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The pro-Israel lobby fears that support could self-destruct over the bombing of Gaza

The AIPAC logo is displayed during the policy conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, March 25, 2019. The pro-Israel lobbying group's three-day meeting in Washington kicked off Sunday and features speeches from Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, and the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, as well as Israeli officials. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The AIPAC logo is displayed during the policy conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, March 25, 2019 [Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

The influential pro-Israel lobby in America was reeling last night after it emerged that the US government may halt the $735 million sale of precision-guided missiles to Israel. US politicians, normally supportive of the Zionist state, are divided about giving their usual approval to such a deal.

Anything less than unconditional support by those in Washington would lead to accusations of anti-Semitism by lobbyists, but even they are finding it increasingly difficult to justify the war crimes being carried out by their favoured state against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

While Israel's bombing of Palestinian civilians has prompted global condemnation, what seems to be focusing the minds of Congressmen and women in Washington is the occupation state's deliberate targeting of a high-rise block in Gaza housing prominent media offices and civilian homes, including the office of an American company, the Associated Press. Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee are pressing the Biden administration to at least delay the hi-tech weapons sale pending a review. They may insist on a ceasefire agreement being signed before the sale is given a green light.

The Jewish pressure group If Not Now welcomed the news of Democratic Party opposition to Biden's emergency arms deal. "This is an encouraging sign of what's to come. For decades, [pro-Israel lobby group] AIPAC has cynically used false accusations of anti-Semitism to make it impossible for Democrats to question the ways that the US is funding Israeli apartheid policies," said spokesperson Morriah Kaplan. "Now, thanks to a Palestinian-led movement in Israel/Palestine and in the diaspora, everyone paying attention can see that these US-made and funded bombs are being used to kill Palestinians and commit war crimes. Israeli air strikes are exacerbating tensions and making both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis increasingly unsafe. If Joe Biden continues to push through this weapons deal, he will be squarely on the wrong side of history, and of his own party."

READ: Biden's funding for Israel's massacre of Palestinians can never be justified

Unsurprisingly, among the dissenting voices was outspoken critic of Israel and committee member Ilhan Omar. The Congresswoman said it would be "appalling" for the Biden administration to allow the sale "without any strings attached in the wake of escalating violence and attacks on civilians."

More dissent came from one of Israel's "good friends", Texas politician Joaquin Castro, who said that the US could no longer look the other way while atrocities are being committed by the Israelis on the ground in Gaza. A delay, he said, would allow the committee to conduct a full review.

"It would be reasonable to ask for a delay in that sale so that we could review it given everything that is going on," explained Castro, "particularly the fact that Israel, which is our good friend and which the United States has supported for generations, now targeted a building that housed an American company, the Associated Press." He pointed out that nobody can just look the other way. "The United States needs to send a firm message."

Potential joint resolutions of disapproval will need a special allowance from the committee, because the window to file a disapproval has already technically lapsed. However the fact that US politicians are divided over the arms deal illustrates the wind of change blowing through the corridors of power in Washington.

The Democrats held an emergency meeting on the proposed sale late on Monday evening after the Washington Post reported the sale of weapons including Joint Direct Attack Munitions ("JDAM") kits that transform bombs into precision-guided missiles and Guided Bomb Unit-39s (GBU-39), a weapon developed for penetrating fortified facilities located deep underground.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Representative Gregory Meeks, agreed to send a letter to the Biden administration requesting that the sale be delayed while lawmakers review the contract which was formally cleared on 5 May and Congress was notified. There is a 15-day review process, which ends on Thursday.

Meeks is normally considered to be a close friend of the pro-Israel lobbies in Washington, and is a regular attender of the annual conference of AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee). However, it seems that the goodwill bought and paid for by AIPAC is no longer a guarantee of influence on Capitol Hill.

Tensions have flared among Democratic lawmakers on the committee who want to delay the controversial deal. Many say that they only learned of the impending deal over the weekend and have criticised the committee for a lack of transparency.

B'Tselem: Israel is committing war crimes in Gaza Strip

While they held an emergency meeting discussing the future of the deal, the Israeli military was busy launching deadly air strikes on the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued the usual, belligerent threats: "We'll do whatever it takes to restore order and quiet and the security of our people and deterrence. We're trying to degrade Hamas's terrorist abilities and to degrade their will to do this again. So it'll take some time. I hope it won't take long, but it's not immediate."

However, despite attempts to curb live, on the ground reporting by journalists in Gaza by deliberately destroying the offices of news agencies with missiles and bombs, the outside world can clearly see the devastation being caused by Israel. And we all know about the killing of innocent men, women and children.

It is almost certain that among the array of weapons being used against the civilian population are missiles obtained from the US Defence Department by Israel in a $1.8 billion arms deal in 2015. Included in the deal were 14,500 JDAM kits to convert smart missiles and other weapons of mass destruction deployed on Israeli fighter jets and drones like those sent to bomb the Gaza tower block housing Associated Press and Al Jazeera. Israel claimed that the Hamas military intelligence agency was using the commercial and residential building but as yet no evidence of this has been provided. AP is demanding an independent investigation. Meanwhile an electricity power line servicing the only generating plant for much of Gaza City was also destroyed.

Traditional friends of Israel appear to be divided over the Zionist state's military offensive, and Democrats in America are pressuring President Joe Biden to make their feelings known to Netanyahu.

"I just can't remember a shooting war where kids are being killed on both sides where the US hasn't aggressively pushed for a ceasefire," Senator Tim Kaine told journalists.

The chair of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Middle East, Senator Chris Murphy, pointed out that, "If Israel doesn't believe a ceasefire is in its interest, that doesn't mean we have to accept that judgement. We have enormous persuasive power."

America does indeed have enormous persuasive power and it would be encouraging to see it being used to support the Palestinian people for a change. We can but hope that the power and influence of the pro-Israel lobby is on the wane. That would be a good thing, not only for the Palestinians, but also for Western democracy.

MEMO in conversation with Palestinians in Haifa and Gaza

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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