WASHINGTON - Many voices around the world speak up for the Palestinians, but few in the U.S. Congress.
Lawmakers in Washington routinely pass nonbinding resolutions
supporting Israel during Middle East crises. The Senate on Thursday
backed Israel's battle against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip and
the House of Representatives followed on Friday.
lawmakers who express sympathy for the Palestinians hesitate to call
themselves pro-Palestinian and they voice strong support for the
security of Israel as well, hewing to decades of close U.S.-Israeli
"When these events occur, there's almost a knee-jerk
reaction of Congress that endorses 1,000 percent what Israel is doing,"
said Nick Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat and Lebanese-American who
has voted against some of the measures and did so again on Friday.
"Israel is our ally. ... It always has been, with which I perfectly
agree. But I don't believe in allowing that to blind us to what is in
our best interests, or giving knee-jerk approval to anything Israel
does. We don't do that with any other ally," he told Reuters.
Washington has been Israel's closest ally since 1948, when President
Harry Truman made the United States the first country to recognize the
new Jewish state.
Harry Reid, who leads the Democratic majority
in the Senate, gave voice to the depth of the relationship when he said
on Thursday, "Our resolution reflects the will of the State of Israel
and the will of the American people."
The Senate measure
offered "unwavering commitment" to Israel. It recognized "its right to
act in self-defense to protect its citizens against acts of terrorism"
and urged a ceasefire that would keep Hamas from firing rockets at
That closely tracked Republican President George W.
Bush's comments on the crisis, said Ric Stoll, professor of political
science at Rice University, who questioned whether it helped U.S.
diplomats trying to broker a ceasefire.
"You don't have to say Hamas are nice folks," Stoll said. "(But) how do
you convince supporters of the Palestinians to pressure Hamas to go for
a ceasefire, if your statements look like you are tilting heavily
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The House on Friday passed a resolution
"recognizing Israel's right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza"
by 390-5. The measure noted that the humanitarian situation in Gaza "is
becoming more acute" but did not rebuke Israel.
The House has passed similar measures in recent years by landslides.
In 2006, the House voted 410-8 to condemn Hamas and Hezbollah for
"unprovoked and reprehensible armed attacks against Israel" and
supported Israel's incursion into Lebanon.
In 2004, the vote
was 407-9 to support a statement by Bush that it was "unrealistic" to
expect Israel to return completely to pre-1967 borders. In 2003, it was
399-5 to support Israel's forceful response to Palestinian attacks as
The few opponents of the measures often include
lawmakers of Arab-American descent or from Arab-American communities,
and mavericks such as Democrat Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Republican
Ron Paul of Texas.
Kucinich, who sought the Democratic
presidential nomination last year, charged that the United States was
ignoring the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza while facilitating
Israel's actions with arms deals worth billions.
"sniffs at the slaughter of innocents in Gaza," he said. "U.S. tax
dollars, U.S. jets and U.S. helicopters provided to Israel are enabling
the slaughter in Gaza."
James Zogby, president of the Arab
American Institute, said the Israeli lobby is often seen as the force
behind pro-Israel votes, but he thinks it is not that simple.
Some Americans "don't have a clue" about the Palestinians' history, he said.
Lawmakers also take foreign policy cues from the president, Zogby said,
so some change could lie ahead with President-elect Barack Obama, who
has said little about the crisis so far.
Editing by Eric Walsh