Glenn Greenwald

Unanimous Consent

When Israel acts, Congress
applauds. No debate required.

Glenn Greenwald
The American Conservative
January 26, 2008 issue

In most of the world, the Israeli attack on Gaza is viewed as an intensely
controversial act and, more commonly, an excessive, unjustifiable, and
brutal assault on a trapped civilian population. But not in the United States—
at least not among America’s political and opinion-making elite. Here
one finds a bipartisan consensus as simplistic as it is unquestioned: Israel’s
bombing campaign and invasion of Gaza are right and just, and it is the duty
of the U.S. to support these actions unequivocally.

From the moment Israel began dropping bombs on Gaza, leaders of
America’s two major political parties rushed to announce their total support,
competing to see who could most fulsomely praise the offensive. So
complete was the agreement that they all seemed to be reading from the
same script. While other Western governments issued even-handed
statements condemning both Israel and Hamas and their diplomats worked
furiously to forge a ceasefire agreement, America’s political leaders stood
on the sidelines, cheering with increasing fervor.

When it comes to Israel’s various military actions, there is far more dissent
within Israel, where one commonly finds prominent, vehement criticism
of the Israeli government, than there is within the U.S., where such criticism
is all but nonexistent. Indeed, in the U.S. Congress, there is far more
unqualified support for Israel’s wars than for America’s own.

The refusal of our political leaders to deviate even slightly from this ritual
reached its zenith during the week of Jan. 5, when events in Gaza heightened
worldwide opposition to the Israeli attack. The Palestinian death toll
exceeded 800, with more than 3,000 wounded. The UN reported that roughly
a third of the dead and wounded were children, that Gaza was on the verge
of collapse, that its residents were on the brink of mass starvation. Israel
bombed a school where the UN had established a shelter, killing 40 refugees
hiding there in terror. The Israeli Defense Force initially claimed that
Hamas militants had shot from a rooftop of the school and Israel merely
returned fire. But the following day, when the UN investigated and found
that claim to be false, Israel was forced to acknowledge that no such
provocation occurred. Instead, the IDF said, the bombing of the school was
merely an accident.

The next day, the Red Cross, which for a full week had been prevented by the
IDF from entering Gaza, unveiled a gruesome discovery: numerous children,
too emaciated even to stand up, had spent days in an apartment complex
lying next to the corpses of their parents and other relatives as the IDF
blocked ambulances from reaching them. The same day, the UN suggested
that Israel had committed war crimes, citing an appalling incident in which
the Israelis ordered some 110 civilians to enter a house and stay there,
then proceeded to shell the building, killing 30 civilians inside. Though the
IDF physically prevented journalists from entering Gaza, even in the face
of a week-old order from the Israeli Supreme Court directing them to allow
access, documented stories began emerging of large extended families
in Gaza—parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, and small children—
extinguished by Israeli attacks.

The world recoiled in horror. Angry street demonstrations erupted in Europe,
and condemnations of Israel from the UN and Red Cross were unusually
strident.

It was at this moment that the American Congress inserted itself—and,
in effect, the United States—into the war, and did so in the most one-sided
manner possible. As the Palestinian body count and international anger
mounted, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Howard
Berman (D-Calif.) introduced a non-binding resolution that expressed
unequivocal American support for the Israeli attack and formally declared
that all blame for the war and all responsibility to end it rested with Hamas—
none with Israel. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee quickly
announced its full support.

AIPAC’s enthusiasm was unsurprising since the text of the resolution could
easily have been written by the Israeli government. Every sentence was
framed exclusively from the Israeli perspective, each clause grounded on the
premise that Israel was 100 percent just. Not a word of criticism or even
reservation. On the contrary, Berman’s resolution praised Israel for its
humanitarian conduct of the war—even as the UN accused Israel of possible
war crimes and the Red Cross vehemently complained about the IDF’s
impeding of medical and other humanitarian services. Most notably, the
resolution expressed unyielding American dedication to the “welfare” of
Israel, both in general terms and with regard to this war.

