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Kucinich Cites Arms Export and Control Act in Decision to Vote Against House Measure Supporting Israeli Offensive

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Both the House and Senate passed non-binding resolutions last week overwhelmingly supporting Israel’s offensive in Gaza. On Thursday, the Senate passed the resolution by a unanimous voice vote. The House voted on a similar bill on Friday that passed by a vote of 390 for and five against. Twenty-two representatives voted “present.” We speak with Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) who voted against the measure. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Cleveland. Both the House and Senate passed non-binding resolutions last week in Washington, D.C., overwhelmingly supporting Israel’s offensive in Gaza. On Thursday, the Senate passed the resolution by a unanimous voice vote. The House voted on a similar bill Friday. The bill was called “Recognizing Israel’s Right to Defend Itself Against Attacks from Gaza, Reaffirming the United States’ Strong Support for Israel, and Supporting the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process.” The measure passed by a vote of 390 for, five against, twenty-two representatives voting “present.”

Democratic Congress member Dennis Kucinich of Ohio is one of the five members of the House to vote against the resolution, joining us from Cleveland.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Congress member Kucinich, why did you vote against this resolution?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I am someone who has spent his entire career working for peace, and I don’t think that resolution expressed a sentiment that will get us to peace, because it was incomplete. It didn’t truly address the humanitarian crisis. It didn’t address the nature of the blockade. And it did not talk about the broad issues of occupation. Nor did it set a path that could truly get us out of this crisis. So I’m continuing to talk to the leaders of the House about the urgency of America taking a more balanced approach in reaching out to all the parties to show that we understand the suffering that’s going on there, we understand the humanitarian disaster that’s been visited upon the people of Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you surprised at the number of people or the small number of people who voted against? Just five of you, just, specifically, to go through who voted against the resolution, California Democrat Maxine Waters, Wisconsin Democrat Gwen Moore, West Virginia Democrat Nick Rahall, and Texas Republican Ron Paul. And then the twenty-two members of Congress who simply voted “present.”

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, I think that — you know, we understand that people in Congress want to be supportive of Israel. So do I. And I consider myself a friend of Israel. But your best friends are those who will tell you when they think you’re going in the wrong direction and when you could be getting into danger. And I think that Israel is approaching a period of danger here. Time magazine raised a question about whether Israel can survive the attacks on Gaza, because of the diplomatic morass that it’s moving towards and making it very difficult to find a partner in the region to try to come to talks in resolution of this — not just this current conflict, but set the stage for a development of peace. So members of Congress who voted against it, the four ones other than myself, I think share the concern that I have that the humanitarian crisis has not been addressed, that Israel has in fact used disproportionate force and that the resolution of this conflict cannot be achieved through the use of military force.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Kucinich, you mentioned Israel’s potential violation of the Arms Export and Control Act, which governs US arms exports to foreign countries. Can you explain?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: In 1976, Congress passed a law that says that if the United States is going to give arms to another country, that it can attach and does attach conditions that says that those arms are transmitted under the condition, first of all, that they’re used for defensive purposes only, and second, that they not be used to escalate a preexisting conflict. On both of those cases, I think that Israel has failed. And I’ve asked the President of the United States, through the Secretary of State, to make such a determination.

Now, the importance of it here is that Israel signed a $30 billion agreement with the United States in 2007, $25 billion of which has not been spent, for military assistance. And I think that if Israel is going to get aid from the United States, that the United States must be very certain that that military aid is not going to be used against a civilian population in a way that it’s occurring in Gaza. It’s a very dangerous moment. Not only F-16 jets, Apache helicopters, but now we’re seeing white phosphorus used against the people in Gaza. This should be a great concern to every person in this country, because of the amount of money that we’re giving to Israel, that the conditions upon which that aid was transmitted be enforced.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of the UN vote against the Israeli attack, the US did not vote against it, but abstained.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, you know, let’s look at this in a broader context. The US has really lost a lot of its moral authority. You know, ever since we started to attack Iraq and brought forward a war that was totally unjustified, our continued war in Afghanistan, the incursions in Pakistan, we are — and the saber rattling with Iran, where is the US’s moral authority anyway? We have to, hopefully, with a new administration, take a new direction, where we regain our ability to be able to counsel the rest of the world on how to move towards peace. We’re not in a very good position to be able to counsel Israel. And in matter of fact, the Bush administration encouraged Israel to continue the aggression that occurred in South Lebanon that resulted in, the closing days of that war, the destruction of South Lebanon, which is one of the reasons why I’m concerned about what might happen yet in Gaza in the closing days of this current war.

