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Non-binding resolutions are a political game, and Israel is the football. (Flaura Winston).

The Smart Way To Support Israel
The definitive list of anti-Israel members of Congress?

-- M. J. Rosenberg

It is just one of the many misleading (at best) e-mails that turned up in my mailbox during and after the Lebanon war. This one claimed to be the ?definitive? list of ?anti-Israel Members of Congress." The half-dozen copies I received all came from people active in mainstream pro-Israel organizations.

Friends, if ever there was a definitive list of the anti-Israel members of Congress, we have it now. Surprisingly they are mostly Democrats.
It's these 23 members who voted against last week's House and Senate resolutions of support for Israel.
No other issue and no US political party allegiance is more important in these times than the safety and security of Israel.
Following is a list of legislators who voted 'No' on yesterday's resolutions of support for Israel.

The e-mail went out late in July and seems to be referring to a resolution that had just taken place.

The most glaring thing wrong with the e-mail is that it describes a vote that never took place. There was no such resolution. There was no such vote.

On top of that, of the 23 "anti-Israel Members of Congress" enumerated in the e-mail, six are not current members of Congress and have not been for two years.

The authors of the e-mail must have known that the list was a fake --- anyone who has even glanced at CNN or any of the other cable news outlets in the last few years knows that Gary Condit is no longer serving California's 18th district, and Fritz Hollings, the well-known ex-Senator, retired from Congress in 2005.

Unfortunately, some of the people who see the e-mail will not know that. They will read it and believe that they know "definitively" who in Congress does not support Israel.

In a sense, however, the fact that the e-mail is fiction is irrelevant. Yes, manufacturing votes and producing an enemies list from it is an ugly tactic. But the tactic would not be much prettier if the vote described represented reality rather than a fantasy. That is because the underlying assumption --- that Senators and House members who choose not to support reflexive resolutions of support for Israel are not friends of Israel ? is faulty.

These resolutions are invariably the same. They have a host of "whereas" clauses which describe a series of situations or events in which, lo and behold, Israel is right and the Arabs (Palestinian, Egyptian, Jordanian, Iraqi, Lebanese, Syrian, whatever) are wrong. Then there is a "be it resolved" clause in which the House or Senate resolves that Congress supports whatever it is that the Israeli government has just done and urges the President to do the same.

The point of these resolutions is not to achieve any particular thing. They are non-binding, meaning they have no practical effect.

The purpose is to allow legislators to use their support for the resolution as evidence of their commitment to Israel. And, almost as important, it allows the people who oppose the resolution to be depicted as anti-Israel.

As evidenced by the partisan language in this email, another purpose these resolutions serve is to allow Republican and Democratic activists to claim that the other party is anti-Israel. (Both parties actually have set up highly-funded organizations to do just that, invariably with scant reference to facts).

It is a political game and Israel is the football.

But what kind of support are these monitors of Israel correctness talking about? 

Office holders are characterized as "staunch" or "stalwart" friends of Israel if they vote for, without questioning, any "pro-Israel" resolution that is drafted for Congress to endorse. Those who question whether the resolution actually makes any sense are deemed anti-Israel or, at best, ?not dependable." And those who dare suggest alternatives to the one-sided language of these resolutions can count on getting flack from both lobbyists and constituents --- constituents told by Washington lobbyists to give their representative a hard time for either voting "wrong" or questioning the resolution's helpfulness to Israel.

The bottom line is that what is commonly deemed "support for Israel" is nothing more than support for the status quo. And we all can see where the status quo has gotten Israel this summer.

(Imagine, for a moment, if a Member of Congress had made a speech earlier this year urging Israel to establish a full mutual cease-fire with the Palestinian Authority so that it could focus instead on the threat from Hezbollah. She would have been offering a policy suggestion that would have helped Israel prevail in the struggle with Hezbollah. However, her reward would have been being targeted as soft on Hamas).

Professor Steven Spiegel, a well-known political scientist at UCLA and an Israel Policy Forum National Scholar, says that it is time to abandon reflexive "support" of Israel for, what he calls, "smart support."

"Historically," he says, "pro-Israel forces in the US had to fight strong foes who opposed the very creation of the State of Israel, and later the country's critical security needs. But since the end of the Cold War, a consensus has emerged in the United States of strong support for Israel. Especially since 9/11, the majority of the country sees Israel as a strong ally in the war on terrorism?democratic, innovative, and daring. 

"In this atmosphere, it is ironic that pro-Israeli forces are still enmeshed in the old politics, when Israel's detractors were so prevalent that the key to supporting Israel was simply to proclaim, well, support. Now in a more complex world the choices confronting the governments of the United States and Israel are far more difficult.

"Is it pro-Israel to limit all US contact with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority or to leave open the possibility of assistance if the Hamas government changes its views and behavior or to expand aid to President Abbas?

"Which is more pro-Israel: to isolate Syria, to overthrow its government, to have public contacts with Damascus, or to have unofficial contacts with the aim of ending assistance to Hezbollah?"

"Is it pro-Israel for Congress to limit aid to Lebanon or would it be better to expand reconstruction aid to both Lebanon and Israel to compete more effectively with Hezbollah efforts to take all the credit in Lebanon and to prepare Israel better to thwart its foes?"

It is time for those of us who consider ourselves pro-Israel to tell our representatives that we expect them to do something more difficult than rubber stamping every rah-rah Israel resolution that finds its way to their desk. In good times, both US interests and Israel can afford symbolic and innocuous rhetoric. But these are not good times. At times like these, we need thoughtful policies that will advance a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And, please, do not tell me that this suggestion is ridiculous because, after all, this is an election year.

Elections come and go, and somehow there is always one looming every time anyone suggests that the United States engage diplomatically to help end the killing in the Middle East.

We can not simply wait until some theoretical post-election, pre-election window opens before taking action. Too many Israelis, Lebanese, and Palestinians died this past summer. Too many more will die next time.

As Professor Spiegel says, it is time for the pro-Israel community to demand "smart support," smart for America, smart for Israel, smart for the Palestinians.

As the old 1960's mantra goes, "if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem." It is time for Congress to start being part of the solution.

Republished courtesy of the Israel Policy Forum.