- WASHINGTON - The very
Wednesday of hard-line former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
openly criticizing American peace efforts - right in the halls of the U.S.
Congress - seemed to send a strong signal that this country's lawmakers
remain heavily tilted toward Israel.
- Yes, most members of Congress point out nuances in their
positions and, yes, they back President Bush's call for Israeli withdrawal
from Palestinian territory. And they are eager to see Secretary of State
Colin Powell's peace mission succeed.
- But the American sympathy toward Israel was
Wednesday. There was little apparent protest as the dogged Netanyahu made
the Washington rounds on behalf of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, speaking
to a group of senators - with introductions by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman,
D-Conn. - and later talking to members of the media.
- As Powell prepares for likely meetings Friday with Sharon
and Saturday with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Netanyahu signaled
his distaste for much of the process, saying Powell's effort "won't
amount to anything."
- And, the Israeli emissary cleverly used the United
own arguments for fighting terrorism, telling senators, "there can
never be a political solution for terror. You have to defeat terrorism
militarily in order to have a political process." He called for the
expulsion of Arafat, a move the White House opposes.
- Lieberman, one of the early voices calling for Powell
to visit the Mideast, distanced himself from Netanyahu's more incendiary
- But, said Lieberman spokesman Dan Gerstein, "he
agrees with Netanyahu on a lot. The senator does not believe the peace
process is doomed, but he is very pessimistic."
- To Arab-American Institute President James Zogby, the
meeting demonstrated just what's wrong with Congress' attitude toward the
- "We have a president who took some time and care
to get to this point," Zogby said, "and in the middle of it,
this character comes to town to speak against him."
- Zogby called Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., a key organizer of
the Netanyahu appearance, a "sicko."
- Netanyahu's disdain of the peace process is not shared
by most congressional lawmakers, but his call for strong U.S. support of
- Most lawmakers put it this way: They think Israel has
a right to defend itself. They want peace. And they are not
but they are anti-terrorist.
- "The fact of the matter is that Sharon will do,
as we see him doing, what is good for Israel," said House Majority
Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas.
- Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., who rarely agrees with
Armey on anything, echoed the Republican's thoughts, speaking of "the
critical need of Israeli people to be free from terrorism and
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., called the Israeli attacks on
targets "something every American can understand."
- These attitudes are important because if Powell is to
succeed, he has to have united American political support. That such
is staunchly pro-Israel sends him an important message that he cannot go
too far in opposing Israeli interests.
- At the same time, there are discernible shades of gray
in the congressional attitudes. People want Powell to succeed, and it's
important to remember, said Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle,
that any American sentiment toward Israel should not be read as
- "No one," he said, "is condemning the
Arabs or the Palestinians specifically."
- There's also this strategic consideration: The United
States needs the continuing support of moderate Arab states in its war
against terrorism, especially if it plans an invasion of Iraq. It can
afford to alienate those states, something congressional leaders are well
- How far the voices of moderation will go in shaping
remains uncertain. The sympathy for Israel is rooted too deeply and for
too many reasons, including the many similarities between Israel's
and those of the United States.
- The most obvious is this country's Jewish population.
There are an estimated 5.7 million Jewish people in the United States,
and 10 of the 100 U.S. senators and 27 of the 435 House members list their
religion as Jewish. Lieberman is an Orthodox Jew who in 2000 became the
first of his faith ever to run on a national party's presidential
- Arab Americans have far less representation. Their
backers have generally been from the Detroit area, where there is a large
Arab-American population. But the same area has a large, active Jewish
population, so lawmakers tend to be careful in discussing the Mideast
- "It's very important that we deal fairly with both
sides," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. "It's just a very
- Zogby maintained that Congress is blindly pro-Israel
because "they're all like DWI, operating under the influence"
of powerful Jewish interests.
- "How could this [the Netanyahu appearance] have
happened? The senators violated their oath of office. I'm
- But to simply say sympathy for Israel is a result of
some powerful Jewish interests or sizable population would be a mistake,
other analysts said.
- "Israel is a democracy that had innocent citizens
blown up by terrorists," said James M. Lindsay, senior fellow in
policy studies at the Brookings Institution. "It's not unlike what
happened to Americans on Sept. 11. Many Americans see this issue in moral
as well as political terms."
- That made sense to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who said
proportionately, "Israel has suffered greater casualties [from recent
terrorist acts] than the U.S."
- Lawmakers also echoed the public sentiment reflected
in polls, that although support for Israel remains strong, the public wants
peace in the region, and it wants the violence to end.
- "The Middle East is quickly spinning out of control
and is heading toward a raging inferno, which will leave the United States
with very few options in this region," said Sen. Chuck Hagel,
- Members of Congress indicated that as long as Powell
comes up with some plan that appears reasonable, they will probably support
- "There are no good options for the United States
in the Middle East," Hagel said. "Each option carries risk, but
the option of not being actively engaged is far higher."
- "We cannot lose sight of what should be our ultimate
goal," Wellstone said, "Israel and a new Palestinian state living
side by side in peace with secure borders."
- Copyright 2002, Hartford Courant