Keith Ellison (D-MN-5) is the first Muslim Member of the U.S. House of Representatives — and last night, I was impressed with some commentary he offered on the Al Jazeera English Satellite Channel. Ellison spoke level-headedly about American national interests and what needed to be done to get this country’s foreign policy portfolio back in shape. (I imagine he gave interviews for CNN, MSNBC, Fox, CBS, ABC as well — I just happened to be in Al Jazeera’s studio.)
I am pretty easy-going on religious matters as long as they don’t undermine tolerance and don’t muck up the kind of secularism that has made this country work and which has offered religiously neutral space for many different political, ethnic, cultural, and religious complexions to fit together — though it has been and continues to be a rocky process.
But I just got a copy of this interesting invitation from “Covenant Alliances” for a reception in the Rayburn House Office Building on February 14, 2007 to celebrate the newly established “Congressional Israel Allies Caucus of the United States Congress” and to “discuss the future direction of this body in cooperation with the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus of the Israeli Parliament.”
OK. . .I know this is perhaps unfair, but aren’t we pretty well stacked on Israel caucuses and short with the broader Arab region? What about a caucus that includes the Arab states and Israel — tough I know, but it would be a good goal for the Congressmen chairing these groups.
I think that Congressional exchanges are important — and even exchanges that cluster conservatives and liberals or libertarians, even across lines of religion and ethnicity. But I’m not a Black-American and I’ve been invited to Black Caucus meetings. I’m not Jewish but I have been invited to numerous Jewish-American meetings and am invited each year to AIPAC’s annual conference.
But I wonder if Keith Ellison was invited to this gathering? I have tried to call “Covenant Alliances” and have not been able to connect by phone with their operation.
I wonder if they would invite our Muslim nominee to serve as US Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad?
I hope they would — and I hope Ellison and Khalilzad would consider attending because these sorts of clusters with pretty loaded political agendas (see below) should be permeable to all Americans and certainly all Members of Congress.
Congressmen Dave Weldon, MD (R-FL) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) co-chair this new caucus and banded together in August 2006 for a statement of strong support for Israel in light of Hezbollah’s incursion into Israel.
I have briefly met both of these Congressmen and like both generally from the very limited encounters I have had and was largely unaware of their deep involvement in this sort of cross-religions bridge-building. I don’t want to criticize them for what they are doing, but I do want to provide some unsolicited counsel.
These are tough times for the U.S. in the world, and it’s important that bridgebuilding on religious grounds — which can be a good thing — ought to be inclusive of others as well — not exclusive. This kind of activity comes awfully close to questions about inappropriately mixing affairs of church and state, at least in my book.
But when it comes to the tough deal-making ahead on establishing a viable Palestinian state, there is going to be a need for tough-minded negotiations where parties involved give and take to create something stable, workable, and acceptable to the majority in Israel and Palestine.
These three pillars of the Covenant Alliances organization don’t seem to provide the kind of political flexibility that comes near to what will be needed in the coming negotiations:
1. In accordance with the provisions of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 enacted by the U.S. Congress, build a new embassy in Jerusalem within two years, in acknowledgment of the eternal truth that an undivided Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people.
2. Vigorously work for the resettlement of the Palestinian refugees to the lands of their Arab kinsmen in order to rescue them from the purgatory of refugee status and restore to them the hope of a better future.
3. Demand the Palestinian Authority disarm the terrorists in their midst, and halt all violence, propaganda, and incitement against the people of Israel, failing which the Oslo Agreements shall be null and void.
Point two and three I get — though I don’t believe that this crowd can declare any international agreement ‘null and void’, but the first is really loaded and simply won’t work. There must be some kind of joint administration. There has been before, and there needs to be again.
Congrssman Keith Ellison really ought to drop by — just to make sure that there is a “big tent” approach to our problems.
— Steve Clemons