Debate on Gaza report shows growing resolve to change pro-Israeli stance 16Nov09 November 17, 2009
The Palestine Telegraph -Â 16 November 2009
The significance of the congressional debate of the Goldstone report on the Gaza conflict last week may have been ignored by many given what appeared to be the lopsided vote in favour of the anti-Goldstone resolution. It will be recalled that when the report was first released, members of Congress were quick to denounce it using, at times, near hysterical language. Since Goldstone had no vocal champions, when the foreign affairs committee chairman, Howard Berman, and the ranking Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen introduced their anti-Goldstone resolution, one might have thought that the matter would be quickly resolved with a near unanimous vote.
But that was not to be the case.
For his part, Justice Goldstone mounted a vigorous defence of his work. In an open letter to the congressional sponsors, the justice offered a point-by-point rebuttal of what he detailed as the misleading and factually incorrect statements in the resolution.
In addition, two members of Congress, Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota, and Brian Baird, Democrat of Washington state, who had visited Gaza after the war, wrote articles and pressed their colleagues urging a more thoughtful consideration of the Goldstone report. Leading human rights organisations, Arab-American and American-Jewish groups, a coalition of Christian churches and other non-governmental organisations mobilised their memberships and addressed letters to Congress.
As a result, instead of a quick and quiet vote, an extended debate took place. At least 16 members of Congress rose to speak about their opposition to the bill.
In their remarks, the members defended the integrity of Justice Goldstone and the report; spoke of the importance of defending the rule of law; decried the efforts of some to cover-up the horrors that occurred in Gaza; and expressed concern with the lack of any open and transparent process that rushed this anti-Goldstone measure to a vote.
What follows are excerpts from some of those who spoke:
The Congresswoman Barbara Lee (Democrat of California):
“The tragic deaths of innocent civilians in Gaza and the devastation brought upon their homes, schools, and infrastructure has worsened a humanitarian crisis that cannot be ignored. Residents of Gaza and the West Bank continue to lack appropriate access to the most fundamental needs, including food, fuel, water, sanitation, education, health care, and the basic materials needed to rebuild their communities.”
Congressman William Delahunt (Democrat of Massachusetts):
“This resolution came to the floor on suspension without a hearing, despite the willingness of Judge Goldstone to come before the United States Congress and answer any questions that we might pose to him.”
Congressman Brian Baird (Democrat of Washington State):
“My friends who have described the Goldstone Report, as a colleague just did, I’m not sure if they have read it. Unlike most of my colleagues here, I have been to Gaza and I have read in its entirety the Goldstone Report. And I will tell you he says many things that, though unpleasant, are true and must not be obstructed …
“Do not pass this resolution. Support this fine jurist. Give justice, true justice, a chance to be heard.”
Congressman John Dingell (Democrat of Michigan):
“Neither Israel nor Hamas, nor any other country or other non-state political actor is exempt from international human rights laws or free of consequence for violations of them. If nothing else, the Goldstone Report should serve as a document that Israel, Hamas and the rest of the international community can use to ensure that future human rights violations do not take place in civilian areas …
Congressman Dennis Kucinich (Democrat of Ohio):
“Almost as serious as committing war crimes is covering up war crimes, pretending that war crimes were never committed and did not exist.
“Because if this Congress votes to condemn a report it has not read concerning events it has totally ignored about violations of law of which it is unaware, it will have brought shame to this great institution.”
Congresswoman Betty McCollum (Democrat of Minnesota):
“This resolution seeks to hide the ugliness of the Gaza war by covering up violent excesses committed against innocent civilians by both Hamas and the Israeli Defence Forces. Why does the US House want to reject an accounting of Hamas’ terrorism against Israeli civilians, as if thousands of rockets were not fired at Israel? And why would this resolution want to deny that hundreds of Palestinian women and children and elders were needlessly killed?”
Congresswoman Lois Capps (Democrat of California):
“I think that in this body’s haste, we’ve overlooked some of the depth of unspeakable tragedies that have occurred during the war on Gaza. Innocent Israeli and Palestinian lives were lost.”
Congressman George Miler (Democrat of California):
“I fully support efforts to provide clarity, honesty and accuracy to the debate about the conflict in Gaza, just as do many of my constituents who have contacted me this week urging me to oppose this resolution.”
Following this extraordinary debate, with both Democratic and Republican leadership actively pushing their members to vote for the resolution, passage was a foregone conclusion. But, the final vote, though appearing to be lopsided, yielded more votes in opposition than in any previous similar vote on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee-supported resolution, with 344 “for”, 36 “against”, 22 “present”, and 30 “not voting”.
What this debate and vote point to is the growing resolve of some significant members of Congress and some Jewish members to speak out and challenge pro-Israel orthodoxy.
It should not go unnoticed.