Medill Reports Chicago: Walsh's record on Israel draws criticism from some advocacy groups

U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Fox Lake) holds a congressional record that reveals a strong focus on Israel and the federal budget, one that experts and local advocacy groups don’t think will help his re-election bid.

Walsh is in a close and hard-fought battle with Democrat Tammy Duckworth that has drawn national attention.

Out of a mix of 16 bills and resolutions that Walsh sponsored during his first term, three focus on reining in spending by the federal government and three display unwavering support for Israel.

Don Rose, an independent political consultant, thinks both are popular issues, but views Walsh’s more recent statements, such as his opposition to abortion in cases of rape, as something voters will pay more attention to.

“Very, very few voters are aware of the totality of a congressman’s record on either side,” he said.

“The thing that has to be remembered is somebody who is as loud and hitting such sensitive and well publicized issues blocks out almost anything else that is going on or anything else that even went on a few months ago,” Rose said.

Others view Walsh’s bills pertaining to Israel as an escalation of extreme rhetoric ushered in by Tea Party candidates.

House Resolution 394, introduced in September of last year, “supports Israel’s right to annex Judea and Samaria in the event that the Palestinian Authority continues to press for unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations.”

The Palestinian Authority has been attempting to bypass negotiations with the U.S. and Israel and gain recognition as a state by appealing to the United Nations. Walsh’s resolution would support Israel’s annexation of the West Bank if that effort continues.

“With the advent of the Tea Party and the number of Tea Party supporters who were elected in 2010, I think the relative extremism on the position on Israel is more than we’ve seen in the past,” said Jesse Greenberg, deputy director of political affairs at J Street Chicago, which defines itself as the home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans. “It’s alarming.”

“The values of the Tea Party are not in sync with American Jews when it comes to Israel,” he said. “The two-state solution is absolutely the opinion of main street Jews.”

Under a two-state solution Israel and Palestine would be neighboring states. A one-state solution envisions Palestine and Israel as two parts of the same country.

Aymen Abdel Halim, communications coordinator for CAIR-Chicago, a Muslim American civil rights and advocacy group, posed a question for Walsh in response to his bills.

“Who’s informing him on these issues?” he asked. “I don’t know Joe Walsh as being someone who is very well versed or has studied the Palestinian/Israeli conflict for a long period of time.”

“I think the ignorance is based on the fact that many of these elected officials unfortunately aren’t well versed on the conflict,” he said.

Abdel Halim has been working independently on a feature length documentary composed of interviews with Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.

“It’s really important to connect how Palestinians on the ground in the occupied territories feel about legislation being passed here in regards to their lives,” he said.

“Many of them understand that Congress in the United States is influenced by the Israeli lobby, they understand it better than most Americans do so they’re the ones who are feeling the effects of it,” he said.

Walsh also sponsored House Resolution 1501, which would block U.S. contributions to the UN until the international body retracts a report on the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict. The report, which Israel objected to, found that “in the lead up to the Israeli military assault on Gaza, Israel imposed a blockade amounting to collective punishment and carried out a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation of the Gaza Strip.”

Walsh also is the sponsor of H.R. 2457, simply known as the “Palestinian Accountability Act,” which would impose a long list of requirements on the Palestinian Authority for the U.S. to acknowledge certain areas as Palestine.

A spokesman for Duckworth did not want to comment specifically on Walsh’s bills, but maintained that she “believes Israel is one of our strongest allies” and “believes in a two-state solution.”

Walsh also sponsored two resolutions proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States requiring a balanced budget and one bill calling for limiting spending by federal agencies.

Rose was not surprised.

“They are more routine kinds of things,” he said. “A Republican who wants to cut spending — yawn.”

©2001 – 2012 Medill Reports – Chicago, Northwestern University. A publication of the Medill School.