By Eli Clifton
While House Resolution (HR) 867 condemning the Goldstone report passed 344-36 yesterday evening, members of the Israeli and American Jewish far-right held court on Capitol Hill at “The Jerusalem Conference”.
The event brought together some of the most hawkish American and Israeli voices to both issue their own condemnation of the Goldstone report and warn once more of the threat posed by a nuclear Iran.
Perhaps more important than what the speakers said—which rarely strayed from the anti-Goldstone, pro-Iran-sanctions line—was who the right-wing, pro-Israel organizers succeeded in attracting to their six hour conference. The speakers list alone was a statement of the group’s continued political muscle in Washington.
Co-sponsors of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), and the Committee’s Ranking Republican, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), as well as the co-sponsors of the Senate counterpart, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Sen. Sam Brownback, filled out the first half of the program which focused on “Jerusalem-Protecting Its Remarkable Past and Future” and “Realities of the Middle East Process.”
Brownback got a standing ovation for announcing his intention to (re)introduce his Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act of 2009 Wednesday, only this time, he promised, the waiver provision that both Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush used to prevent the Act from actually being implemented — it would move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — will be removed.
The US legislators in the first half of the program–who bolstered their already impressive numbers with a “surprise” appearance by Sen. Daniel Innouye (D-HI) who spoke of his efforts to increase American aid to Israel–were balanced out by Israeli Cabinet Minister Yossi Peled, Israeli MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), and Lt. Colonel Jonathan D. Halevi. Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren, who skipped the much larger J Street Conference last week, was scheduled to speak but scheduling constraints forced him to send a representative from the embassy in his place.
At the heart of the conference was the dual theme of condemning the Goldstone report and touting the various pending bills that would impose “crippling” sanctions against Iran if it did not abandon its nuclear program.
“In (both) Fallujah and in Gaza approximately 1000 terrorists were killed and in Fallujah approximately 6,000 civilians were killed,” extolled Ken Abramowitz, Managing General Partner of NGN Capital in New York and one of the Conference’s moderators. “And in Gaza three or four hundred (were killed), so I think it’s fair to say that in the operation in Gaza, Israel demonstrated the lowest level of civilian deaths per military deaths in the history of warfare in the history of the world. And it was criticized even though it exceeded the standard that no other army in the history of armies ever reached. So it’s just pure anti-Semitism,” he declared before entertaining questions for Lt. Col. (IDF res.) Jonathan D. Halevi, who had had himself extolled the exceptional morality of Israel’s conduct of the Gaza war in contradiction to the war crimes detailed in the Goldstone report.
Needless to say the audience which gathered for the conference did not choose to question the numbers thrown around by Abramowitz, nor did they, for that matter, question why neither the session on the war nor that on the (non-existent) peace process featured even one Palestinian speaker or discussant.
(Note: As reported in the Jerusalem Post, the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem estimated the civilian death toll in Gaza at 774.)
While Goldstone “debunking” was a sure-fire crowd-pleaser, the certainty of its condemnation by the House in Tuesday’s vote detracted somewhat from the dramatic tension. On the other hand, the specter of a nuclear Iran held the crowd in thrall, as speaker after speaker insisted that action was more urgent than ever.
“Don’t wait (to impose sanctions)… Use existing authority right now within the executive branch,” demanded Casey. “Be it the Treasury Department, or other ways to provide the kind of pressure that I think has to be applied to the regime!”
The third panel of the day, sponsored by the missile-defense-promoting Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), focused predictably on missile defense and was headlined by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AR), Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV).
“We have no greater ally in the region than Israel, and it is in the interest of our own national security to stand with Israel,” Inhofe said. “This partnership is not a one-sided relationship. Israel has provided the United States military with invaluable technology such as the Hunter UAV, Bradley Reactive Armor Tiles, and the Lightning Pod. Our nation must maintain a close relationship with our friends in Israel, despite the fact that the current administration has demonstrated a willingness to work with those that stand opposed to Israel.”
“Today’s news that Hamas has used Iranian technology to improve their missile capabilities proves that we need a strong missile defense system that protects our allies, and more importantly, provides greater protection for the United States,” he continued. “The same enemies that threaten the existence of Israel also want to destroy America. Over the years, the United States has greatly benefited from cooperation with Israel on missile defense technologies, and we should continue this partnership. Instead, President Obama has cut funding for our missile defense systems, and ended the Third Site in Poland. Such action by the Obama administration puts the United States and our allies like Israel at greater risk.”
The Israeli perspective was represented by Israeli Cabinet Minister Yossi Peled, and Brigadier General Yossi Kuperwasser.
The final session of the day, ‘’Regional Threats to Global Security,’’ was headlined by Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-CT), Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Israeli Lt. Col. Jonathan D. Halevi of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
While speakers stayed on the relatively safe topics of Goldstone, Iran sanctions, and missile defense, the most noticeable element was the scheduled appearances of thirteen US senators or representatives (plus Daniel Innouye) during the six-hour conference. Between the decidedly one-sided vote on HR 867 condemning the Goldstone report and the display of political power reflected by the Jerusalem Conference’s speaker list, Tuesday was a day when the right-wing, pro-Israel lobby was shown at full-force on Capitol Hill.