Several members of Congress are spending the first week of the summer recess in Israel to show support for the Jewish state, view the tunnels used by Hamas and see the Iron Dome missile defense system that they helped fund.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that he was “humbled to be traveling to the United States’ greatest ally… to show my support for the Israeli people during this time of instability.”
“I have always been one of Israel’s strongest supporters in the U.S. Congress, and I will always stand up for its needs,” he added.
Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), also part of the congressional delegation, said he hoped the presence of the bipartisan group “communicates the unbreakable bond between our two nations.”
“There is a lot to learn about the peace process and the impact of events here on U.S. interests at home and abroad,” Graves said. “While we will discuss a broad range of economic and political issues, I am especially interested to learn more about Israel’s counter-terrorism techniques, including their approach to securing borders and ports of entry.”
Rep. Israel was pressed by CNN on Wednesday about the Obama administration criticism of Israeli strikes on Gaza.
“Well, I will tell you what the prime minister said, that Israel mourns the loss of every life,” the DCCC chairman said. “But the fact of the matter is that it is Hamas that has chosen to hide its military commanders underground and put civilians above ground. It is Hamas that has decided to embed its military technologies and weapons in schools, in mosques and other facilities.”
“It is Hamas that decided to launch rockets in an asymmetric way. And so it is Hamas that has the responsibility for increasing the number of fatalities. I happen to agree with that view,” Israel continued. “What would you do? My district — 200 of my constituents lost their lives on 9/11. What did we do? We responded. Israel has not the right, but the responsibility to protect its civilians while trying to minimize the loss of innocent civilians and that’s exactly what they have done.”
When pressed again on whether the administration criticism of the Jewish state was valid, the congressman said, “I do not know what more Israel could have done.”
“Look, in any war, you’re always going to get the tragedy of those casualties. And we have drone programs that operated against the bad guys, and, unfortunately, there were casualties that we mourned and that we didn’t want. That’s what happens in a war,” the leading Dem said.
“This war happened to be started by a terrorist group that launched rockets at heavily populated Israeli cities. Now, the other thing I would mention is this. We can bemoan the criticisms and the back and forth. What’s important is that the United States and the United States Congress under this administration has helped finance the Iron Dome program, which has saved thousands of more lives and prevented an already horrifying escalation of hostilities from escalating even further. So I’m going to continue to focus on technologies like the Iron Dome program. I don’t care who said what. I care about the deed, and that we are actually in very good shape with Israel on military and intelligence cooperation.”
Rep. Israel was pressed on the timeline of the conflict and allegations that the Jewish state hid the fact that the three missing Israeli teens kidnapped from the West Bank had been murdered.
“What bothers me is that three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered,” Israel said. “I don’t know why Israel should shoulder the blame for the terrorist murder of three Israeli teenagers. What further bothers me is that it was Hamas that decided, having nothing to do with Israel, but its own internal loss of power and its marginalization, that they could empower themselves by launching rockets in an unprovoked way over a border into Israel. And it was Hamas that actually increased the loss of life by refusing to agree to a cease-fire that I hope they now will agree to.”
“Those are the things that really bother me. Again, I grieve for the loss of every life on both sides, but a nation has a responsibility to defend itself against the kind of attacks that Hamas has launched against Israel.”