In the Senate, support for the resolution was absolute across party and
ideological lines. Its chief sponsors were Majority Leader Harry Reid and
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Not a single senator—not one—expressed
opposition, so there was no need for a roll-call vote. On Jan. 8, as images of
a burning Gaza were being broadcast around the world, the Senate approved
the resolution by unanimous consent, without objection.

Two days later, the House followed suit. Of the 435 members of Congress,
a grand total of five voted against the resolution, while 20 voted “present.”
The rest—from the farthest left precincts of the Democratic Party to the
farthest right wing of the Republican Party, from all four corners of the
country and everywhere in between—found common cause in lending
full-throated support to Israel’s war.

What makes this transpartisan consensus so notable is not merely the
improbability of 510 ideologically diverse lawmakers all looking at this
perplexing and contentious war and just happening to decide that Israel is
fully in the right. Beyond the abstract question of whether Israel’s attack
is justified lies the weightier question of whether the United States should
incur the wrath of much of the world, and virtually the entire Muslim world,
by involving itself in this war. Remarkably, the consensus extended not only
to the view that Israel was right to attack Gaza, but that the U.S. should
formalize its support for Israel’s offensive.

Though the resolution was nonbinding, it was not inconsequential. At a time
when worldwide disgust was at its peak, the U.S. made Israel’s war our war,
its enemies our enemies, its intractable disputes ours, and the hostility
generated by Israeli actions our own. And we emboldened Israel to continue.

Given that we hear endlessly from our political establishment that the first
obligation of our leaders is to keep us safe—that’s the justification for
everything from torture to presidential lawbreaking—what legitimate
rationale is there for the U.S. Congress to act in unison to redirect worldwide
anger against Israel toward American citizens? How are U.S. interests
advanced by insinuating ourselves into such an entrenched conflict?
Answers to those questions from supporters of the resolution were never
required because those questions were never asked. As dubious a
proposition as it is, the notion that American interests are inherently
advanced by lending unquestioning support to Israel is one of the country’s
most hardened and unexamined premises.

What makes this accord among America’s political class more notable still is
how disconnected it is from American public opinion. Last July, a poll from
the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes
found that 71 percent of Americans want the U.S. government not to take
sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Similarly, a Rasmussen study in early
January—the first to survey American public opinion specifically regarding
the Israeli attack on Gaza—found that Americans generally were “closely
divided over whether the Jewish state should be taking military action
against militants in the Gaza Strip” (41 to 44 percent, with 15 percent
undecided), but Democratic voters overwhelmingly opposed the Israeli
offensive—by a 24-point margin (31 to 55 percent). Yet those significant
divisions were nowhere to be found in the actions of their ostensible
representatives.

It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to find in American political life any
other issue of this consequence, complexity, and controversy that generates
such absolute agreement within our political class. Even in the intense
climate that prevailed in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, when most of
America’s elite institutions notoriously marched lockstep behind President
Bush, there was substantial minority dissent. As pliant as the Democratic
Party and the Congress were, there were still 22 senators and 133 House
members—more than half of the Democratic caucus—willing to vote against
the American invasion of Iraq.

There are few matters more important to America’s future than the extent to
which we continue to involve ourselves in endless Middle East wars. Our
immersion in these conflicts profoundly affects every aspect of our
country’s welfare—military, diplomatic, economic, and civil. Yet there is an
almost perfect inverse relationship between the significance of these policy
questions and the extent to which they are debated by our political leaders.

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights
litigator in New York. He is the author of two New York Times Bestselling
books: How Would a Patriot Act?” (May, 2006), a critique of the Bush
administration’s use of executive power, and A Tragic Legacy (June, 2007),
which examines the Bush legacy. His third book, Great American Hypocrites:
Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics
“, which examines the
manipulative electoral tactics used by the GOP and propagated by the
establishment press has just been published by Random House/Crown.
Read more of Greenwald at http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/