WASHINGTON – Both chambers of Congress overwhelmingly voted on resolutions Thursday expressing support for Israel, with one sponsor arguing the Mideast nation is facing terror attacks identical to the ones that struck the United States.
"Israel has been under siege, our friend, from a systematic and deliberate campaign of suicide homicide attacks by terrorists. Their essence is identical to the attacks on our country of Sept. 11," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.
The Senate resolution, which passed 94-2, was a much milder resolution than the House-passed bill, which not only expressed support for Israel but condemned Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
The two most senior Democrats, Sens. Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Ernest "Fritz" Hollings of South Carolina, still opposed it, however, saying it ignores Israeli responsibility and the plight of the Palestinians.
Hollings even likened Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein because he refused to allow a United Nations team into Jenin to evaluate the destruction there.
The House resolution, voted on by a 352-21 margin with 29 voting present, said the Congress "stands in solidarity with Israel as it takes necessary steps to provide security to its people by dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian areas" and "condemns the ongoing support of terror by Yasser Arafat and other members of the Palestinian leadership."
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who sponsored the resolution, even suggested that Arafat be replaced.
"The most promising sign for both the people of Israel and the Palestinians would be the emergence of a moderate Palestinian leader who truly seeks a negotiated settlement for lasting peace," he said during debate.
Others said that their support for the resolution does not mean carte blanche for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and the few vocal opponents in the House said the resolution doesn't do anything to promote peace.
"This resolution undermines President Bush's efforts to bring both sides together as an honest broker," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., one of the strongest supporters for U.S. action in Afghanistan. "Instead of compromising, this one-sided resolution will encourage excesses on both sides, it is anti-peace."
The Bush administration urged Congress not to vote on either measure, saying that the House language would inflame the situation and lead to "535 secretaries of state" all weighing in on the conflict.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., however, told the president Tuesday that the Senate would vote on its measure, prompting DeLay to re-introduce the resolution that he had previously shelved.
DeLay, who has been one of Israel's strongest supporters in the Congress, said he wanted the measure to send a message worldwide that the United States would firmly back its ally in the troubled region.