54 House Members Risk Their Careers to Support Gaza

by James M. Wall

Fifty-four members of the US House of Representatives have sent a letter to President Obama urging him “to use diplomatic pressure to resolve the blockade affecting Gaza.”

Initially drafted by Democrats Keith Ellison, Minnesota, and Jim McDermott, Washington, the letter says, in part:

The unabated suffering of Gazan civilians highlights the urgency of reaching a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we ask you to press for immediate relief for the citizens of Gaza as an urgent component of your broader Middle East peace efforts. . . . The current blockade has severely impeded the ability of aid agencies to do their work to relieve suffering.

Fifty-two other members of the House joined Ellison and McDermott in signing the letter, a dramatic increase in congressional voices defying the powerful Israel Lobby.

The Minnesota Independent‘s story on the letter from the 54 House members lists the members by their home states. Some states are notable by their absence.

In Illinois, for example, the president’s home state, no member of either party supported the resolution. California and Massachusetts, in contrast, has eleven and six members, respectively, as signees.

Former Illinois Congressman Paul Findley praised the House members for their courage.  Speaking from experience, Findley told Helene Cobban, former Middle Eastern correspondent for the Christian Science monitor, that it was “an extraordinary step for 54 House members to stand up to the Lobby.”

“We haven’t seen so many members of Congress prepared to stand together behind a resolution critical of Israel since the 1970s,”, Findley told Cobban, who now runs a blog published by the Council on the National Interest, a non profit Washington-based organization which Findley co-founded in 1989.

Findley lost his House seat as a member of the Illinois delegation in 1982, abruptly rejected by the voters after serving his district for 22 years.

Findley’s defeat came when AIPAC supported Dick Durbin, a young Springfield Democratic attorney running against him after Findley openly called on then-President Ronald Reagan to open relations with the Palestine Libration Organization.

In 1985, Findley published They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby, in which he described what has become a classic case study of how AIPAC targets members of Congress who fail to adhere to the Israel Lobby line.

AIPAC-inspired funds poured into Durbin’s campaign treasury.  Later elected to the US Senate. Durbin is now the Senate’s Majority Whip.

Looking back at AIPAC’s role in removing him from his seat in the House, Findley recalls that in the 1970s, he was one of only two or three members of Congress prepared to speak candidly about Palestine and Israel.

For that number to grow to at least 54 in 2010 is a measure of how slowly public perception changes. It also demonstrates that in time, light will finally dawn on the uninformed.

Few persons in public life have demonstrated and written about this “dawning experience” and what follows, with the zeal and persuasiveness of Howard Zinn, the noted radical historian whose book, A People’s History of the United States, has “changed the way we look at history in America” (Democracy Now).

Zinn died suddenly Wednesday, January 27, at the age of 87, leaving behind a legacy of support for the voiceless and the oppressed peoples of the world. Remarkably, Zinn had been slow to discover the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

He described his experience in a short essay he wrote for Tikkun magazine’s May-June, 2008 issue,  published in rememberance of modern Israel’s 60th anniversary.

I was not long out of the Air Force when in 1947 the U.N. adopted a partition plan for Palestine, and in 1948, Israel, fighting off Arab attacks, declared its independence.

Though not a religious Jew at all, indeed hostile to all organized religions, I had an indefinable feeling of satisfaction that the Jews, so long victims and wanderers, would now have a “homeland.” It did not occur to me–so little did I know about the Middle East–that the establishment of a Jewish state meant the dispossession of the Arab majority that lived on that land.

I was as ignorant of that as, when in school, I was shown a classroom map of American “Western Expansion” and assumed the white settlers were moving into empty territory. In neither case did I grasp that the advance of “civilization” involved what we would today call “ethnic cleansing.”

It was only after the “Six-Day War” of 1967 and Israel’s occupation of territories seized in that war (the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, the Sinai peninsula) that I began to see Israel not simply as a beleaguered little nation surrounded by hostile Arab states, but as an expansionist power.

In 1967 I was totally engaged in the movement against the war in Vietnam. I had long since understood that the phrases “national security” and “national defense” were used by the United States government to justify aggressive violence against other countries.

Indeed, there was a clear bond between Israel and the United States in their respective foreign polices, illustrated by the military and economic support the United States was giving to Israel, and by Israel’s tacit approval of the U.S. war in Vietnam.

True, Israel’s claim of “security,” given its geographical position, seemed to have more substance than the one made by the U.S. government, but it seemed clear to me that the occupation and subjugation of several million Palestinians in the occupied territories did not enhance Israel’s security but endangered it.

Zinn was a professor at Boston University when one afternoon he was involved in a “spirited discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict I was having with my large lecture class.”

What erupted in that class was what many lesser mortals remember as a moment of ‘conversion” on the issue.

A number of Jewish students were fervently defending the Occupation, whereupon two young women who had been silent up to that point rose, one after the other, to say something like the following:

“We are from Israel. We served in the Israeli army. We want to say to you who love Israel that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza will lead to the destruction of Israel, if not physically, then morally and spiritually.”

Words to ponder for the 381 members of the House who failed to sign the McDermott-Ellison letter.

The picture above of Gaza children is from the Middle East Monitor web site. Howard Zinn’s picture is from the AP.

About wallwritings

James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Jim launched this new personal blog April 24, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
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10 Responses to 54 House Members Risk Their Careers to Support Gaza

  1. Ali MB says:

    Another solid and informative article, i have not read any news of 54 house members sending a message to Pres. Obama to solve the Gaza blockade.

