x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

US leaders close ranks in favour of Israel

But at least one congressional legislator broke ranks this week by strongly condemning Israel.

A coalition of groups demonstrate against the offensive near the Israeli Consulate in New York.
A coalition of groups demonstrate against the offensive near the Israeli Consulate in New York.

WASHINGTON // The message from official Washington - including the White House and top leaders in the US Congress - has been clear: the United States stands by its staunch ally Israel and its right to defend itself against rocket attacks by Hamas. But at least one congressional legislator broke ranks this week by strongly condemning Israel, calling for a UN investigation of that country's offensive in Gaza, saying it is "indiscriminate mass violence" and in violation of international law. Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat in the House of Representatives and a former US presidential contender, sent a letter to Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, asking for an independent inquiry into Israel's military actions. Israel says it launched the air strikes in self-defence. "The perpetrators of attacks against Israel must also be brought to justice, but Israel cannot create a war against an entire people in order to attempt to bring to justice the few who are responsible," Mr Kucinich said in a statement. "The Israeli leaders know better. The world community, which has been very supportive of Israel's right to security and its right to survive, also has a right to expect Israel to conduct itself in adherence to the very laws which support the survival of Israel and every other nation." Mr Kucinich, a longtime critic of the Iraq war and the man who launched it, George W Bush, said the attacks on civilians violated Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention in that they constitute "collective punishment" of the citizens in the Gaza Strip. Article 33 states, in part: "No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed." Although the United Nations and several western governments have swiftly condemned the assault - Mr Ban called it an "excessive use of force" and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, called it "disproportionate" - the Bush administration has squarely blamed Hamas. "In order for the violence to stop, Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel and agree to respect a sustainable and durable ceasefire," Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said recently from Crawford, Texas, where Mr Bush is spending the holidays. Leaders on Capitol Hill have likewise consistently defended Israel. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, said in a statement that the Gaza Strip "cannot be allowed to be a sanctuary for attacks on Israel". "The United States must continue to stand strongly with its friend and democratic ally," she said. In March, the House voted 404-1 for a resolution condemning Hamas for its rocket attacks. The lone opponent was Ron Paul, a Republican from Texas, who has twice run for president. Mr Kucinich was not present. Mr Kucinich, who has called himself "America's Most Courageous Congressman", has been joined in his criticism of Israel by some US-based human rights groups. The New-York based Human Rights Watch, for example, has questioned the legality of some of Israel's targets, including civilian buildings and a mosque. An affiliate of the Muslim American Society organised demonstrations in 10 US cities this week, including Washington, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, and a coalition of Islamic groups planned a "Vigil for Gaza" in front of the White House for last night. Other officials have spoken out, including Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian Territories and a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University. Mr Falk is a US Jew who has been condemned by Israel for "legitimising" Hamas's violence and for likening Israeli actions in Gaza to those of Nazi Germany during the Second World War. In an unrelated controversy, he has been criticised by some for suggesting the US government may have been involved in the September 11 attacks. But Mr Falk has called on the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel's recent actions, including its blockade on the flow of medical supplies and food into Gaza. "It's a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law as contained in the Geneva conventions," he said in a telephone interview. "These violations are sufficiently severe to constitute crimes against humanity." Mr Falk, who was recently denied entry into Israel on a trip during which he was to travel to the Palestinian Territories to document human rights conditions, applauded Mr Kucinich's stance, noting the political risks associated with criticising Israel in the United States. "It's notable for its rarity; it almost never happens," he said. "Once you cross this red line of criticising Israel, you are completely under attack and any other effort you make politically tends to be opposed and you tend to be marginalised." Many analysts say the prevailing attitudes in Washington are shaped by what has come to be known as the "Israel lobby", a bloc of pro-Israel organisations and individuals. Their influence far outstrips that of lobbyists who champion the cause of Palestinians, according to Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the Washington-based American Task Force on Palestine. "There isn't very much on the other side in terms of pro-Palestinian domestic political clout in the US," he said. Mr Ibish added that, in the current conflict, support for Israel is particularly strong because Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation by the US government and a majority of US residents view it as such. As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama became acutely aware of how politically perilous the subject of Israel can be, when in March 2007 he told a small gathering of Democratic activists in Iowa: "Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people." The comment quickly made headlines and earned him the ire of hawkish pro-Israel groups. Mr Obama also came under fire for his willingness to engage diplomatically with Iran, Israel's archenemy, and for the ties his former pastor had to Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, who has called Jews "satanic". But Mr Obama placated Jewish sceptics in part by voicing resounding support for Israel during a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the largest pro-Israel lobbying group in the United States. Mr Kucinich, who is known for taking contrarian positions - he was the lone House member to oppose a symbolic resolution remembering September 11 victims last year, citing concerns over the administration's "lies" about Iraq - may have a tougher time shaking off critics. "He is not a friend of Israel; he doesn't understand the security concerns of the Israeli people; he doesn't understand what it's like to live under rockets that are coming down constantly," said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder of the non-profit Israel Project in Washington. "If Dennis Kucinich were at all consistent with what voters wanted, he would be the president-elect as opposed to one of many people who tried to be the president-elect." eniedowski@thenational.ae sstanek@thenational.ae