While 2600 participants gathered in downtown Washington this weekend for the third annual J Street conference, another group of about 250 Jews met at a synagogue in the DC suburb of Chevy Chase Sunday night to hear Maryland Senator Ben Cardin and Israeli diplomat Eliav Benjamin discuss "how pro-Palestinian forces have manipulated the UN to isolate, demonize and delegitimize Israel." For Phil and me, two of the youngest people in the audience, it was an instructive lesson in how the United States exercises its not so soft-power to protect Israel.
The relatively unknown American Jewish International Relations Institute organized the event along with a fundraising reception. According to the AJIRI, it is a non-profit, tax-deductible organization which serves as a private research arm for a bipartisan US Congressional Task Force of more than 40 House members who are concerned with how friendly foreign governments vote in the UN on Israeli and Palestinian issues. In 2006, the then House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Republican Whip Roy Blunt established the Task Force to directly communicate with foreign leaders. AJIRI coordinates actions between the Task Force and the State Department, which supposedly "welcomes" the congressional dabbling in US foreign policy.
As to AJIRI's effectiveness, its Chairman Richard Schifter told the audience that the US had to exercise 41 vetoes at the Security Council on behalf of Israel before the establishment of the Task Force. Since 2006, the US has had to exercise only one veto. Schifter attributed this success rate to the group of ex-diplomats AJIRI has assembled in New York.
In his speech from the synagogue's bimah, Senator Cardin, who sits on both the Senate Foreign and Finance Committees, boasted about how the Palestinians were roundly thwarted in their recent attempt to gain state recognition at the UN Security Council. First, the United States made it very clear that it would veto any resolution that received enough votes to pass.
But why were the Palestinians unable to even get the necessary 9 votes which would then have required a US veto to defeat the resolution? Cardin:
It was clear that when the resolutions were being contemplated to circumvent the peace process, that the Palestinians were not able to get the votes they thought they could have gotten in the Security Council. Now why couldn’t they get their nine votes? They couldn't get their nine votes because of why you’re here this evening, because of the organization you're supporting, because of the work that they did in talking to delegates from other countries, and energizing the political system in America to be much more sensitive to UN votes.
Secretary Clinton and myself have talked several times about this directly. Any bilateral meeting during that time, that the Secretary had, included [discussions of] the United Nations and votes within the United Nations. When the Secretary of State lets other countries know that what they do in the United Nations is important to the United States, we get different action in the United Nations. That was the direct results of the efforts.
Sure the United States could have taken the old route of veto, but we are now committed to what you are committed -- to changing the numbers within the United Nations, to make it more favorable. The Palestinians could not get that nine votes in the Security Council because we changed some of the votes. We did. By simply going over with the countries, the United State's position.
And then Sen. Cardin spoke about his own direct efforts with the Ambassador from Bosnia:
I had a chance to talk several times with representatives of Bosnia. I chaired at the time the US Helsinki Commission. I am the Senate Chairman of the US Helsinki Commission, that’s a group that works internationally on a lot of different issues, primarily in Europe. Bosnia is trying to get more legitimacy within the Helsinki process. Their Ambassador is in my office almost monthly to talk about progress being made on their constitutional problems.
Every time that Ambassador was in my office I talked a little about the UN vote. They understood, they got the message. They need the US support. Well we need their help also. And Bosnia was not going to be a vote on behalf of the Palestinians. We changed the Security Council votes. We made a difference.
Sen. Cardin also related how he and his colleagues set the parameters for US relations with the PLO and Palestinian Authority:
The United States Congress passed resolutions. I was proud to be the co-author with Senator Collins of Maine [of one which opposed any push for Palestinian statehood except through direct negotiations] because this is not a partisan issue. [referring to a resolution of a year ago not to accept unilateral action, negotiations between the parties being the only course] That resolution passed 100 to 0. Then we offered, the two of us, Senator Collins and myself, a letter to President Abbas…. We were pretty direct. We told President Abbas exactly how we felt. And that is that if he were to pursue a vote in the United Nations there would be consequences.
Now understand we want peace in the Middle East, we want the Palestinians to succeed. But they need to understand that when they do things that are anti-American, going against the leadership of our country, which is critically important to move forward in the peace process, that we’re going to take note of that. And there will be consequences to their actions. I think that had some impact also.