Positive Signs from Congress in Private, Questionable in Public

The following is CALME luminary MJ Rosenberg’s “IPF Friday” piece from today:

Kangaroo Congressional Hearing

The board of Israel Policy Forum was up on Capitol Hill this week to meet with key Senators and House members about the need to energize US efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The terrible weather was a blessing in disguise. Fifteen minute meetings stretched into a half hour while half hour meetings lasted almost an hour.

We met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Presidential Candidate Barack Obama, and Senators Kennedy, Kerry, Sununu, Murray, Cantwell and Hagel and newly elected Senators Webb, Brown, and McCaskill. The next day, we focused on House Members from the Pacific Northwest and Nita Lowey, the new Chair of the House Appropriations Committee on Foreign Operations, and the first Muslim to serve in Congress, Keith Ellison.

These meetings (with the legislators and usually a top aide) left our delegation feeling that this is a new day on Capitol Hill. Each of these legislators understands that progress toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is central to securing US interests throughout the Arab and larger Muslim world. Each recognizes that ending the conflict is critical to the security of the State of Israel. Each knows that resistance to vigorous US diplomatic activity is just about the worst approach for those of us worried about America’s standing in the world and Israel’s security as a nation.

We have had these conversations with legislators many times but this week’s conversations were different. This time there was a clear sense of urgency that America needs to play its historic role as honest broker between Israelis and Palestinians and offer the leadership that will advance both America’s and Israel’s security while simultaneously relieving Palestinian suffering and moving toward the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

One Senator could have been speaking for every legislator with whom we met when he said, “We all know what a final status agreement will look like. It is the Taba working paper with 1% or 2% changes on borders. The only question is whether we move toward implementing that peace during the next year or two or wait until a few hundred or thousand more people on both sides die first.”

The same Senator said that he would guess that 90 of his colleagues agree with him although many feel constrained about saying that aloud because of the “pressure groups.”

We left the Hill tired and hopeful although some of that hopefulness evaporated when we learned that on Wednesday the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East had conducted a hearing called “‘Next Steps in the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process” and invited as witnesses David Makovsky, the Director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Martin Indyk, Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and Daniel Pipes, the Director of the Middle East Forum.

Both Indyk and Makovsky have impeccable credentials. Makovsky is a brilliant journalist, whose writing on the Middle East is both strong and fair. Indyk served as America’s ambassador to Israel and Assistant Secretary of State. Pipes, by way of contrast, is essentially a crank. He is a prolific writer who repeatedly sounds one note: that the Palestinians are bad people with whom negotiations are impossible. As for Muslims in general, “Western European societies are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and maintaining different standards of hygiene…All immigrants bring exotic customs and attitudes, but Muslim customs are more troublesome than most.”

He doesn’t have much use for the Israelis either. In his testimony he trashed the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for “their ennui with fighting.” He called Israelis “’an exhausted people, confused and without direction.”

Let’s stop for a moment and consider the armchair warrior Pipes’ use of the word “ennui” to describe Israelis eager for peace rather than more war. According to the dictionary, ennui means “listlessness and dissatisfaction resulting from lack of interest; boredom.” In other words, Israelis are tired of fighting the way a teenager might be bored by another Saturday at the mall.

Rabin, the greatest military hero in Israel’s history, gave up on war because he was feeling listless.
What should he have done? What should Olmert do now?

Echoing General MacArthur (but with no military background, of course), Pipes argues for total victory. “Victory consists of imposing one’s will on the enemy by compelling him to give up his war goals. Wars usually end when one side gives up its hope of winning, when its will to fight has been crushed.”

In other words, Israelis should fight Palestinians until the end of time.

Imagine. This guy spouted this loathsome nonsense at an official hearing of the United States Congress. (He’s just lucky that two of the Senators we met with were not in the room. James Webb and Chuck Hagel, two military heroes who hate war as only those who have experienced it can, would have torn him to shreds.).

And which Arab-American or Palestinian-American was there to rebut Pipes? To speak of the inhumanity of proposing the physical destruction of Palestinian men, women and children? To express the need to implement the two-state solution, endorsed by a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians, which eliminates any necessity for one people to destroy or be destroyed by the other.

Well, none. Because no Arab or Arab-American was invited to the hearing. Groups like American Task Force for Palestine and the Arab-American Institute should have been invited but weren’t. Nor did any call for testimony go out to the prominent Arab American scholars like Shibley Telhami or Khalil Shikaki who might have offered perspective, not to mention their conviction that that Israelis and Palestinians must live together in peace.

This was a hearing about the two sides of a conflict where only one side was allowed to speak. It was a throwback to the bad old days when Congress held hearings on racism with only whites invited to testify.

I would not have expected this throwback to the colonial mentality from the 110th Congress in the year 2007. Nor would I expect Congress to invite testimony from an “expert witness” whose main expertise seems to be in inciting hatred against Arabs and Muslims.

This kind of thing has to stop.

And it will, because the overwhelming majority of Representatives and Senators want America to help produce an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians that will help secure America’s interest in the Middle East while defending Israel’s as well. That majority understands that although the Middle East Subcommittee hearing got no play in this country, it was widely covered in the Middle East (by Al Jazeera in particular) and will damage America’s ability to play a productive role.

Although few Americans outside the Congressional hearing room heard Daniel Pipes spew out his hatred for Arabs and describe the need to crush the Palestinian people, millions of Arabs and other Muslims heard him throughout the Middle East and Muslim Asia.

Every one who did, every one who saw an official Congressional hearing that banned the Arab point of view was either hurt by the spectacle or angered by it. And that damages the interests of America, and of Israel.

The bad news is that this hearing took place at all. But the good news is very good. It is that there is a real sense in Washington that things are changing on Capitol Hill. Senators and House Members – especially the up-and-comers and freshmen – are determined that America resume its role of leadership in seeking an end to a conflict that does so much damage both to us, to the Palestinians, and to Israel. And they understand that America cannot do any good for anyone in the Middle East if we are seen as hostile to 99% of the people who live in that region.

I would not expect too many more hearings like the rather silly spectacle of this past Wednesday. Unfortunately, even one was one too many.

Explore posts in the same categories: CALME Luminaries, Israel, Middle East, Middle East Peace, Palestinians, Two State Solution, U.S. Role

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