Nov 16th 2009

A Debate Worth Noting

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

A story universally missed last week was the extraordinary debate that occurred in Congress in advance of a vote on a resolution against the Goldstone Report. It may have been that this story not seen as newsworthy as others playing out at the same time: the fallout over Secretary of State Clinton's "whip lash" performances in Jerusalem, Marrakesh and Cairo; Palestinian President Abbas' announcement that he would not run in 2010; and Israel's seizure of a ship it claimed was transporting weapons from Iran to Hizbollah.

Then again, the significance of the Congressional debate may have been ignored given what appeared to be the lopsided vote in favor 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 Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Howard Berman and ranking Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen introduced their AIPAC supported 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 defense 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 (D-MN) and Brian Baird (D-WA) who had visited Gaza after the war, wrote articles and pressed their colleagues urging a more thoughtful consideration of the Goldstone Report. And the NGO community (including leading human rights organizations, Arab American and American Jewish groups, and a coalition of Christian churches) mobilized 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 eloquently and passionately 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 a few excerpts from some of those who spoke:

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA),

"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 (D-MA),

"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 (D-WA)

"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 (D-MI)

"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 (D-OH)

"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 (D-MN)

"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 Defense Forces. Why does the U.S. 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 (D-CA)

"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 (D-CA)

"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 that in any previous similar vote on an AIPAC supported resolution, with: 344 For, 36 Against, 22 Present, and 30 Not Voting (Against and Present votes are opposed, and about one-half of those "Not Voting" were also opposed).

What this debate and vote point to is the growing resolve of some significant Members of Congress (a Committee Chair and several sub-Committee Chairs, the Chairs of the Congressional Black Caucus and Progressive Caucus, and some Jewish Members) to speak out and challenge pro-Israel orthodoxy.

It should not go unnoticed.

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