One of newly-elected Ohio congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy’s first votes was her January 9, 2009 “Yea” on H.R. 34, the Gaza war resolution “Recognizing Israel's right to defend itself against attacks.” I live in Kilroy's Columbus district and wrote to express my disappointment, but did not hear back until last August, when some of us talked with her assistant. The facts we presented about Israel’s actions did not stop the Democratic congresswoman from voting in October for H.R. 867, condemning the Goldstone Report on Israeli and Hamas war crimes.
In January we met with Rep. Kilroy herself. She delighted us by saying that she had signed the Jan. 26 House letter to Secretary of State Clinton, expressing “deep concern for the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip”, and vowing to visit Israel and Palestine with J Street. We hoped, as we told her, that actually seeing besieged Gaza and the walled enclaves of the West Bank would move her to vote in line with liberal Democratic principles rather than those of the far-right Likud.
Sadly, however, the perfect image for the lost possibilities of that J Street-Congressional tour came from Rep. Kilroy’s own words two weeks ago in a meeting with Central Ohioans for Peace. Her congressional group “had a permit to go to Gaza, and then the permits were revoked, so we went to Sderot instead,” she said, and enjoyed the “hospitality of an urban kibbutz.” The delegation, including also Reps. Bill Delahunt, Lois Capps, Bob Filner, and Donald Payne, diverted their trek from the Israeli siege of Gaza to “Sderot and Shalit,” those twin exhibits of the false equivalence between Palestinian and Israeli suffering. Did the side-tracking of their route re-direct her sympathies? One of Rep. Kilroy’s earliest acts upon her return was to sign the AIPAC letter circulated by the Democratic and Republican leaders, Steny Hoyer and Eric Cantor. Why would a self-described “JStreet” candidate sign the AIPAC “hasbara”?
The reduction in her itinerary seemed to shrink her learning. Rep. Kilroy proclaimed that “the shelling [of Sderot] needs to stop.” She seemed unaware till we told her that rockets aren’t artillery “shells”; they’re primitive projectiles lacking shells’ mighty aim; they have largely ceased; they are not all launched by Hamas; and Hamas does not control all who fire them.
Rep. Kilroy admitted that “the expansion of settlements” is “a real problem,” but she did not criticize Netanyahu for forming a coalition with far-right factions pushing for land-grabs. She spoke of the later “diplomatic uproar over settlements," as “a slap in the face” to the U.S. But Kilroy did not condemn Netanyahu’s welcome--days before Vice-President Biden’s arrival—of Christian Zionist John Hagee, or their joint celebration of the illegal Israeli confiscation of Palestinian land. As for the Netanyahu government's shunning of the J Street delegation in Israel, Kilroy did not blame Netanyahu, but Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and his “minority small party,” for “refusing to meet with us"-- after Ayalon said “J Street is an anti-Israel organization.”
As for the blockade of Gaza, Kilroy did ask, “What is Israel trying to accomplish?” She rightly concludes that the siege is “a self-defeating thing” that only strengthens Hamas, which Israel says the closure is intended to weaken.
I pointed out that Israel helped found Hamas by funding it in the 1980s so as to fragment the formerly-united people of Palestine. Rep. Kilroy assented, but didn’t draw the obvious conclusion: Israel wants to control both besieged Gaza and the walled West Bank. The new military order giving the IDF the power to purge “infiltrators” from the West Bank confirms such fears.
Israel's blockade of Gaza, Kilroy agreed, is an humanitarian crisis. She longed to see Gaza--particularly after “Israeli operations of a year ago.” However, the first member of the peace group to question her, Michael Liebert, asked why she voted for HR 867, condemning the Goldstone Report about the Israeli (and Hamas) war crimes.” Kilroy justified her vote just as she had at the January meeting: “Judge Goldstone told me that he himself had problems with the Report.” But can anyone verify that Goldstone ever uttered such reservations in public? All I’ve seen of Judge Goldstone has been a fervent defense of his facts and methods. Kilroy said that she had made the best decision she could, but volunteered, “I hate those kinds of resolutions and I don’t know what it served either way.”
Well, it served Israel and its lobby, degrading the U.S. commitment to the rule of international law. Liebert followed up: “You didn’t just sign onto the resolution; you co-sponsored it. Thirteen hundred people were killed, yet you just called it an ‘operation.’” He asked whether she would repeat those actions. Rep Kilroy replied that she would “certainly consider [the number of dead] and probably wouldn’t co-sponsor it.” But she did something else: she signed the AIPAC-Hoyer-Cantor letter. Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy has now capitulated to AIPAC three times, despite the fact that she knows the stakes.
