EDWARD M. Kennedy, Daniel P. Moynihan and Thomas S. Foley have much in common besides their leadership roles in Congress, their political party (Democrat) and their Irish heritage.
As a general rule, the three have supported the rights of the individual and have stood against oppressive regimes -- on both the political right and left. They have opposed the Jesuit-killers in El Salvador, the evil of apartheid in South Africa and Soviet policies in the Baltic states. They have rallied around Lech Walesa in Poland, extolled Czechoslovakia's Vaclav Havel and championed freedom for Nelson Mandela.
But when it comes to the claim of their own native race to full self-determination, they are dinosaurs. Claiming to be turned off by the violence in the British-occupied north of Ireland, they decline to join the Ad Hoc Congressional Committee on Irish Affairs; to support fair employment standards in Northern Ireland (the MacBride Principles) or to co-sponsor Concurrent Resolution 62, which advocates bail and political asylum for imprisoned Irish freedom fighter Joseph P. Doherty (although they do deserve credit for the passage of the Immigration Act of 1990, which addressed some of the serious problems of Irish immigrants).
Critics point out that U.S.-inspired violence in other parts of the world doesn't seem to bother these three leaders. They supported the invasions of Grenada and Panama, for example, and are unquestioning supporters of violence-prone Israel. The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobby, regularly gives Kennedy, Moynihan and Foley its highest rating.
Nor has any of the three spoken out about Israeli excesses in the West Bank and elsewhere. Unlike former colleagues such as Sen. J. William Fulbright, D-Ark., and Sen. Charles H. Percy, R-Ill., these three never criticize Israel, never oppose Israeli requests for arms and aid, never view Israel as an obstacle to peace in the Mideast.
Dante said in his "Inferno" that there is a special place in hell for the politically neutral. It is the failure of these three leaders to take a stand -- either for Irish freedom or against Israeli violence -- that is at the center of my complaint against them.
In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon. After three years, it left thousands dead. The carnage by the Phalangist Christians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps was part of the debacle. Beirut, the Lebanese capital, was bombed for 66 straight days and is now an urban wasteland. From the Kennedy, Moynihan and Foley camps there came only silence.
Israel receives more than $3 billion a year in aid from American taxpayers, around $10 million a day. On March 5, a House committee, with little or no debate, approved $650 million in additional "emergency" aid to Israel. Federal law prohibits assistance to a country that engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations. In Israel's case, the provision is totally ignored.
Since the intifada, the Israelis have killed hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza (many under the age of 16), destroyed homes of alleged suspects and countless acres of olive vineyards, imposed Draconian curfew regulations, arbitrarily shut down schools and universities, arranged the deportation of Palestinian intellectuals and gassed peaceful protesters. Their methods have been documented and censured by the likes of Amnesty International, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, the Swedish Save the Children organization, agencies of the United Nations and our own State Department.
On the heels of the U.S. victory in the Persian Gulf war, President Bush has called for a comprehensive and peaceful settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This is part of Bush's vision of a "new world order," in which freedom and respect for human rights find "a home among all nations."
If it is wrong for the Israelis to occupy the West Bank and Gaza, as the president apparently believes sincerely, it is just as wrong for the British to occupy the six northeastern counties of Ireland.
Peace and justice are always in season and know no geographic boundaries. The time is ripe, especially in this year of the 75th anniversary of the "Easter Rising," for Kennedy, Moynihan and Foley to demand the Irish question also be made part of U.S. peace initiatives. They have an obligation to put aside their past cynicism about the symptoms of the struggle for Irish freedom -- and to take the lead in removing its deep-rooted causes.
The right of the Irish people to national unity will be fulfilled. History is on their side. It is only appropriate that three of Ireland's famed sons, Kennedy, Moynihan and Foley, be a significant part of that grand destiny.
William Hughes is a Baltimore lawyer.