Congress debates Goldstone


The U.S. House of Representatives is debating a resolution condemning the Goldstone report, the U.N. Human Rights Council-mandated report into last winter’s Gaza war, and which accuses Israel and Hamas of war crimes.

The non-binding resolution demands that the Obama administration do what it can to keep the report from advancing through the U.N. system.

It’s an unusual set up. Debate on such resolutions, if they’re mother and apple pie enough, are controlled  by the resolution’s sponsor; If it is on a partisan matter, or if there are two sponsors, one from either party, there are two traffic controllers, one for Democrats, one for Republicans.

There are three "traffic controllers" this evening: U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee who introduced the resolution; Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the committee chairman who co-sponsored the resolution; and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the member who visited Gaza in the war’s immediate aftermath, and who opposes the resolution.

Another wrinkle:

Ros-Lehtinen objects to Ellison’s request to enter the 574-page report into the Congressional Record. Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), who opposes the resolution and who accompanied Ellison to Gaza, objects to Ros-Lehtinen’s objection, saying that an opening statement allowing the entry of extraneous documents applies generally.

Berman appears to back Ellison’s request, although noting that there is a page limit — no one seems to know what it is — beyond which the clerk must estimate the cost. Ros-Lehtinen then emphasizes that she wants to know how much it would "cost the taxpayers for the printing of the biased report."

The resolution passes by acclamation — the acting Speaker (whom I can’t place) casts her eyes about the room and sees two thirds standing in "aye." Ros Lehtinen exercises her right to ask for a count, not because she can’t believe she won, but because it’s a fun way to target those who voted against come election time.

The count, ultimately, is 344 for, 36 against (all but three are Democrats) and 22 "present."

During the debate, much of the opposition has to do with how the House leadership placed the resolution on the "suspension calendar" which brings it straight to the floor, bypassing committees. This is not unusual — for mom and apple pie resolutions (from commemorating major U.S. victories to naming post offices).  It is for controversial resolutions. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide if 344-36-22 is controversial. (Not being ironical, I genuinely am chickening out of this call.)

Here’s Ellison:

Why are you voting on a resolution without holding a single hearing?

Ellison and others on his side want Goldstone to testify, and each person speaking in opposition notes that Goldstone’s report treats both sides in the conflict.

Other notable quotes from the opposition:

 -Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) quotes David Ben-Gurion: "Without moral and intellectual independence, there’s no anchor for national independence."

– Baird holds up photos, first of Israeli children in Sderot undergoing a bombing drill, and then of a father mourning three dead toddlers in Gaza. He talks so long even Ellison asks him to shut up. Must have been a companionable trip.

– Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) is one of several opposing the resolution who note that Goldstone’s report has an out for Israel: Investigate yourself.

– Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) both argue that the resolution harms U.S. security by damaging its reputation as  an honest broker. "American-made white phsosphorous shells were used by Israel in civilian areas, causing horrible burns to Palestinian children," McCollum says. "There must be only one standard for respecting human rights."

– Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) says he will vote "present," because he is upset his colleagues haven’t read the report. "I havent had the time to read 575 pages," he says. "The process has been totally inadequate."

– Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who sounds a little too practised at sounding outraged, comes up with presidential debate -worthy quips about voting for up is down, night is day, etc. (Some anti-Kucinich bug erased my notes on his speech.)

In support:

– Most fiery in support is the majority leader, U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). Baird had scored his colleagues for not even having visited Gaza; Hoyer bellows: "They (Hamas) targeted civilians. How do I know?" (Glares in Baird’s direction.) "I’ve been there!"

Hoyer says he respects Kucinich and agrees that the Palestinians deserve Americans’ empathy: "We ought to have empathy for the Palestinians who have been put at great risk by their leaders. Why are they there? Because the Arab community does not want to absorb them and its leaders will not seek a meaningful peace."

Hoyer (and Berman in his wrapup) also note what they say are the dangers of allowing the report to progress: Inhibiting warfare against terrorists, dealing with "asymmetrical" threats.

– Ros Lehtinen keeps introducing colleagues by enumerating their committee memberships; it seems a lot of Republicans who don’t like Goldstone serve on the Agriculture Committee.

– Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) imagines rockets raining into Indiana from Michigan. This metaphor usually invokes neighboring countries — Hoyer mentions Canada and Mexico — not states; my brain is stuck on a snapshot of thousands of infuriated Hoosiers paddling across Lake Michigan.

He also says his colleagues, well, bug him. "There shouldn’t be one vote — not one vote — against Israel. These people who have been making these comments on the other side of the aisle really bother me."

– Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the minority whip, is one of several speaking in support of the resolution who note that Israel ceded Gaza in 2005. "Every time it [Israel] makes concessions in peace it results in terrorism."

– Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) is outraged that the report concludes that Israel was deliberately targeting civilians and says that the report — and the process that led to it — should prompt the Obama administration to reconsider its decision to join and fund the UNHRC.

– Berman wraps up and addresses his colleagues’ critiques. He too would have preferred more time, but notes that the UNHRC endorsement of the report is due to be debated Wednesday in the U.N. General Assembly:

What’s the rush? The only rush — I would prefer we had more time, I would prefer we had more discussion — but the U.N. General Assembly wants to send this to U.N. Security Council and then then to the International Criminal Court.

He also makes this eloquent point to those who opposed the resolution and noted Goldstone’s record as a judge and prosecutor, helping to bring about an end to Apartheid in his native South Africa, find Nazis in Argentina, prosecute war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Some of Berman’s favorite judges joined in the World War II-era decision to intern Japanese, he says, and continues:

They are still my favorite justices — but they made a mistake.


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