On Oct. 31, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) admitted Palestine as a full member. This happened after the Palestinian Authority submitted its bid for unilateral recognition as an independent state at the United Nations in September. These unfortunate moves by the UN and the Palestinians undermine a peaceful settlement in the Middle East, and by harming the security of Israel, also hurt U.S. national security. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s recent recognition of Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon, a first for the agency, highlights another existential challenge to America’s closest ally in the Middle East.
Americans concerned about these challenges to Israeli security are asking where those who represent them in Congress stand. The position of one member with significant foreign policy responsibility, the ranking member and past chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is unclear, however.
Since he was elected in 1977 during the Carter administration, Dick Lugar (R.-Ind.) has been among the senators least friendly to the state of Israel. If Lugar had worked harder over the years to discourage moves that harm Israel, the situation might not be as dire as it is today.
As recently as March 2010, Lugar raised the possibility in a Senate hearing that if Israel did not accede to unnamed demands, “the consequences might be that, ‘You really don’t receive our support. For a while, you’re on your own. Take it or leave it.’ ”
This position, while out of the mainstream for Americans, Hoosiers, Democrats and Republicans, falls in line with a long history of anti-Israel actions taken by Dick Lugar. Four votes in particular define his record.
In 1998, Lugar provided one of only four “nay” votes against a resolution that would have sanctioned those who helped Iran develop ballistic missiles, weapons that primarily target Israel. Three years later in 2001, Lugar found himself as part of an even smaller minority—he and Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel were the only senators, Democrat or Republican, to vote against a measure that extended sanctions against Iran, the country that poses the greatest threat to Israel’s existence. The next year in 2002, Lugar voted against legislation that would have prohibited the U.S. from importing Iraqi oil until Iraq stopped compensating the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.
Despite increasing radicalism within the Middle East, Lugar and Hagel joined together again in September 2007 as the only two Republicans voting against a resolution that would have designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist group. The IRGC has trained and supported Hamas and Hezbollah, which routinely target Israelis. The IRGC has also been linked to the murder of American soldiers through its provision of explosively formed penetrators—an advanced type of improvised explosive device, or IED—to insurgents in Iraq.
Refusing to recognize an Iranian terrorist group that attacks Israelis and Americans for what it is undermines the security of Israel and the U.S. by limiting actions the U.S. and its allies can take against the group. Can anyone doubt that undercutting sanctions against Israel’s chief enemy, Iran, or declining to punish those who fund Palestinian suicide bombers adds to instability in the Middle East and threatens Israel?
In May of this year, Lugar chose not to challenge President Obama after he called for Israel’s borders to return to “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” This is not surprising. Lugar was one of the first to speak favorably in 2002 of the so-called “Saudi plan,” which called for return to the pre-1967 lines. It may have taken nine years, but ultimately Dick Lugar found a President he can work with on issues of Israel.
Israelis express their love of freedom through liberty, ingenuity and perseverance despite the overwhelming threats they face daily. In Israel, it is never a question of whether an attack will occur, but when. Still, Israelis have learned to thrive in this dangerous environment. Our historic Judeo-Christian ties, our common views of democracy and peace, and our mutual commerce should result in far greater support of our essential ally in the Middle East than Sen. Dick Lugar has provided.
The Palestinian Authority’s recent actions at the UN, and Iran’s continued progress toward a nuclear weapon, are just the latest dangers posed to Israel among many in the history of the Jewish state. Lugar’s actions, votes and statements have not helped Israel defeat such hazards. I would seek a different path as U.S. senator from Indiana.
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