On Israel, Congress Still Obedient

June 15, 2010 4:10 pm ET — MJ Rosenberg

Forget that "collective punishment" is illegal under international law.  Forget that Turkey is a NATO ally to whom we are bound by treaty (an armed attack on Turkey is considered an attack on the United States).  And definitely forget the admonition to have "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind...."

None of these come into play when the government of Israel requires the government of the United States to defend it from criticism (no matter what the provocation).

And, to be honest, the Obama administration behaves no differently in this regard than previous administrations.  It's all "your wish is my command."

That is the gist of a Bloomberg News story today called "Obama's Policy Showing No Difference With Clinton-Bush."

President Barack Obama clashed so often and so publicly with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the first 16 months of his tenure that one Israeli newspaper reported Netanyahu believed Obama wanted a confrontation to improve U.S. ties to the Arab world.

Then on May 31 came a moment that former U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk says showed the real nature of Obama's policy toward Israel: the deadly raid on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza that unleashed a torrent of international criticism and a move in the United Nations to censure the Jewish state.

Obama responded by siding with Israel, shielding it from direct condemnation by the UN Security Council. In doing so, analysts including Indyk said, Obama showed he embraces the core policy of predecessors Bill Clinton and George W. Bush: The U.S. will give Israel unwavering diplomatic and military support even as tensions test their relationship.

The Netanyahu government and its lobbyists here point to this as evidence of devotion to Israel's cause.  It isn't.  After all, Israel's cause (the survival and security of the Jewish state) are hardly served by spiteful and pointless actions that accomplish nothing except to increase Israel's isolation. 

No, the rush to support bad (even suicidal) Israeli policies is impelled by politics, plain and simple. 

For now, I'd just like to cite a few of the endorsements Israel's attack on the Gaza flotilla has elicited from Congress.  It is useful to know the lengths that some members of Congress will go to maintain the good will (and more) of the "pro-Israel" lobby. (Note: I always put the term "pro-Israel" in quotation marks because the effect of the lobby's work is anything but good for Israel.)

Also note, the lobby has told its supporters in Congress to always defend the flotilla raid with the phrase "Israel has the right to defend itself."   

The phrase was crafted with the goal of distorting the facts about the raid. It was not about self-defense.

No one disputes Israel's right to defend itself.  And that means that no one can legitimately question Israel's right to keep weapons of any kind out of the hands of Hamas.

But that does not explain or justify its ban on chocolate, on spices, on wheelchairs or, in fact, on most grocery items.

And check this out: the Jerusalem Post is reporting that, in the face of international criticism, Israel is now permitting the entry into Gaza of soda, juice, shaving cream, potato chips, cookies and candy.

That, in itself, is an admission of what the blockade is about: punishing innocent people, not Israel's self-defense.  I mean, it's hard to believe that chocolate chip cookies have threatened Israel's security until now.

As Senator Chuck Schumer said the other day, the blockade is designed to "strangle them [the Palestinians in Gaza] economically."  He also said that doing so "makes sense."

Schumer, of course, is far from alone.  Here are some excerpts from Democratic Senators and Representatives endorsing Israel's attack on the flotilla.  It's the same old, same old.  "Israel is right."  "The Palestinians are wrong."  And — now this is new — "the Turks are no good either."  I don't cite Republicans because their views on this fit in so well with their hawkish views on pretty much every other issue.  For the Democrats, the exception-to-the-rule is pronounced.

Excerpts follow.  Full texts can be found here, on the AIPAC website. 

Rep. Gary Ackerman (NY):  "The loss of life is regrettable, but wholly the fault and responsibility of the organizers of the effort to break through Israel and Egypt's legitimate closure of terrorist-controlled Gaza."

Rep. Shelley Berkley (NV):  "In the aftermath of this incident, I call on the world community to stand with Israel against further illegal provocation aimed at Israeli forces pledged to defend innocent lives against terrorist threats."

Rep. Sanford Bishop (GA): "I want to repeat my support for the State of Israel and its right to defend itself from terrorist attacks in the strongest terms possible."

Rep. Dan Boren (OK): "We must remain resolutely committed to uphold Israel's right to self-defense. I urge my fellow colleagues also to voice their support for Israel on this important issue."

Rep. Robert Brady (PA): "First, the State of Israel has the absolute right to exist and to defend itself... the sovereignty and safety of Israel are fundamental to the security of United States. We will never abandon Israel or deny her right to defend herself."

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (MD): "...it's important that we keep in mind that Israel has a right to ensure the security of its borders and protect its citizens from terror."

Rep. Dennis Cardoza (CA): "However, I firmly believe Israel has the right - and the absolute responsibility - to protect its citizens."

Rep. Jim Costa (CA): "The United States must stand with Israel as they've been placed in this unfortunate situation. Israel is one of our strongest allies and must remain a critical partner in combating terrorism and extremism around the globe."

Rep. Joe Crowley (NY): "If Gaza wants the blockade lifted, its leaders know precisely what to do: immediately end its drive to destroy the state of Israel."

Rep. Ted Deutch (FL): "The delivery of aid to Gaza by this flotilla convoy was a pretense arranged by the participants in order to launch an act of political provocation against Israel...I urge the Security Council to quickly pass the toughest possible sanctions on Iran."

Rep. Brad Ellsworth (IN): "During these times of crisis, the relationship between the United States and Israel must remain strong. Let there be no doubt Israelis have the right to defend themselves and their homeland against the threat of violence."

