GOP Delegation Criticizes U.S., Backs Israeli Evictions

cantor21Imagine that the government of a foreign country was carrying out a years-long project that involved seizing property from a disfavored ethnic group and transferring it to a favored ethnic group, in contravention of that government’s obligations under international law, as well as in violation of its previous commitments to the United States.

Now imagine that a U.S. Congressional delegation visited that country, but rather than criticizing that government for its violations, those American legislators criticized U.S. policy, and the American president for enforcing it.

I think this might be seen in some circles as controversial. Even inappropriate.

But this is precisely what just occurred in Israel, where a GOP delegation led by Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) criticized the Obama administration’s attempts to hold Israel to its previous commitments to freeze settlements and halt the eviction of Arab families from their homes in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood to make way for Jewish settlers:

[T]he delegation of 25 Republicans say their weeklong mission to Israel is designed to show solidarity with the Jewish state and promote Mideast peace. […]

Cantor and others supported Israel’s handling of the eviction of two Arab families from a house in east Jerusalem earlier this week, a move criticized by the European Union and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“I don’t think we, in America, would want another country telling us how to implement and execute our laws,” Cantor said.

The United States and the United Nations both condemned the eviction of the families. Under President Bush’s 2003 road map, Israel committed to “freez[ing] all settlement activity,” and the Obama administration has made clear that it considers attempts to expand the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem to be covered by that commitment.

A spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) described exactly what Cantor and his colleagues are supporting:

The families, evicted in the early hours of Sunday from the homes where they have lived for more than half a century, continue to suffer distress and shock. The children are particularly traumatised. The lasting humanitarian impact on the 53 people directly affected including 20 minors cannot be over-estimated. Seeing settlers being escorted into the houses in which some family members were born, was particularly distressing for these refugees.

Not only were they surrounded by Israeli police and security personnel at dawn, their homes broken into and their families thrown onto the streets, they have had to endure the indignity and humiliation of their personal effects being loaded onto trucks and dumped in scrub land at the edge of Jerusalem’s Route One.

On Monday Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, was “summoned to the State Department for a reprimand” over the Sheikh Jarrah project, for the second time in two weeks. Oren has said that Israeli settlement activity in East Jerusalem “does not represent any attempt to alter the demographic balance” of the area, but Israeli government documents, as well as a substantial research by Israeli human rights groups, reveal his claim to be untrue.

Noting that the evicted families “were given those houses by the UN a few years after they, like tens of thousands of other Palestinians, fled their homes in west Jerusalem during the 1948 war,” Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner wrote that the Sheikh Jarrah evictions “revealed our settlement policy in all its glory“:

It reminded everyone that the issue isn’t houses and zoning, it’s justice and decency — or, rather, injustice and indecency.

Maybe it’s too much to ask Cantor and his colleagues to recognize the injustice and indecency of Israeli policy toward Jerusalem’s non-Jewish residents. But it shouldn’t be too much to expect them not to go abroad and provide cover for it.