I almost never write about Israel. Someone who supports the Jewish state but opposes the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, as I do, generally gets flack from all sides. Too many on the left are reflexively anti-Israel. But too many in the so-called American mainstream are too quick to back whatever military excursion Israel undertakes--no matter how unproductive or misguided.
Nowhere is the knee-jerk support of Israel more clear than in the debate in Congress this week--or lack thereof--over the Israeli bombing of Lebanon. Leaders of both parties have been quick to forcefully condemn Hamas and Hezbollah while offering unconditional support for Israel's bombing of civilian Beirut.
Just take a look at the draft copy of the resolution under consideration in the House:
"Be it resolved that the House of Representatives reaffirms its steadfast support for the state of Israel; further condemns Hamas and Hezbollah for cynically exploiting civilian populations as shields...calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Israeli soldiers held captive by Hezbollah and Hamas; (and) affirms that all governments who have provided continued support to Hamas or Hezbollah share responsibility for the hostage-taking and attacks against Israel and, as such, must be held accountable for their actions."
Only a few senior statesmen have raised an alarm about the ferocity of Israel's response. Rep. John Dingell, the longest serving Democrat in the House, called the Israeli counterattack "disproportionate and counterproductive."
"The use of force has brought about a tragic amount of civilian deaths and has weakened a promising democracy in Lebanon," Dingell said in a statement. "The United States-–as a leader of the free world--must take immediate steps to bring about a cease fire so that negotiations may begin."
Likewise, Senator John Warner, the hawkish Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has been a lone voice in holding up legislation in the Senate viewed as unnecessarily slanted toward Israel. "Our support for Israel is very strong, Mr. President, but it cannot be unconditional," Warner said on the Senate floor yesterday. "I urge the Administration to think through very carefully how Israel's extraordinary reaction could affect our operations in Iraq and our joint diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue," he added in a statement.
Why are so few in Congress following the advice of Dingell and Warner? Perhaps it's because of the influence of what professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt call "The Israel Lobby," particularly its largest player, AIPAC.
Even former Bush and Clinton Administration Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, a sharp critic of Mearsheimer and Walt, admits that AIPAC exerts a disproportionate grip on the Congress. "It's pretty clear that they are a significant force on the Hill," Ross recently told NPR, "And that shouldn't be underestimated."