Joint Sessions of Congress: Israel, AIM and the Pope

Peter d'Errico

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel was the latest foreign leader to address a Joint Session of the U.S. Congress on March 3, 2015. The purpose of his visit was to oppose negotiations between the United States and Iran regarding Iran's nuclear processing capability. The visit was mired in partisan politics, evidenced by the fact that the invitation to speak was issued unilaterally by the Speaker of the House, bypassing diplomatic protocol. The outcome of the visit cannot yet be discerned.

King Kalākaua of Hawaii was the first foreign leader to address a Joint Session of Congress on December 18, 1874. The purpose of his visit was to negotiate a reciprocal trade treaty with the United States. The king reached an agreement with President Ulysses Grant and a treaty was signed Jan. 30, 1875, allowing Hawaiian sugar and rice to be admitted into the United States tax-free.

Between these two events was the October 1972 request by the American Indian Movement (AIM) to address a Joint Session of Congress to present the concerns of American Indian Nations. AIM's request was contained in a 20 Point Position Paper, titled "An Indian Manifesto," issued as part of the Trail of Broken Treaties march across the continent to Washington, D.C. In January 1973, the White House rejected all 20 points. AIM never got to address Congress.

Vine Deloria, Jr., in his book, Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties, said the White House rejected AIM's request "without much consideration of the value of the proposal for contemporary times and in the context of the world situation today."

Deloria's analysis was confirmed when Suzan Shown Harjo interviewed John Ehrlichman, a top aide to President Richard Nixon, about his Indian policy discussions with the president. Ehrlichman said there weren't any. "He could recall Nixon actually saying only one thing, during the occupation of the BIA building: 'Get those goddamn Indians out of town.'"

The rejection of AIM's request contrasts sharply with the repeated allowance of visits by Israel's leader. Netanyahu's March address marked the third time he has spoken to a Joint Session. The contrast, however, does not surprise. In fact, the contrast exemplifies a consistent position supporting colonialism and neocolonialism.

The Israeli government rests on a colonial premise, as evidenced by its Biblical story, beginning with the God of Abraham offering a promise based on and requiring an explicitly colonial policy: "The Lord had said to Abram, 'Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you … At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, 'To your offspring I will give this land.'" [Genesis 12, 15 (NIB)]

The Biblical text confounds the notions that the Israelites were "exiles" and started their journey from "slavery." The Bible says they emigrated from their homeland to follow God's mandate to "go from your country, your people." The "Promised Land" existed elsewhere, not at home.

More than 500 years ago, Christians picked up this religious colonial theme to develop their own mandate to "discover" and claim the lands of "heathens and pagans." Christian colonialism rests on an assertion of God's authority to "go from your country [and] I will give you this land." The "New World" was colonized under this Biblical mandate, which was codified in 15th century Papal Bulls.

Netanyahu opened his address by acknowledging this shared Biblical colonialism: "America and Israel…share a common destiny, the destiny of promised lands..." He closed by pointing to an image of Moses overlooking the gallery and said, "Moses led our people from slavery to the gates of the Promised Land."

The interjection of the United States into Palestinian-Israeli politics does not provide a third-power fulcrum for resolution of the conflict. With its political domain aligned primarily with Christianity, the United States only introduces another colonizing branch of the Family of Abraham.

The intertwined roots of the Family of Abraham—including Muslims—spread Biblically derived forces along an endless array of cultural mirrors. The topic seems to be under a taboo in politically correct discourse: Who has the courage to blame the Family of Abraham for its own problems? Who would describe it as a dysfunctional family?

The Biblical story of God's promise and mandate robs all parties—not just Israel—of the initiative to reconcile. The most vocal Christian evangelists in the United States—whose efforts engulf the Republican party—are adamant that 'resolution' of the wars in Palestine must mean an Israeli victory, so that Jesus may return to Earth, as told in the Bible.

Netanyahu must face those chapters in the Bible wherein God chastised the Israelites for making covenants with the peoples whose lands they had invaded:

"The angel of the Lord...said, 'I...led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, "I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars." Yet you have disobeyed me.'"

And the Angel added a threat if the Israelites tried to make covenants with the Indigenous peoples: "I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you." [Judges 2 (NIB)]

These Bible verses push Israel and the United States to ignore the UN Human Rights Council, which has condemned Israel in 45 resolutions since 2006. The General Assembly has repeatedly criticized the strategic relationship between the United States and Israel for encouraging Israel to pursue aggressive expansion of its land claims.

The next scheduled address to a Joint Session of the U.S. Congress, arranged according to normal protocol, will be September 24, 2015, by Pope Francis, the Sovereign of Vatican City, the first-ever Papal address to Congress. The specific purpose of the address, not yet announced, will likely include economic and social concerns the Pope has raised elsewhere.

The Pope has already raised controversy among Native Americans by announcing plans to canonize Father Junipero Serra, the head of 18th century Spanish missions in California. Serra represented the religiously sanctioned imperial power of Spain in its struggle to expand colonies in the New World.

AIM's request to address Congress was not a "radical" demand. It stated the purpose of its address to a Joint Session would be to focus on "the Indian future within the American Nation, and relationships between the Federal Government and Indian Nations." The "Manifesto" opened with the declaration, "We want to have a new relationship with you...an honest one!"

Who knows? Perhaps honesty and a new relationship will one day prevail among nations. For now, the United States has only one official Holocaust museum, dedicated to the people of Israel, not the indigenous peoples of the "New World." And both the United States and Israel rely on the Bible for their land claims. Pope Francis could start the move toward honesty and new relations by rescinding the 15th century Papal Bulls that blessed religious colonization.

Peter d’Errico graduated from Yale Law School in 1968. He was Staff attorney in Dinebeiina Nahiilna Be Agaditahe Navajo Legal Services, 1968-1970, in Shiprock. He taught Legal Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1970-2002. He is a consulting attorney on indigenous issues.

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