Congressional Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-26) led a public forum on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church yesterday at noon. With close to 100 people in attendance, this was the second time Congressman Hinchey addressed his constituency in Ithaca this year.
“Many people are concerned about the state of Israel and the safety of the Palestinians,” Hinchey said.
He addressed the controversial issue at hand to an audience that, for the most part, was highly critical of the Israeli government.
“There has been an outpouring of concern about what has been happening in the occupied territories,” said Syed Nagi, a retired Prof. of microbiology at Cornell University. “The people who came [to the forum] were upset and angry which is indicative that the American mood might not be what the media shows.”
“Every other country has to abide with the United Nations resolutions, Israel too. What makes one country stand different from the rest of the world?” asked a woman from audience, referring to the recent culmination of human rights violations, in Palestine, by the Israeli army.
“We are in a poor position,” said Hinckey. “We are as guilty as anyone else. We haven’t ourselves lived up to high standards. We need to be a more effective part of the international community.”
“I am a great friend to Israel, I was in Jerusalem when the suicide bomber set the bomb in a discotheque, I was the U.S. senior official there, so I rushed to speak to the families of the victims. But it has lost a lot of the sympathy of a lot of the world, sympathy it had prior to two years,” Hinchey added.
Hinchey also emphasized the importance of U.S. involvement in the Middle East.
“Nothing happens in the Middle East unless the U.S. government is directly involved. The U.S. works with both sides,” he said.
“People have to have the courage to sit down and talk about problems. Arafat and Sharon, I have serious doubts they can do it,” Hinchey said. “They have similar backgrounds, they are both soldiers, they fight, that’s what they’re good at, if anything.”
Since Sharon became prime minister of Israel “more people have died” Hinchey said.
“Arafat is not a good guy to deal with, I met him on numerous occasions. He is weak, fearful for his own safety more than anything else. I don’t think Sharon is weak, but I also don’t he is a very competent leader.”
The general sentiment in the audience was concentrated over one issue — U.S. aid to Israel.
“U.S. should withdraw aid from Israel because it makes it possible for Israel to destroy. The Palestinians need the opportunity not to be destroyed before this thing ends,” Virginia Simon, a visitor from out-of-state, said.
Hinchey’s take on this issue was solid, “Israel produces its own sophisticated weapons. If the U.S. stopped aid to Israel, it would not stop violence at this stage of the game, it would reduce the leverage on the U.S. government,” he said. “If you eliminate the aid completely, once you’re played that card — its played.”
Several Cornell students who attended the forum did not share in the common attitude of the audience on the issue.
“It was upsetting to see how ill informed and biased some members of the Ithaca community are concerning the situation in the Middle East,” Josh Roth ’03 said. “Some were nearly accepting of Palestinian terror tactics while blasting Israel to no end for rightly defending itself. In the wake of yet another terrorist attack over the weekend, in which four Israeli civilians were murdered by Palestinian gunmen, it should be clear to everyone that Israel has both the right and solemn duty to protect its citizens.”
Ari Nathan Stern ’05, vice president of programming for the CIPAC (Cornell-Israel Public Affairs), shared a Roth’s view.
“Residents placed one hundred percent of the blame on the Israeli government, while not holding Yasir Arafat and his terrorist regime the least bit culpable in the deaths of so many innocent Israeli civilians,” Stern said. “I guess the intellectual thought that flourishes on the Cornell campus does not emanate throughout the surrounding area.”
Despite their differences in opinion, all members of the audience seemed to agree on one thing, Hinchey’s moderate handling of the forum.
“Under the circumstances, Representative Hinchey held a moderate view, not allowing misinformed citizens to sway him to their side of ignorance and absurdity,” Stern said.
“I think the fact that he made himself available about this controversial issue in a public forum, shows a sign of a politician who is responsible to his constituency,” Beth Harris, Ithaca resident, said.
“Israel [as a] state will continue to exist. No American government can accept anything less than a state of Israel. No administration and no congress for that matter. But a Palestinian state has to be recognized too, we have an obligation to crate it,” Hinchey concluded.
Archived article by Veronika Belenkaya