We have to work for the survival of Israel through diplomacy. Just simply arms is not going to keep Israel safe. It is just a matter of fact that the United States has a higher role to play in world affairs, but the only way that we can do it is if we stand for international law and then ask our partners, such as Israel, to stand for international law as well.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your assessment of how the President-elect, the man who will be president next week, Barack Obama, has dealt with Gaza?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I think it’s too early to say. Many people wanted him to speak out. I think that as an incoming president, even though he did say something about what happened in Mumbai, this situation in Gaza and the Middle East is much more complex. I think he was wise to be careful about saying anything. But he’s taken upon himself a great responsibility and is going to have to move quickly to deal with these issues in the Middle East and to try to open up talks with Iran, which I think is, you know, looming behind the scene as a larger issue. I think that a President Obama has a task which is going to be extremely important for peace in the world by opening up new paths towards peace and initiating diplomacy where it has been lacking in the past.

AMY GOODMAN: I was wondering your response to attorney Lanny Davis talking about how any country in the world, if rockets were launched onto their soil, would certainly respond, that this is a proportionate response.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, you know, Lanny Davis is brilliant. He’s a friend of mine. He served President Clinton and his country well. I sincerely disagree with him. When you look at the issue of proportionality, which must be taken into account, there is just no question that there’s a disproportionate response. And when you look at what the targets of the attacks have been, you know, the Israeli army is given a lot of credit for its precision, so when UN schools are hit, the American university there, when you look at the damage or destruction of the Red Cross’s efforts there, you have to come to an understanding that this is deliberate. This isn’t accidental. Accidents can happen in war, but when you’re using that kind of destructive power, you have to take the responsibility for the consequences of it. There’s no question there’s a use of disproportionate force here, and no amount of reasoning or attempt to try to take the side of Israel is going to remove that single fact.

Just look at the numbers. Look at the destruction. I mean, believe what you see with your eyes. And that’s, I suppose, one of the reasons why the Israeli government doesn’t want the media to get in there. When you tell civilians to go to a house to be protected, and then you shell that house, I mean, what does that say?

We have to look at this from an elevated position, saying we want Israel to survive, but Israel has to be counseled that it has to stop this aggression in Gaza. It has to move towards not only a ceasefire and a truce, but we have to bring in Hamas, too. But if you don’t get Syria’s help, which Syria was trying to work with Hamas, and if you isolate Israel from the rest of potential partners in the Middle East, then what chance does Israel have to ever come to a resolution here? Force alone is not going to protect Israel. Diplomacy will. And that’s what we need to move towards.

I don’t have any brief for Hamas and for its use of rockets against the Israeli people. I mean, anybody who’s fair-minded knows that that’s wrong. But you have to go back to the blockade and the occupation, and you have to look at Israel’s conduct in the West Bank, as well. I mean, if Israel was so gentle with the people of Gaza, you look at the West Bank and look at what’s happened there — look, I’ve been there. I’ve seen the barriers and the checkpoints and how people are treated. I’ve seen the settlements. You cannot justify any of that.

And so, if we’re going to move towards peace, Israel has a very serious role to play here. The United States should take an even-handed approach, and we should help our ally Israel work a way in a path towards peace in concert with the nations of that region.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think, as some have suggested, there’s a possibility that Israel is trying to knock out Hamas before President-elect Obama becomes President Obama, that he might be more open to negotiating directly with Hamas, so that this is a kind of preemptive strike?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, you know, it could — the timing is unmistakable. I mean, it’s on the eve of an inauguration of a new president. So I think that Israel is obviously taking advantage of that and is going to accelerate the attack in the next week. However, they’re creating conditions that will greatly complicate the efforts of an Obama administration to try to move towards peace, because of the level of suffering and the harm that’s being done to the people in Gaza.

The whole world is watching this, and the world understands what’s happening. You know, no amount of attempt to rationalize this violence in Gaza is going to work for Israel. There’s a point at which — you know, Israel has a lot of talent, very bright people running their government. They chose to use violence. They chose it on the eve of a presidential inauguration in the United States. They’re trying to take advantage of this situation, because they know the Bush administration could care less about international law. It looked the other way and even encouraged the destruction in South Lebanon over a thirty-seven-day period. I was in South Lebanon. I saw the damage that was done there in the closing days of that war. I was in Kunetra. I saw the damage that was done in that area near the Golan Heights in the closing day of that war.

Israel can be expected to accelerate the attack on Gaza before the inauguration of Barack Obama. But to what cost? To what point? How do you get to peace after that? That’s what we ought to be talking about. And how do we make it possible for our new president to be in a position where he can negotiate? Israel isn’t doing him any favors with what they’re doing. They’re not doing the world any favors or themselves any favors by their conduct of this war against Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Kucinich, I want to thank you for being with us. Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a Democratic Congress member from Ohio, speaking to us from Cleveland, one of five House members to vote against a resolution supporting Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

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