Former Senator Chuck Hagel‘s strong statement made in a Brookings speech some years ago that the United States could not afford a false choice between our strong relationship with Israel on one side and Arab and Palestinian interests on the other continues to be the sensible frame through which I look at the region and US policy.
But there are many Congressmen and Senators who allow their own false choices to dominate, when their should be balance.
A new start-up political action committee, called a New Policy PAC, has just issued this morning a scorecard of House Members which the organization states is “based on their support for an American foreign policy in the Middle East that best serves the national interest and brings a swift end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
115 Members of the House of Representatives score at least one point in the new survey.
Heading the roster are Reps. Keith Ellison (MN), Brian Baird (WA), Stephen Lynch (MA), Jim McDermott (WA), Nick Rahall (WV), Raul Grijalva (AZ), and Barbara Lee (CA).
The entire roster can be reviewed here in pdf format.
Ultimately, scorecards can be slippery things and depend entirely on the legislative actions through which Congressional Members are being screened.
The New Policy PAC folks admit as much but share their four measured items:
1. House Resolution 34, which passed on January 9, 2009
The resolution passed during Israel’s invasion of the Gaza strip and at the height of international criticism as well as domestic public outcry decrying Israel’s human rights abuses during the invasion that resulted in the death of more than 1400 Palestinians in the span of three weeks. House Resolution 34, essentially, assured Israel of its right to defend itself and lay the blame for the death of civilians squarely on Hamas, absolving Israel of any responsibility during the bombardment. There was no mention of Israel’s illegal use of cluster bombs and white phosphorus in the highly dense Gaza strip.
The voting for House Resolution 34 was given double the weight of House Resolution 867, another vote used to score Congressmen on this issue, due to the large amount of pressure that AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobbies put on Congress, as well as, the small number of dissenting lawmakers. The five Nay votes were given four points, the 38 Congressmen who abstained or voted present were given two points, the 390 Yea votes were given zero points.
2. House Resolution 867, which passed on November 3, 2009
House Resolution 867 demanded that President Obama’s administration “oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration of the ‘Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict’ in multilateral fora.”
The text of the resolution was so full of factual errors and misrepresentations of the Goldstone report that both Congressmen Keith Ellison and Brian Baird felt compelled to write critiques of the resolution. Richard Goldstone, the South African judge who authored the report, took the unusual step of issuing a paragraph-by-paragraph response to the report, addressing its inaccuracies and willful omissions. The 36 who voted Nay were given two points, the 52 who voted present or did not vote were scored 1 point, while the 344 Yea votes were given zero points.
3. Congressional visits to Gaza
While largely a symbolic action, a few Congressmen visited the Gaza strip since the invasion by Israeli in January of 2009. These visits show an interest in the plight of the Palestinians living in dismal conditions in Gaza for more than a year now, where little is allowed to enter the strip, including basic necessities such as medical supplies and building material.
Due to the meaningful significance of this gesture, the Congressmen who went to Gaza in the name of human rights, equality, freedom, and justice are recognized in this report. Although as many as 8 members of the House might have made the trip to Gaza in the past year, ANewPolicyPAC was only able to confirm 4 members due to the reluctance of others to announce their plans to visit the strip. Congressmen Keith Ellison, Brian Baird, Stephen Lynch and Bob Inglis were all given four points for making the trip to Gaza.
4. Open Letter to End the Siege on Gaza
The Congressional letter to end the siege on Gaza was signed by 54 members of the House and was addressed to President Obama, stating that “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.” The letter was a clear indication by a still small but determined minority in the House of Representatives to push for real reform in America’s foreign policy in the Middle East and to finally implement our longstanding positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The 54 Congressmen who signed the letter were each given two points for their brave stance, while the leaders of the initiative, Congressmen Keith Ellison and Jim McDermott, received 4 points.
As the scorecard authors point out, there are a lot of ways to measure the geostrategic seriousness of a group of legislators, and there may be better, perhaps less subjective, ways to see how a gaggle of Congresspersons think about the region.
My own hunch is that there are significantly more Members who are not “false choicers” than this survey indicates — but this is a start.
— Steve Clemons