Mehdi Hasan writes:
The Congress of the United States consists of 100 senators and 435 members of the House of Representatives; in effect, just 535 Americans are blocking efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. Why? Forget the pious guff about Israel being the region’s “only democracy” and a “valued friend and ally” of Washington. In the corrupt and dysfunctional US political system, where legislators are outnumbered by special interests, from the gun lobby to Big Pharma, the Israel lobby – specifically, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) that brags on its website about being “the most important organisation affecting America’s relationship with Israel” – has a financial stranglehold on both main parties. According to William Quandt, a former adviser on the Middle East to the Nixon and Carter administrations, “70 per cent to 80 per cent of all members of Congress will go along with whatever they think Aipac wants”.
It is Aipac that polices congressional votes on Israel, demands unconditional US support for the occupation of the West Bank and insists that Israel remain the largest single annual recipient of US foreign aid ($250 a year per Israeli, compared to $1 a year per African). Consider this: the upper and lower houses of Congress are more divided, polarised and partisan than in any other period in recent history. Democrats and Republicans agree on nothing. Except Israel.
Presidents who have tried to pressurise the Israelis – from Reagan to Obama – have found themselves attacked not just in the Knesset but in Congress. In the words of Paul Findley, a Republican from Illinois who served in the House of Representatives for 22 years before being
defeated by an Aipac-funded candidate in 1982: “Congress behaves as if it were a subcommittee of the Israeli parliament.” The irony is that there is far more heated debate about Israel’s actions on the floor of the Knesset than on Capitol Hill. “For 35 years, not a word has been expressed . . . in either chamber of Congress that deserves to be called debate on Middle East policy,” Findley wrote in 2002.
On 2 May 2002, after Ariel Sharon’s invasion of the West Bank and the destruction of the Jenin refugee camp, both houses of Congress overwhelmingly approved resolutions expressing “solidarity with Israel” – 352 to 21 in the House, 94 to two in the Senate.
On 20 July 2006, eight days after the start of Israel’s war against Lebanon, Congress passed a resolution endorsing Israeli military action by a vote of 410 to eight. On 9 January 2009, as the Palestinian death toll from the Israeli air assault on Gaza topped 700, the House of Representatives passed a resolution “reaffirming the United States’ strong support for Israel in its battle with Hamas”. The margin was 390 votes to five.
These comically one-sided resolutions illustrate the power and influence of the Israel lobby on Capitol Hill – and the way in which craven legislators in both main parties blindly throw their support behind any and every act of belligerence. As Uri Avnery, the Israeli author and peace activist, once remarked: if Aipac “were to table a resolution abolishing the Ten Commandments, 80 senators and 300 congressmen would sign it at once”.