Stephen Zunes : Israel and Palestine
Once again, as President Barack Obama began pressuring the right-wing Israeli government to freeze the expansion of its illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, leading Congressional Democrats have joined in with Republicans to try to stop him.
In a letter to President Barack Obama date June 17, 329 out of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives referred to Israel’s May 31 attack on a humanitarian aid flotilla in international waters, which resulted in the deaths of nine passengers and crew and injuries to scores of others, as an act of “self-defense” which they “strongly support.” Similarly, a June 21 Senate letter — signed by 87 out of 100 senators — went on record “fully” supporting what it called “Israel’s right to self-defense,” claiming that the widely supported effort to relieve critical shortages of food and medicine in the besieged Gaza Strip was simply part of a “clever tactical and diplomatic ploy” by “Israel’s opponents” to “challenge its international standing.”
Few decisions of the Obama administration have outraged the peace and human rights community as much as its successful efforts to block an international inquiry into May’s Israeli aid flotilla attack. Instead, supported by leading Republican and Democratic members of Congress, the Obama administration has thrown its weight behind an investigative committee handpicked by right-wing […]
Tens of thousands of Israelis protested in the streets of Tel Aviv last weekend against their right-wing government’s attack on an unarmed humanitarian aid flotilla sailing in international waters. International condemnation of the raids continued in foreign capitals. Meanwhile, in Washington, Democratic congressional leaders were lining up alongside their Republican colleagues to defend the Israeli assault. Countering the broad consensus of international legal scholars who recognize that the attack was in flagrant violation of international norms, prominent Democrats embraced the Orwellian notion that Israel’s raid, which killed at least nine activists and wounded scores of others, was somehow an act of self-defense.
The offensive by the Congressional Democratic leadership against the Gaza humanitarian aid flotilla has now moved beyond just rhetorical support for the Israeli attack on the unarmed convoy. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade, has called upon U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute U.S. citizens who were involved or on board the flotilla. Given the very real threat of terrorism from Al-Qaeda and other groups against the United States, it is very odd that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic Party leaders would choose — out of 255 Democrats in the House of Representatives — a paranoid right-winger like Sherman to chair the critically important terrorism subcommittee. Rather than focus on the real threats from Al-Qaeda and other dangerous organizations, it appears that Sherman is putting his energy into going after the motley group of Quaker pacifists, left-wing Jews, and other like-minded activists who boarded the ships attempted to bring medicines, school supplies, toys and other humanitarian aid to children of the Gaza Strip.
It’s like the 1980s all over again. During that decade, the Reagan administration – with the support of Congress – sent billions of dollars worth of unconditional military and other support to the right wing-junta in El Salvador, just as the Obama administration is today with the right-wing government in Israel.
Every time Israel’s right-wing government engages in yet another outrageous violation of international legal norms, it is easy to think, “No way are they going to get away with it this time!” And yet, thanks to the White House, Congress and leading American pundits, somehow, they do.
The large-scale killing of civilians during Israel’s three-week assault on the Gaza Strip in 2008-09 received widespread condemnation from human-rights advocates and international legal scholars the world over. In both Europe and North America, public reaction to the grossly disproportionate Israeli response to Hamas rocket attacks was the most negative ever expressed against an Israeli military action. In Israel itself, soldiers who had witnesses some of the atrocities joined Israeli peace activists in exposing war crimes committed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). However, the U.S. Congress, under the leadership of the Democratic Party, overwhelmingly defended the Israeli offensive, even to the point of attacking leading defenders of international humanitarian law.
John Hall is a former musician and supporter of progressive causes. But since he was elected to Congress, he has become one of the most shameless defenders of Israel’s crimes.
One year into their term in office, the Obama administration’s record on human rights has been a major disappointment. In part because the Bush administration abused the promotion of democracy and human rights to rationalize its militaristic policies in the Middle East and elsewhere, the Obama administration has at times been reluctant to be a forceful advocate for those struggling against oppression. For example, Obama was cautious in supporting the ongoing freedom struggle….