel's actions in a time of war.

One is hard-pressed to identify a single member of Congress willing to criticize any aspect of the IDF campaign even as the body count trends higher and attacks continue on clearly non-military targets. Wholes sections of Gaza, the most densely packed real estate in the world, have been reduced to rubble and more than 3,000 homes destroyed.

How to account for such unanimity and passion on Israel? No doubt many U.S. Congress members sincerely believe that all or the lion share of the blame for the crisis and the suffering it has engendered should properly be heaped on Hamas. But for political cynics out there, Matt Yglesias, looking over internal memos prepared for Georgia Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn late last year and leaked yesterday to the National Review, comes to a different conclusion. The memo suggests that Nunn needs to $18 to $20 million for her campaign and identifies one “affinity group” that should be targeted, her local Jewish community, noting dryly, “Michelle’s position on Israel will largely determine the level of support here... There is tremendous financial opportunity, but the level of support will be contingent on her position. This applies not only to PACs, but individual donors as well.”

Yglesias observes: 

It's not the place of a finance memo writer to come up with Nunn's Israel policy, but the memo cautions that there are fundraising implications to what Nunn chooses to say about this.

To anyone who's familiar with Democratic Party fundraising... this won't be too surprising.

Jewish donors are very important to Democratic Party finances, some of these donors have strongly held hawkish views on Israel, and the financial clout of AIPAC is the stuff of legend. At the same time, talk of rich Jews throwing their financial muscle around to influence policy in favor of Israel touches far too many anti-semitic tropes to be regularly mentioned in political discourse. But the concrete world of political fundraising doesn't leave a ton of time for beating around the bush, so we get a little window here into how it looks to the finance people: if Nunn wants to maximize her donations, she needs to take the right stance.

It would appear that the members of the august body she aspires to join have already gotten the memo.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J Cosgrove
3 years 3 months ago
The whole conflict in Gaza would end immediately if Hamas let the IDF in to destroy the tunnels and the rockets and the ability to make these munitions and then recognize Israel's right to exist as an independent country. It would be over in a nano-second and no one in this densely packed territory would be killed as Israel defends itself because there would be no need for defense.
Vince Killoran
3 years 3 months ago
Was the founding of Israel a humane move by world powers in the wake of the Holocaust--or was it the last chapter in western colonization? The answer is that it was both, and that is part of the problem. The Israeli government is engaged in a decades-long illegal, immoral, and brutal occupation. Hamas is a terrorist organization whose popularity is a testament to the effects of that occupation. There is a gross inequality in power between the Palestinians and Israelis. The solution does not lie in delay, denying that Palestinians are a people, arguing that the Bible legitimates a "Greater Israel," or in creating a phony Palestinian "state" minus access to water etc.

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