Daily Israel Report

Congress Condemns, But Obama Still Silent on Kidnappings

Criticism of muted White House response remains relatively restrained for now, but questions will need answering at some point.
By Ari Soffer
First Publish: 6/19/2014, 6:39 PM

Silent: President Barack Obama
Silent: President Barack Obama
Reuters

As the search for three missing Israeli teenagers abducted by Islamist terrorists enters into its second week, several prominent American legislators have issued condemnations of the kidnapping, along with calls for their safe return.

The calls have spanned both sides of the aisle, both underlining the bipartisan support for Israel in Congress and simultaneously raising questions about the continued silence by President Obama. The commander-in-chief of Israel's "closest ally" has yet to issue a comment on the crisis - much to the anger and dismay of many Israelis.

In a statement Wednesday, US Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), said her "heart aches" for the kidnapped youths, and called for their immediate release.

"The kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers is outrageous and unacceptable, and I condemn it in the strongest possible terms," said Meng, who is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East. "I demand that the perpetrators of this despicable crime release these innocent teens at once."

"My heart aches for the three young men and their families and I ask all Americans to pray for their safe and speedy return," she added.

Another Democratic Congresswoman, Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), linked the kidnapping to war crimes in Syria and Nigeria, and called on the world to "rise up to snuff out the aspirations of these who use children to further their political or religious agenda".

Bass, who is the highest ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, posted a statement on her official website under the heading #BringBackOurBoys - a reference to the social media campaign by Israeli activists to raise awareness for the plight of the teens, which was itself adapted from the Nigerian #BringBackOurGirls slogan.

"For four long weeks, over 200 sets of parents and millions of their countrymen have been immobilized by anguish, waiting for any bit of information about their young daughters who have been snatched by Boko Haram," she said, referring to the kidnap of hundreds of schoolgirls by the Nigerian Islamist group. "And then last week, we heard about the kidnapping of three Israeli boys. Their crime? They too were at the wrong place at the wrong time, preyed on by terrorists looking to steal Israeli children."

"I look at the faces of all these kidnapped children; in them I see everyone’s child and everyone’s hope, and now every mother’s worst nightmare," Bass added. "My heart breaks for those mothers and for all children left so terrified, brutalized and alone."

Earlier this week, leading Republican Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) said his "thoughts and prayers" were with the kidnapped teens and their families, and urged the White House to reconsider engaging with Hamas, which is part of the shaky "unity government" with the Palestinian Authority.

"This atrocity against both our nations reminds us that we face a mutual enemy who attacks us because of our shared commitment to the basic principles of freedom," Cruz remarked, noting that one of the kidnapped boys, Naftali Frenkel, is an American citizen.

"This act of terrorism should also alert the Obama Administration to the fact that working with, recognizing, and/or funding any 'unity' government that includes those that seek the destruction of the Jewish State is naive and foolish," he continued, referring to Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel.

Quoting Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Senator Cruz asserted that "such legitimization of the enemies of Israel and the United States only invites more violence."

"As Prime Minister Netanyahu pointed out, ‘You remember that Israel warned the international community about the dangers of endorsing the Fatah-Hamas unity pact. The dangers of that pact now should be abundantly clear to all.’"

Calling for US action

Both Meng and Cruz called for US action to help Israel in its search for the boys and their captors, which the IDF has dubbed "Operation Brother's Keeper."

"The United States stands with our ally Israel and the teens’ loved ones during this difficult time, and I urge U.S. officials to assist them by providing whatever resources they require," urged Rep. Meng.

Senator Cruz went further, calling on the US to freeze funding to the Palestinian Authority in response.

"President Obama should immediately direct the Department of State to suspend assistance to the Palestinian Authority until the PA recognizes Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and takes specific and affirmative steps to renounce and eradicate terrorism," he demanded.

"This most recent vicious attack on innocent young civilians demonstrates beyond any doubt that the PA is not fulfilling these conditions, and not one more U.S. taxpayer dollar should be sent to support them until they do."

But even a condemnation - let alone action - from the White House looks increasingly unlikely, despite Frenkel's status as a US citizen.

Silence

On Sunday, US Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the "despicable terrorist act", and noted that "many indications point to Hamas' involvement."

"As we gather this information, we reiterate our position that Hamas is a terrorist organization known for its attacks on innocent civilians and which has used kidnapping in the past," Kerry added.

But the response from President Obama himself - or First Lady Michelle Obama, who famously adopted the #BringBackOurGirls campaign back in April - has been conspicuous in its absence.

And although Israel officials have largely avoided calling out Obama by name, many have expressed anger at the somewhat muted response by world leaders.

Speaking to Army Radio, Israel's UN Envoy Ron Prosor slammed the "weak" response by the international community.

"The family of nations needs to say 'guys - enough is enough, we can't be silent because it will reach our doorstep,'" demanded Prosor, adding that the muted response what the result of a campaign to "dehumanize" the Jewish state.

On Thursday, during an emotional meeting with the families of the kidnapped teens, Israeli President Shimon Peres issued his own veiled criticism of the lack of response.

"The leaders of the world must make their voices heard loud and clear, they must take a strong stance against terror. Terror is a global problem, not just an Israeli one," he said.

Earlier this week, MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) reached out to Michelle Obama in a video, in which she appealed to the US First Lady "mother to mother, woman to woman" to raise the profile of the campaign to free the Israeli schoolboys as she did in the aftermath of the kidnap of Nigerian schoolgirls by the Boko Haram terrorist group.

But speaking to Arutz Sheva, Lavie said that while many Israelis were understandably upset by the lack of response, the most important thing now was to focus on bringing the boys back home.

"I think it's not the time to think why nothing is coming from the White House. I think it's a time to ask for help" but not to criticize, she said.

Lavie confirmed she hadn't yet received a response to her video, which she submitted twice on Tuesday - both directly to the White House's official mailing address and via the US embassy in Israel - but cautioned that it was too early to read into the lack of response.

"I'm sure that many people write to the First Lady and the White House... so I hope it's a question of time," she said.

But she added that once the dust had settled one way or the other the question would have to be asked.

"In a situation like this it is certainly something we need to ask, but now is not the time."