In Washington: My hopes for the 110th Congress

It is time for the United States to drop its reticence and to engage in some serious Arab-Israel diplomacy.

November 13, 2006 21:24
In Washington: My hopes for the 110th Congress

m j rosenberg 88. (photo credit: )

The 2006 Congressional elections did not turn on the Jewish vote, which, as has been the case since 1928, went heavily Democratic. According to The New York Times, 88% of Jews voted for Democratic candidates for the House and Senate. And, as usual, the heavy Jewish vote for Democrats was not much influenced by the Middle East. True, there were no anti-Israel candidates running for the House or Senate. Had there been, we would probably have seen that Jews will not vote for a candidate who is hostile to the State of Israel. But as for all those gradations of support which some pro-Israel activists like to cite, they exist only in the minds of partisans of one camp or the other. Using the conventional measure of what is considered pro-Israel, Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) is about as pro-Israel as they come. But Pennsylvania Jews voted in overwhelming numbers for his Democratic opponent, Senator-elect Bob Casey. PENNSYLVANIA Jews clearly understand what most Jewish voters do. Being pro-Israel is the "default' position in American politics. Santorum is pro-Israel, but so is Casey. The issue is a wash, leaving Jews to vote, along with their fellow Americans, on issues that are common to us all. Unfortunately, the default position on Israel has not helped move Israel and the Palestinians closer to peace. On the contrary, it helps solidify a status quo that grows deadlier every day. Yes, Santorum said all the right things about Israel if one construes proclaiming one's love for the Jewish state - while ignoring all the misery Israelis and the Palestinians inflict on each other - as being "pro-Israel." This passive approach is of course unthinkable on virtually every other critical issue. Does a good American simply support everything the president proposes simply because he proposes it? Obviously not. And Israelis go even farther. That is what explains the intense debates over policy and the diversity of views expressed every day in the Israeli media. So why is an American who reflexively backs every Israeli action considered a friend? Are Israelis who oppose them "enemies?" Rick Santorum was no more or less a friend of Israel than any of the other Republicans or Democrats who ran for the Senate this year. He might have been more than that if the pro-Israel community expected more from its allies. Had he, or Casey, been told that to be considered pro-Israel a legislator must help Israel and the Palestinians achieve peace, they might have done more than simply issue statements of "support." Senator-Elect Casey, and the other new Senators and House members, now have an opportunity to convert their ritualistic pledges to tangible support. That means members using their positions of leadership to advance Arab-Israeli diplomacy and, by doing so, to really help to provide security for Israel while advancing America's image in the Islamic world. AND FORGET all the rhetoric about there being "no partner." As Israel Policy Forum President Seymour Reich told a press association the other day, "There is always someone to dialogue with." That is, if one is seeking dialogue - and we have to be. It's time for some urgency. The situation in Gaza is spiraling out of control. What is the point? Is anyone benefiting from this killing? The turnover in Congress could be very significant in this context. The new Congress is far more secular-minded than the previous one. I do not mean that the new Members are less religious. As should be the case, I do not know about the personal religious views of most of the new members. But I do mean that the Christian Right will be a significantly less powerful force in the 110th Congress than in the previous one. By Christian Right, I do not refer to Evangelicals who voted pretty much as other Americans did. I am referring to the crowd who essentially forced Congress to intervene in the Terry Schiavo case, is obsessed with homosexuality, and which tends to focus far less on public policy than on what American adults do or don't do in the privacy of their bedrooms. These tend to be the same people whose "support" for Israel is based on theological grounds. The Christian Right comes to its support for Israel largely from its religious convictions. It believes that the State of Israel is the fulfillment of God's promises in the Bible. And if God fulfills the promise to the children of Israel, then God will also fulfill the promise to return in the Second Coming. This fits into a larger picture in which the revived Jewish state is part of the end of the world theology. Israel, the living place, takes a back seat to Israel, the holy land, in which Jews must be gathered to bring on the so-called End of Days. MODERATES, both Democratic and Republican, support the real Israel. Not being Christian rightists, their view of Israel is as a democratic ally of the United States and a sanctuary for the Jewish people. They do not wave the Bible in support of a Jewish state but the legitimate claims of a persecuted people, now relatively secure and at home. As a result, they should be more eager to help Israel achieve a secure peace with the Palestinians. I expect fewer mindless Congressional resolutions which "support" Israel by bashing Arabs. Instead, we may see Democrats and Republicans attempting to work with the president to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. If the president chooses to pursue peace he will have strong backing from Congress rather than protests based on biblical prophecy. To be honest, there is not much evidence that either the president or Congress will actively try to end the appalling carnage currently taking place. It is not that they don't see the terrible pictures coming out of the region or are indifferent to the children who are being killed, but rather that few powerful institutions or individuals are urging them to take action to stop the violence. As any civics book can tell you, governments tend to follow the path of least resistance. If all a president or member of Congress hears are people clamoring to sustain the status quo and who believe that any change is, by definition, a bad change, he or she will not move to change policy. If they sense no urgency, there will be no action. It is time for the United States to drop its reticence and engage in some serious diplomacy, starting with the achievement of a complete and full cease-fire. Then the US should encourage Palestinians to establish a government Israel will deal with, whether it be a unity government or the Abbas wing of the current government. In any case, there is no excuse for the United States to hold back. There is a new Congress. There is a president who says he is ready to work with it to address issues that threaten America's security and the peace of the world. Meanwhile, the Middle East killing goes on, with a new round of suicide bombing in Israel almost inevitable unless America steps in. People alive now, children playing in the streets of Israel and Palestine, will be dead soon unless the US acts with urgency, rather than carefully crafting its response to every event with the goal of saying and doing absolutely nothing. What, in the name of God, are we waiting for? The writer is director of policy analysis for the Israel Policy Forum.

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