Rep. Kilroy herself verified that the biggest “fear” she found in the Mideast was that “until health care reform passed, Obama was weak and might only have one term.” But that AIPAC letter she signed seeks to undermine Obama's demand that Israel stop stealing land and start bargaining in good faith. Kilroy, rather than criticize Israeli colonies--illegal under international law—joined AIPAC in declaring to the world that Israel has always extended its "hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness." She contradicted everything she witnessed in P/I, avowing that "the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land" has "repeatedly" offered "to undertake painful risks to reach peace with its neighbors." She disavowed whatever she learned of how Israel restricts the people of Palestine, vouching for Israel’s “democracy, human rights and freedom of the press and religion.” Realists have long warned that the special relationship with Israel helps destabilize the Middle East and endanger the U.S., but Rep Kilroy proclaimed that “A strong Israel is an asset to the national security of the United States and brings stability to the Middle East.”
Obvious retorts include: what about the attacks of September 11? What about U.S. cooperation with Israelis--and Phalangists--to subvert democracy in Lebanon, leading to the blowing up of our marine barracks with hundreds dead? What about the Israel’s attempt to sink our ship, the U.S.S. Liberty? What about Israel bulldozing the Mamilla Cemetery in the laughably-self-defeating aim of promoting “tolerance”? The impetus for the AIPAC petition was Israel embarrassing the U.S. By signing that absurd letter, Rep. Kilroy hindered President Obama’s request that Israel abide by laws which govern every nation, thereby slowing the progress of all: of Palestine toward self-determination, of both Israel and Palestine toward justice, and of the world, including the U.S., toward peace.
The audience inquired whether Kilroy had been harassed by the Lobby about her trip; she answered, “No.” So why is she clobbering herself, as Dr. Strangelove's errant arm hits him? When some asked what could loose Congress from the lobby’s grip, she turned the question back on us, exhorting us to pressure our (other) representatives, to write the news media, to hold “teach-ins” at the university, “to make political space to open up debate.” But many of us already speak up. Now we need our representative to join us in defending equality through word and deed.
One Kilroy supporter pressed us to work hard on Kilroy’s campaign, to prove that “a J Street candidate can get re-elected.” But what is the value of a J Street advocate when she won’t explain liberal ideals? Touting J Street while voting AIPAC may have met forbearance twice, but not thrice--not when our inaction keeps children hungry, thirsty for clean water. Tellingly, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown had the integrity to withhold his signature from the parallel Senate AIPAC letter. Of the five reps who accompanied Kilroy overseas, only Filner also signed; Delahunt, Capps, and Payne refused. Thanks to all our “refusers.”
I struggled for two weeks to describe this meeting, for Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy’s assessment of P/I seemed curiously outdated. Yet I didn’t want to criticize, for we’re all grateful that she cared to look for herself. But Rep. Kilroy cannot tell us that she shares our democratic principles of equity for all, while voting with the likes of neocon John McCain, who goads Obama to bomb Iran. Would anyone consider yet another onslaught on a populace who has not struck us, if not for the Israel lobby? Israel's fears, like mad General Ripper's paranoia in "Dr. Strangelove," risk exploding many human lives, with consequences as unforeseeable--if perhaps not as total--as the end of Kubrick's satire. Any death, though, is tragic, and any needless one unforgivable. Recently J Street said that a poll shows that by 71-29, American Jews support the United States “exerting pressure” on both the Israelis and the Arabs to make compromises for peace. A majority of Americans do, too. Perhaps Rep. Kilroy will support equality now, when the “good” has merged with the “popular.”
I felt sad for over a year, since Obama put together his "team of rival" Democratic hawks--starting with Biden and Clinton--rather than forging an epoch-changing coalition of true liberals, libertarians, and conservatives who oppose fighting wars for Israel. Our next job: force Israel to comply with both the Arms Export Control Act and International law, while we make AIPAC and others register as agents of a foreign government. I wonder how we will alter our “foreign” policy once we treat a separate country—Israel--as apart from us, rather than as a conjoined twin. I dream of how we’ll transform our domestic course once we restrain an unruly “appendage”—Israel—more effectively than Dr. Strangelove holds back his flailing arm.