    Interestingly, it has been suggested by FAIR that the NY Times Jerusalem bureau chief, Ethan Bronner has a child serving with the IDF (http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=4004)

    Keep up the good work Mr. Wall

    -Ali
    Luxembourg

  2. More words for The House to ponder:

    On June 8, 2007, I attended the 27th annual American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s Washington, D.C. Conference. Congressman Paul Findley, blew my mind when he addressed the luncheon crowd:

    “I was here for the first convention 27 years ago and I still have a fire in my belly for the civil and human rights of Arabs. It is time to speak openly and honestly about Israel. But, in American politics, that is still forbidden.

    “Pity that we cannot seem to shed our fear of Israel. We are afraid to speak out on Capitol Hill, for fear of losing the next election. They are more like trained poodles jumping through hoops than leaders!

  3. Ron says:

    I met Paul Findley in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, back in the late eighties. We were on our way to dedicate the USS Liberty Memorial Library in Grafton, Wisconsin.

    As gracious a man as I have ever met, and to see him be the victim of name calling and the loss of his office was heart breaking to say the least. The take over of congress was in full swing, I would suppose at that time, and just because Paul stood up to them he was relieved of his office. This great nation was already taking a head long dive into the abyss even back then, and today the results are so very apparent.

  4. Eugene V. Fitzpatrick says:

    Note how the Representatives tip-toe through the minefield of political correctness in the second paragraph of their letter to Obama. The Israelis have “imposed restrictions on Gaza” refers to the reality of the sadistic Israelis slowly garroting Gaza to a condition that’s close to moribund. The Israelis are acting “out of a legitimate and keenly felt fear….” refers to Israel’s strategy of making life so miserable for the Gazans that they will finally capitulate and recognize Israel as its sovereign master. Israel fears “continued terrorist action by Hamas….” refers to Israel’s demented rage at the Gazans for fighting back. Then of course its the ‘maquis’ and not the Nazis who get labeled with the T word.

    Many of the signatories of this letter are the friends of Palestinian rights in Congress and have been for years. Despite this, the diffidence and the dishonesty-by-euphemism is glaring. Was awareness of this the reason why Dennis Kucinich, the most reliable champion of Palestinian rights in Congress, didn’t sign the letter??

  5. wallwritings says:

    Gene,

    You make an excellent point. I am aware that the letter is written in extremely cautious language, designed, obviously, to add as many signatures as possible in an extremely pro-Israel environment.

    Reminds me of a national church resolution on controversial topics. Painful in the obvious straining to be “fair” to both “sides”.

    Still, the Congress has to start somewhere, and hopefully, this is just the beginning.

    The cautious language, of course, makes no impact on AIPAC. The 54 will suffer whatever consequences the Lobby is able to generate, district by district.

    Jim

  6. Steve Moen says:

    It is good that, as Prof. Zinn noted, there is a parallel between the United States’ “Western Expansion” and the “virtuous” claims” of Israel to Palestinian lands. Americans’ own difficulty in facing the truth of its history vis-a-vis the native residents of our expanding territory is instructive regarding the difficulty of Israel and its supporters to see the ultimate reality of their own policies. The fact that many of us enjoy the fruits of American history should not make us oblivious to the truth!

  7. Thomas Chisholm says:

    Yes, I noted the caution in the statement but support the effort. I visited the “Unholyland” in April 2008 to make my own observations after reading Jimmy Carter’s book. I found oppression of the Palestinians worse than anticipated, the gate to the Gaza Gulag locked to them and us. We seem to be not only oblivious to the oppression of the Palestinians for more than 60 years but so many others around the world including the Haitians. Our 51st State has controlled us far too long. I want those billions for our children, their educations and health care and civil rights for the Palestinians.

  8. Bev Anslow says:

    I was thrilled when Israel was declared a state in 1947. In fact, I wrote a term paper about it when I was in college.

    Like Howard Zinn, I did not realize that millions of Palestinians were dispossessed in the process. I have often wondered since then why I did not know. Why I had read nothing about this?

    I feel a little less guilty for my ignorance on the matter knowing that Zinn did not know either.

    Since that time I have read a great deal more about the situation in the Middle East, and most of Zinn’s books.

    I am appalled by what I learn, not, of course, from the major media, but from books and articles from other sources, including Dandelion Salad.

    What bothers me most is why the United States government continues to support Israel’s ethnic cleansing.

  9. Israel, a nation that bombed our US Information Agency in Egypt in a false-flag attempt to create reaction against muslim militants (the Lavon Affair), killed 34 US Sailors in a deliberate attempt to sink the USS Liberty, spies on us (i.e. a series of convicted spies from Jonathan Pollard to Larry Franklin, recently, and his AIPAC co-conspirators), gives our secret military data for Red China (Amos Yaron, former #3 in Israeli military, contrives to undermine US attempts to act evenhandedly for Israel and Palestine and defeat office holders (e.g. Findlay, Percy, Stevenson, ….), breaks promises to our presidents, and visits massive state terror on the whole Palestinian people (summary execution of Palestinians who exhibited leadership traits, and destruction of Deir Yassin and over 300 other villages in the ’47 war, reported by Pappe in the 1947 war, viewed the 1967 war as an opportunity for further conquest, visits massive state terror periodically on its neighbors and occupied populations (e.g. Lebanon repeatedly, and now Gaza in Operation Cast Lead) and seeks to strangle and expel Palestinians from their remaining scrap of land by continued blockade, IS NOT A FRIEND OF AMERICA.

  10. Patricia Pynchon says:

    Just read this. Alas, my heart if heavy, why don’t the people who make policy see clearly the unbalanced situation at hand. They are pouring 3 billion a year into aid and weapons, and expect people to believe that Israel and Palestinians are equal contenders. There is indeed something rotten in Denmark, I believe it is bribery of congress. That there are some who clearly the injustice of the situation is good, but not enough.

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