Rep. Eliot Engel (NY): "...Israel, like every other sovereign nation, has the right to defend itself, [that] Israel has at least twice seized large caches of arms aboard Iranian ships bound for Hamas and Hezbollah, and a blockade is an appropriate security measure when employed in the face of hostility such as that directed by Hamas against Israel." 

Rep. Barney Frank (MA): "...I don't remember quite so much worldwide outrage when the North Koreans sank a South Korean submarine and 46 people were killed."

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY): "While I am deeply saddened by the loss of life, we must recognize that Israel has the right to defend herself..."

Rep. Alan Grayson (FL): "It's a fundamental duty of the Israeli military to protect the people of Israel, just as it's a fundamental duty of our military to protect us. What they did was what they needed to do in order to ensure the safety of their own people..."

Rep. John Hall (NY): "I will keep working hard in Congress to ensure that Israel continues to have the full support and backing of the United States."

Rep. Debbie Halvorson (IL): "I strongly support Israel's right to defend itself as a sovereign nation and keep its borders secure."

Rep. Phil Hare (IL): "I fully support Israel and her right to defend herself in this or any other situation."

Rep. Jim Himes (CT): "...when family is at risk, we lean in to our family and we remind the world that there is a reason why Israel is a part of our family - a reason of values, a reason of democracy, and the reason that we stand here today to remind the world that Israel is our family."

Rep. Paul Hodes (NH): "Without question, Israel has both the right to act in self-defense and the duty to protect its people from terror."

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD): "...I thank those who have joined in raising our voice to defend actions that really need no defense, actions that any nation on Earth would take if it were similarly threatened, any nation on Earth."

Rep. Steve Israel (NY): "A group of people chose to violate international law and Israel has the right to defend itself."

Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (IL): "...Israel maintains the legitimate, fundamental right to defend and protect itself. The Israeli government has an obligation to prevent the flow of weapons and fighters into Gaza, sent there for one purpose only - to kill Israelis."

Rep. Ron Klein (FL): "Israel has the right - indeed, the obligation - to defend itself. With a ship threatening to breach Israel's defenses of its coastal border, Israel was left with no choice but to ensure the safety of its people."

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (NJ): "Israel has every right to defend itself and enforce its blockade against the terrorist Hamas government in Gaza."

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT): "Israel exercised her legitimate right to self defense."

Rep. Nita Lowey (NY): "Israel has the right to defend herself and the responsibility to protect her citizens from Hamas, which denies Israel's right to exist and rains rockets down on its citizens."

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (NY): "I truly sympathize with the families of those who were killed or injured in the Mavi Marmara, but the fault lies with those who incited violence, not with those who defended Israel's borders."

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (NY): "I fully support Israel and their right to jeep its people safe."

Rep. Michael E. McMahon (NY): "Just as America protects its borders, Israel - and any other country - has the right to maintain and defend its own borders."

Rep. Kendrick Meek (FL): "Israel has the right and duty to defend itself and protect its citizens against all threats."

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (MD): "First, Israel, like all countries, has the right to self-defense."

Rep. Patrick Murphy (PA): "...Israel has the right and responsibility to self-defense."

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (NY): "It has been absolutely galling to watch the hypocrisy and the fury, the underserved fury directed at Israel for taking a step in its own self defense."

Rep. Glenn Nye (VA): "I maintain my strong support for Israel's right to exist and to protect herself."

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (NJ): "I believe it is vital that we support Israel's right to defend its people and to exercise authority in ensuring dangerous resources do not reach the terrorist organization Hamas."

Rep. Gary Peters (MI): "I am puzzled that so many around the world are so quick to condemn Israel's acts of self-defense while they are slow to speak out on the dangerous nuclear ambitions of Iran - even as just yesterday news broke that Iran has the fuel for two nuclear weapons."

Rep. Mike Quigley (IL): "Israel must be able to defend itself and keep weapons out of the hands of Hamas. And the U.S. must stand with Israel."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV): "Israel is one of our strongest and most important allies, and the United States stands firmly with Israel at this critical time."

Rep. Steve Rothman (NJ): "The U.S. stands shoulder to shoulder with Israel in our fights against violent extremism."

Rep. John Sarbanes (MD): "...we are left to conclude that the persistence of the Mavi Marmara in seeking to breach the blockade was intended to provoke a clash with Israeli Defense Forces. That in fact occurred and things went terribly awry, resulting in the tragic loss of nine lives."

Rep. Adam Schiff (CA): "Israel has the right and the duty to defend its citizens from attack..."

Rep. Allison Schwartz (PA): "Israel has the right to protect and defend itself. The blockade of Gaza exists to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza and to protect the citizens of Israel, who have been subjected to thousands of rocket attacks launched by Hamas since 2005."

Rep. Joe Sestak (PA): "Israel has a legitimate right to defend itself."

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz (FL): "One of the things that is unbelievable to me has been the criticism and the questions that have been thrown at Israel: first, that they supposedly boarded the flotilla ships in international waters as if they somehow didn't have the right to do that. That this is a legal blockade, there isn't any disputing that. They are well within their rights and, understandably, are defending their borders and their people."

Rep. Anthony Weiner (NY): "While the demand for answers seems to echo in capitals around the world, the facts here are largely known. We know this tragedy was instigated by Turkey. We know that Israel had not only warned that this boat was in violation of an entirely lawful blockade, but had offered safe harbor to the boat in Ashdod. We also know that a known terrorist group - Hamas - has put its hateful agenda over the well being of its people. Any loss of life is tragic. This loss was the result of Turkish instigation and Hamas terror policies. Even if we are the only country on earth that sees the facts here, the United States should stand up for Israel."

Our United States Congress hard at work, doing what it's told.