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Reid-McConnell Letter on Israel

Late on Friday the following letter signed by Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell was circulated to all senators for signature. It reads:

President Barack Obama

The White House
Washington, DC

Dear Mr. President:

We write to affirm our support for our strategic partnership with Israel, and encourage you to continue to do so before international organizations such as the United Nations. The United States has traditionally stood with Israel because it is in our national security interest and must continue to do so.

Israel is our strongest ally in the Middle East and a vibrant democracy. Israel is also a partner to the United States on military and intelligence issues in this critical region. That is why it is our national interest to support Israel at a moment when Israel faces multiple threats from Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the current regime in Iran. Israel’s opponents have developed clever diplomatic and tactical ploys to challenge its international standing, whether the effort to isolate Israel at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference or the recent effort to breach the naval blockade around Gaza.

We fully support Israel’s right to self-defense. In response to thousands of rocket attacks on Israel from Hamas terrorists in Gaza, Israel took steps to prevent items which could be used to support these attacks from reaching Gaza. Israel’s naval blockade, which is legal under international law, allows Israel to keep dangerous goods from entering Gaza by sea. The intent of the measures is to protect Israel, while allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Late last month when Israel learned that groups operating in Turkey wanted to challenge its blockade of Gaza, Israel made every effort to ensure that all humanitarian aid reached Gaza without needlessly precipitating a confrontation. Israeli forces were able to safely divert five of the six ships challenging the blockage. However, video footage shows that the Israeli commandos who arrived on the sixth ship, which was owned by the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (the IHH), were brutally attacked with iron rods, knives, and broken glass. They were forced to respond to that attack and we regret the loss of life that resulted.

We are deeply concerned about the IHH’s role in this incident and have additional questions about Turkey and any connections to Hamas. The IHH is a member of a group of Muslim charities, the Union of Good, which was designated by the US Treasury Department as a terrorist organization. The Union of Good was created by and strongly supports Hamas, which has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the US State Department. We recommend that your administration consider whether the IHH should be put on the list of foreign terrorist organizations, after an examination by the intelligence community, the State Department, and the Treasury Department.

We commend the action you took to prevent the adoption of an unfair United Nations Security Council resolution, which would have represented a rush to judgment by the international community. We also deplore the actions of the United Nations Human Rights Council which, once again, singled out Israel. Israel has announced its intention to promptly carry out a thorough  investigation of this incident and has the right to determine how its investigation is conducted. In the meantime, we ask you to stand firm in the future at the United Nations Security Council and to use your veto power, if necessary, to prevent any similar biased or one-sided resolutions from passing.

Finally, we believe that this incident should not derail the current proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We hope that these talks will move quickly to direct negotiations and ultimately, to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The letter certainly sets forth stark differences with the administration (which has ignored the IHH, edged toward an international investigation, and failed to offer full support for Israel). It is a robust statement of support for Israel, its right of self-defense, and its right to maintain the blockade. It rebuffs the administration’s efforts to internationalize the investigation. And unlike the Obama team, the senators put the spotlight on Turkey and on the terrorists.

However, the letter is weaker than Rep. Peter King’s proposed resolution as well as the statements of Sen. John Cornyn. It does not call for withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council. It does not specifically identify Iran as a sponsor of Hamas or mention the growing alliance between Turkey and Iran. Most troubling, it commends the administration for downgrading (but not vetoing) the original UN resolution. This was an unprecedented action by Obama, an accommodation to the Israel-haters in the UN. It was yet another dangerous sign that the administration, rather than giving unqualified support to Israel in international bodies, is seeking to straddle between Israel and its antagonists. It is not helpful to encourage such conduct.

As I wrote yesterday, when you desire for the broadest possible coalition and shrink from pointedly challenging the administration, you wind up praising fraudulent UN sanctions and giving the president a pat on the back for crossing a line that no administration has. AIPAC released the following statement:

Along with on the 103 statements from Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate that we have seen in the just the last week, AIPAC strongly supports this letter from Senate Majority Leader Reid and GOP Leaders Mitch McConnell calling on the President to act in America’s national interest by standing with our ally Israel in international bodies and to firmly and publicly reiterate America’s unyielding support for Israel’s right to self-defense.  The letter also calls on the Treasury and State Departments to closely examine terrorist-linked (HAMAS, 2000 al-Qaeda attack on LAX, etc.) Turkish “charity” IHH, at the center of the Flotilla incident, and consider adding the HAMAS affiliated group to the U.S. list of designated terrorist organizations.

Supporters of Israel should be concerned that sails were trimmed. There is much good in the letter, but it cut Obama a break at Israel’s expense. It is most troubling that it was apparently necessary needlessly to praise Obama’s UN equivocation.

We can only hope that even with a less-than-ideal letter and, more importantly, with the reaction set off by the revelation (and later the confirmation) that the administration is still pursuing an international element to the investigation, that the administration will stand down and fully embrace an Israel-only investigation. Then we can work on getting the U.S. off the Human Rights Council.