As most of the international community was expressing its outrage at the disproportionate Israeli attacks on the densely-populated Gaza Strip, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who represents USF and most of San Francisco in the House of Representatives led a successful effort giving Congress’ unconditional support for the war. While most Americans recognized that both Hamas and the Israeli government were at fault and that both were guilty of war crimes, Pelosi introduced a resolution, which passed by overwhelming bipartisan support on Jan. 9, insisting that Israel bears no responsibility for the carnage and that the fault exclusively belongs on the Palestinian side.
Over 1,300 Palestinians were killed and thousands wounded, at least half of who are estimated to be civilians. Ten Israeli soldiers died and Hamas rockets killed three Israeli civilians.
While the UN Security Council supported by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for an immediate cease fire, Pelosi’s resolution called for a cease fire with conditions which appeared to be designed to make such an agreement impossible. Despite this, a cease fire finally took hold on Jan. 16.
Pelosi’s resolution went as far as asserting a radical reinterpretation of international humanitarian law which appears to absolve any country engaged in an assault on a crowded urban area for any responsibility in the resulting civilian deaths if an armed group within that crowded urban area first initiates the conflict.
Ironically, it was the Israeli raid into Gaza in November in which six Palestinians were killed, along with the Israeli decision to tighten the blockade of the territory to prevent even humanitarian supplies from getting through Đ both of which violated cease fire provisions that most observers saw as responsible for provoking the latest round of fighting. Indeed, not a single Israeli had been killed by Hamas rockets between the cease fire being declared last summer and the launching of the Israeli offensive on December 27.
Yet Pelosi’s resolution only condemned the Hamas rocket attacks against Israel while defending Israel’s far more devastating attacks against the Gaza Strip.
This lopsided vote in Congress in favor of Pelosi’s resolution does not reflect public opinion, however. While polls continue to indicate a strong commitment among the American people to Israel’s right to live in peace and security, there appears to be far less support for providing Israel with a blank check, such as defending Israeli violations of international humanitarian law. In contrast to the majority of Democrats on Capitol Hill who joined their Republican colleagues in supporting Pelosi’s resolution, polls showed that Democrats nationally, by a more than 3:1 margin, opposed Israel’s disproportionate attack. In liberal San Francisco, one can only assume that the margin was even higher.
Indeed, a number of Bay Area House members Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey, Pete Stark, George Miller and Sam Farr refused to support Pelosi’s resolution.
Why, then, is Pelosi so out of step with her constituents? And why are so many of her Democratic colleagues in Congress so out of step with their base as well?
It may be because Pelosi and other elected officials have failed to recognize the dramatic shift in attitudes among ordinary Americans, particularly younger voters, who believe that, just as Israel should not be unfairly singled out for criticism, Israel should not be singled out as somehow exempt from international norms of behavior either.
This opposition to unconditional U.S. support for Israel’s massive assault on the Gaza Strip comes not from any sympathy for the extremists of Hamas or from opposition to Israel’s right to self-defense. It comes from the liberal mainstream of peace groups, human rights organizations, churches, and the young activists who helped elect Barack Obama in November.
It also includes a growing number of American Jews who recognize that the large-scale killing of Palestinian civilians does not make Israel safer and that just as one can oppose U.S. policy in Iraq without being “anti-American,” one can oppose Israeli policy in Palestine without being “anti-Israel.”
Pelosi and many of her colleagues seem to be largely unaware of this shift among the broad left-of-center populace and how non-representative of their core constituency they are on this issue, perhaps because being middle aged and older they are out of touch with the more moderate attitudes of younger votes. Similarly, outside of the activist community, most of these younger, left-of-center voters who support a more balanced policy toward Israel and Palestine probably don’t realize just how far to the right Pelosi and many of their otherwise liberal senators and representatives are.
This combination is probably why Pelosi and her colleagues continue to get away with it. The problem may be less the power of AIPAC as the failure of the larger number of more liberal and moderate voices to mobilize comparable pressure.
Should President Barack Obama who refused to join Pelosi and other Democratic leaders in backing the Israeli invasion decide as president to apply some “tough love” towards Israel in the face of a hostile Congress led by Pelosi, he is going to need the American people to back him up.
If you are concerned about Nancy Pelosi’s defense of war crimes and other human right abuses by U.S. allies, as illustrated in her recent resolution supporting the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip, please contact her office at (415) 556-4862.
Stephen Zunes is a USF politics professor.