By Yoram Ettinger
The sweeping Capitol Hill support for the Jewish state is a rare bi-partisan consensus during the current US political polarization.
The active role played by Democratic leaders in the pro-Israel display, exposes the significant gap between President Obama’s and Congress’ attitudes toward Israel. It sends a loud and a clear message from the Legislature, which is equal in power to the Executive and constitutes a systematic bastion of support of the Jewish state.
For example, Majority and Minority Leaders, Senators Harry Reid and Mitch Mcconnell, wrote a letter to the president, opposing Israel’s condemnation by the UN and the establishment of an international board of inquiry to investigate the “Gaza Flotilla.” They support Israel’s seizure of the boats and the naval blockade of Gaza, condemning Hamas, the Turkish terrorist group IHH, the UN Council on Human Rights and the UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Conference’s “efforts to isolate Israel.”
The letter – which is endorsed by the vast majority of the Senators – defines Israel as “our strongest ally in the Middle East and a vibrant democracy… a partner to the US on military and intelligence issues….” The House Majority and Minority Leaders, Steny Hoyer and John Boehner, issued similar statements, joined by powerful committee and subcommittee chairmen in both Chambers.
US legislators express the state of mind of their constituents, who consider Israel one of the five most favorite nations, while the PalestinianAuthority is ranked as one of the three least favored entities. According to a June 4, 2010 Gallup poll, Americans perceive terrorism as the top threat, more than unemployment, healthcare costs and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Terrorism is identified with Muslim organizations and regimes and therefore is construed as a mutual threat to both the US and Israel.
The daily reports on US soldiers killed by Muslim terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the murder of 13 soldiers by a Muslim terrorist in San Antonio and the foiled attempt to terrorize Times Square, have re-entrenched identification with Israel’s predicament. A June 7, 2010 Rasmussen Report poll determines that only 19% of Americans blame Israel for the deaths during the “Gaza Flotilla,” compared with 49% who blame the terrorists on board of the ship.
Meanwhile, 49% claim that the world is too critical of Israel, while 21% claim that the world is not critical enough. Israel is one of only five countries – in addition to Canada, Britain, Mexico and Germany – that most Americans are willing to defend militarily.
Most Americans distrust the UN, but view the Jewish state as a reflection of the American ethos: Patriotism, tradition, religion, defiance of awesome odds and serving as an outpost in the clash of civilizations between Western Democracies and Islamic terrorism. The Jewish state is not regarded as a typical foreign policy issue. It is also perceived as a value-driven domestic issue, related to the moral foundation of the American Story: Judeo-Christian Values.
President is not omnipotent
The most authentic representative of the American public is Congress, where all 435 House Members run every two years. In contrast with the parliamentary system (Knesset included), Congress is fully independent, benefiting from a total separation of powers and an elaborate system of checks and balances. The president is not omnipotent and is not “The Government,” but only one third of “The Government.” The Judiciary and the Legislature are equal-in-power to the Executive.
The US Constitution is representative in nature, designed to prevent dictatorship. Therefore, it has transformed the People into the most critical factor of the political system, according the representatives of the People much power and denying the president absolute power, including in the areas of national security. The President can exert pressure and deploy military forces, but Congress possesses the Power of the Purse and the capabilities to paralyze the President in the domestic and in the global arenas.
According the Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, “Congress shall have the power… to define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas… To declare War….” According to Article 2, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States… when called into the actual Service of the United State….” In other words, Congress initiates and the president executes.
In 1993, Congress established deadlines for US troops’ withdrawal from Somalia, barring funding of the military operation following March 31, 1994. In 1991, the courts forced President Bush to seek congressional authorization for the war against Iraq. In 1984, 1976 and 1973, Congress terminated US military involvement in Nicaragua (the Boland Amendment), Angola (the Clark Amendment) and Vietnam (the Eagleton Amendment) respectively.
In 1991, Israel requested emergency assistance following the Gulf War. President Bush and Secretary of State Baker opposed, but Israel received $650 million in cash and $700 million in military systems due to Congress. In 1990, Bush and Baker failed in their attempt to cut Israel’s foreign aid by 5% because of congressional opposition.
In view of the lethal threats facing the Jewish state, against the backdrop of President Obama pressure on Israel, while engaging enemies of the US and Israel, and in light of the inherent principle-driven congressional support for the Jewish state, it is incumbent upon Jerusalem to bolster its dialogue with the most faithful and very powerful representatives of the American People – Capitol Hill legislators.