The 54 Democrat members of Congress (no Republicans) who signed the January 21, 2010 letter to President Barack Obama initiated by Reps. Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) presumably wanted to make a thoughtful, serious statement of concern and a specific request for action. They were concerned for the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza and their request was that American government pressure be brought to bear on Israel to ease the restrictions on Israel's border with Gaza.
The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) took the letter and its words seriously. We saw that the 'Gaza 54' called for the loosening of security measures that Israel put into place to stop terrorism and reduce the ability of Hamas to launch attacks on Israel. The letter acknowledged that "the Israeli government has imposed restrictions on Gaza out of a legitimate and keenly felt fear of continued terrorist action by Hamas and other militant groups." But the congressmen did not make any mention of the potential consequences for Israel, or what alternate measures would provide equal protection for Israel's citizens against attacks initiated from Gaza.
The letter simply asserted, without foundation, that: "Easing the blockade (sic) on Gaza will not only improve the conditions on the ground for Gaza's civilian population, but will also undermine the tunnel economy which has strengthened Hamas... Most importantly, lifting these restrictions will give civilians in Gaza a tangible sense that diplomacy can be an effective tool for bettering their conditions. Your Administration's overarching Middle East peace efforts will benefit Israel, the Palestinians, and the entire region."
One in five Democrats in Congress signed a letter asking the president to pressure Israel to take unilateral actions that its leaders believe would undermine its security, with no concomitant expectation of concrete action on the Palestinian side to assure the safety of Israeli citizens. They are willing to bet that if American diplomacy forces Israel to make "tangible" changes to its policies, that will somehow "benefit Israel" in the long run.
This is at best, naïve. Israel can't afford to relax its security measures just because someone in the US says it will all be okay. Its enemies' commitment to its destruction has not waned. Loosening the "blockade" will not persuade Hamas to change its goals nor deter it from attacking.
THE DEMOCRATS' letter effectively demonstrates a mind-set all too typical of the Left, which we are seeing increasingly in more "mainstream" discourse: that Israel is doing wrong, Israel must make concessions, Israel is not acting morally except when it gives in. Unfortunately, history teaches us that appeasement leads to more violence, not less. The fact that so many Democrats signed the letter is troubling in and of itself.
The RJC (generously) called the letter signers "misguided." Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) agrees, telling The Jerusalem Post's Shmuel Rosner in a recent interview that the Gaza 54 are "misinformed" legislators.
The RJC decided to take action because we were troubled that 54 Democratic congressmen would call on the president to pressure Israel in this way. We asked our members to express their view on the letter. Within hours, a strong grassroots showing from across the country had signed the petition on our web site, calling for the letter signers to "take a firm stand against terrorism by disassociating yourself from this dangerous letter and upholding America's commitment to Israel's security in the future."
There are simple facts missing from the Gaza 54 letter about Israel's actions to help the residents of Gaza. The same facts were missing from remarks by one of the 54, Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), who last week told students in Gaza that the US should bring in ships to the coast to break the Israeli "blockade" on the Gaza Strip.
As RJC wrote in our own letter to President Obama, asking him to repudiate Baird's remarks: Egypt also has a blockade of Gaza in place and is constructing a wall, similar to Israel's, to stop the smuggling of people and weapons across its border with Gaza; Israel allows huge quantities of food, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies into Gaza each day; Israel has prohibited only building supplies from coming into Gaza, to prevent them from being diverted by Hamas to military use. Israel has taken necessary and justifiable steps to stop terrorism originating from Hamas-controlled Gaza.
THE TRUTH is that the Palestinians are victims of their leaders and of their choices. For decades they have been taught to hate Israel (and Jews), to demand retribution and reparations, and to never compromise - by leaders who pocketed the funds meant to help them, corrupted the political system meant to lead them, and used them as foot soldiers against a reluctant enemy, Israel. Sadly, the lessons of hatred have been well-learned. Palestinian voters chose Hamas in the election of January 2006, giving them 74 of the 132 parliamentary seats and leading to the June 2007 Hamas coup in Gaza that split the Palestinian proto-polity in two. Afterward, hundreds of rockets were launched from within Gaza. The "blockade" of Gaza is a direct result of all these events.
The 54 Democrats who wrote to President Obama should understand this
history and the Israeli security measures required to guarantee
Israel's continued existence and safety. They paid lip service to
Israel's security needs, but without confronting the hard question,
which Israel faces daily, of how to keep Israeli citizens safe.
Lacking that important element, the letter was just another outrageous
political attack on Israel and it deserved the condemnation of RJC and
other friends of Israel. We stand by our characterization of the letter
and by our statements about it.
The writer is Executive Director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.