Congress Out of Step With Public on Intl Law?
WASHINGTON - The U.S. House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution Tuesday condemning the Goldstone Report on Israeli and Hamas actions taking during the Gaza War as "irredeemably biased" against Israel and calling on U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to oppose any consideration of the report in multilateral fora, such as the United Nations.
But a poll released just the day before found that a large majority of U.S. citizens believe the U.S. should abide by international laws and view the international legal system favorably.
House Resolution (HR) 867 called on the White House and State Department to oppose any future examinations of the report, which members of Congress felt focused disproportionally on alleged Israeli war crimes while paying little attention to violations committed by Hamas during the Gaza War from Dec. 27, 2008 to Jan. 18, 2009.
"The 344 supporters have apparently not read the report," wrote Human Rights Watch senior researcher Fred Abrahams. "The 575-page document records violations of the laws of war by Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, and concludes that all sides committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity."
"Both Israelis and Palestinians need to carry out investigations that meet international standards or face international prosecution," he said.
The report called for an independent committee of experts to examine how Israel and Hamas conduct domestic investigations into war crimes accusations. The U.S. State Department has suggested that - although it believes the report is biased - it should be handled within the U.N.
"We have serious concerns about the Goldstone Report and its unbalanced focus on Israel and its sweeping conclusions of law," a State Department spokesperson told IPS. "We believe the report should be handled within the U.N. Human Rights Council and we disagree with many of its recommendations including that it should be taken up by the U.N. Security Council."
The resolution's strong endorsement by Congress - which voted 344 to 36 in favor - stands in marked contrast to both the State Department's position that the report should be handled within the U.N. Human Rights Council as well as U.S. public opinion on international law.
A new poll by World Public Opinion (WPO) and the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) found that 69 percent of U.S. citizens believe that, "Our nation should consistently follow international laws. It is wrong to violate international laws, just as it is wrong to violate laws within a country," making the U.S. public one of the biggest supporters of international law of any country polled.
Only poll respondents in Germany - where 70 percent agreed with the statement - and China - where 74 percent agreed with the statement - had a higher opinion of international law.
"I thought that when you watched some of the speeches by members of Congress in support of this resolution opposing Goldstone, you saw people who were emotionally exercised that they thought, 'well this was a report that was attacking Israel and making Israel vulnerable' and they didn't like that," Joe Volk, executive secretary at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a Quaker advocacy group, told IPS. "You could see jaws and lips quiver," he added.
"While the members of Congress who said 'don't vote for this resolution because it's besmirching an international jurist who has distinguished himself, and look at the report itself. It's not an attack on Israel. It's a call to investigate crimes that may have been committed.' They spoke in very thoughtful tempered rational terms," Volk went on to say.
Lobbying in favor of the resolution to condemn the Goldstone report was particularly strong with heavyweight advocacy groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which endorsed the resolution, and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which condemned the report on its release and, in a statement released Wednesday, "welcomed the moral stance taken by the U.S. House of Representatives in passing Resolution 867".
The resolution's cosponsors - Rep. Howard Berman, a California Democrat, and Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican - along with 12 other senators and representatives, had attended the Jerusalem Conference on "Reinforcing U.S.-Israeli Ties" Tuesday before the Goldstone resolution vote.
"Unfortunately the U.S. has been too focused on getting sacrifices from Israel while telling the Palestinian authority, 'you're off the hook'. That is unbalanced. That is unfair. That is not the way we need to do business," Ros-Lehtinen told the conference.
"And moving forward we're going to urge the U.S. foreign policy to recognize the reality of what Israel is facing. Israel continues to make sacrifices in pursuit of peace while the Palestinian authority remains part of the problem, not part of the solution," she concluded.
"[HR 867] was written and promoted by AIPAC," MJ Rosenberg, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, a research center that monitors "conservative misinformation" in the media, told IPS. "The thing that makes this more egregious than any other Israel related resolution is that it's an attack resolution. It's an attack on this great judge, [Richard] Goldstone."
"The most infuriating part is that some of these liberals [who voted for the Goldstone resolution] are some of the harshest critics of America's actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo," Rosenberg continued. "The standards they apply to the U.S. aren't applied to Israel."
The State Department's measured language - suggesting the report was biased but should be dealt with in the U.N. Human Rights Council - appears to reflect the multilateral world view and embrace of international law espoused by the Barack Obama administration.
"I think that one of the roles of this resolution is that it is a dissonant against Obama's message that the U.S. is going to take a new approach and take a new posture in the world," said Volk.
"Many members of Congress voted for a rejection of the Goldstone Report because they say the U.N. Human Rights Council will use it in a hypocritical way. But the predictable outcome of that is that people in other countries will look at this and say, 'Look how hypocritical the U.S. is'," he concluded.