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An American-Israeli action group has strongly criticized a group of 54 U.S. Congress members for accusing Israel of inflicting “collective punishment” on the residents of Gaza.


Harvey Schwartz, chairman of the nonprofit American Israeli Action Coalition (AIAC), called the Congress members' charge “preposterous,” and said it “amounts to nothing more than outright, outrageous Israel-bashing."

The AIAC is a nonprofit organization based in Jerusalem that represents the more than 250,000 U.S. citizens living in Israel.


The 54 lawmakers, all Democrats, called on President Barack Obama in a recent letter to pressure Israel into lifting its blockade on Gaza. The letter charged that “the blockade imposed by Israel... following Hamas' coup and particularly following Operation Cast Lead [imposed a] de facto collective punishment... of the residents of the Gaza Strip.”


“Nowhere do the 'Gang of 54' point out that there has not been an Israeli in Gaza ever since the Israeli disengagement from there 5 years ago,” Schwartz added. He said that the major exception was the defensive counter-terrorist Operation Cast Lead carried out by the IDF against Hamas terrorists in January 2009.


“Nor did they mention that the well-being of Gaza's population is solely the responsibility of Hamas – which they elected in 2007 – [and] not Israel. The financial assistance given to Gaza by numerous European countries, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in aid pledged by the United States, has been used by Hamas either to further its terrorist activities or to line the pockets of its leaders, rather than to provide for the needs of Gazans,” Schwartz said.


Schwartz was joined in the statement by AIAC director Aaron Tischwell, who called on American-Israelis in Israel and the U.S. to contact the White House “and the Gang of 54” to make their voices heard on the issue.


One Signatory Steps Away, More or Less
At least one of the signatories to the letter, U.S. Representative Yvette Clarke (D-NY), has apparently withdrawn her signature, change her political attitude when the issue hit a little closer to home. A long-standing representative of the Brooklyn community of Crown Heights, Clarke recently joined a photo-op snapped with Brooklyn Jewish community leaders who had gathered donations for the earthquake-stricken people of Haiti.


“We all see the swift and expert work of Israeli doctors and rescue teams on the ground almost immediately following the 7.0 earthquake,” she told reporters covering the event at the time. “The Jewish response to the pain of others is legendary -- and today's gathering is a continuation of the special heart the Jewish community always shows in times of crisis.”


The dissonance was striking, noted Jewish leaders, between Clarke's warm praise for Israel's aid in Haiti – an island which represents the origin of a huge segment of her voter constituency – and her signature on the letter censuring Israel's blockade of the terrorist-controlled region of Gaza.


In a followup, a group of Jewish community activists and top local and national Jewish community leaders met earlier this week with the Congresswoman to question her about the matter, according to Yeshiva World News.


The result was an “open letter” issued by Clarke's office disavowing her signature on the letter accusing Israel of collective punishment in Gaza. The open letter also disavowed her participation in another letter she had co-signed in support of the Goldstone report. The second letter came out against last November's Congressional resolution calling on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to unequivocally oppose the United Nations' Goldstone Report accusing Israel of guilt in committing war crimes in Gaza.


“These letters are uneven in their application of pressure and do not sufficiently present a balanced approach/path to peace,” Clarke wrote in her new letter. The Congresswoman claimed that the two earlier letters did not “reflect [her] record with regards to Israel” and “have a provocative and reactionary impact, as they do not provide a complete, and therefore accurate, picture of the situation.”