Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is not embarrassed to make a big deal over something he believes is profoundly wrong. And he believes the decision issued by the Federal Aviation Authority on Tuesday, July 22, to ban for 24 hours all U.S. air carriers from entering or leaving Israel, a ban which was extended for at least an additional 24 hours on Wednesday, is profoundly wrong.
And he wants answers to some very specific questions.
If he does not get those answers, the senator announced that he will put a hold on all state department nominations until he does.
What are the questions Senator Cruz wants answered?
He wants the administration to answer:
1. Was the FAA ban on Israel “a political decision driven by the White House?”
2. If the FAA’s decision was based on airline safety, why was Israel singled out, when “flights are still permitted into Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen?”
3. What was the FAA’s ‘safety analysis’ that led to prohibiting flights to Israel, while still permitting flights to Ukraine – where a commercial flight was just shot down with a BUK missile?
4. What specific communications occurred between the FAA and the White House? And the State Department? Why were any such communications necessary, if this was purely about airline safety?
5. Was this a safety issue, or was it using a federal regulatory agency to punish Israel to try to force them to comply with Secretary Kerry’s demand that Israel stop their military effort to take out Hamas’s rocket capacity? The senator was incredulous that the U.S. was, on the one hand, subjecting its close ally Israel to crushing economic consequences, while on the other hand was announcing new financial support for the terrorist group Hamas, the actual cause of the security problem.
“Aiding Hamas while simultaneously isolating Israel does two things. One, it helps our enemy. Two, it hurts our ally,” said Sen. Cruz. The lone star senator went further than simply demanding answers. He accused President Obama of imposing an economic boycott on Israel.
“The facts suggest that President Obama has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel, in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign-policy demands,” Senator Cruz stated.
Anticipating that people will raise the shooting down of the Malaysian Airways flight by Russian separatists in Ukraine, Cruz explained the profound differences between the two scenarios.
Obviously, no one wants to place civilian travelers in harm’s way, and the recent downing of Malaysian Airways flight 17 by pro-Russian militants in Ukraine is a stark reminder of the dangers posed by regional unrest. But security concerns in Israel are hardly breaking news, and given the exceptional challenge Israel faces, Ben Gurion has rightly earned the reputation as one of the safest airports in the world due to the aggressive security measures implemented by the Israeli government.
The senator also took pains to explain the degree of harm the FAA ban will cause to Israel.
Tourism is an $11 billion industry for Israel, which is in the middle of a summer high season already seriously diminished by the conflict initiated by Hamas. Group tours have been cancelling at a 30% rate. This FAA flight ban may well represent a crippling blow to a key economic sector through both security concerns and worries that additional bans will down more flights and strand more passengers. It hardly matters if or when the ban is lifted. At this point, the damage may already be done.
Even given the remarkable resilience and prosperity of its economy, Israel has always been vulnerable to economic blackmail. In the 1970s, we saw the Arab League boycott, which tried to punish any financial institution that did business with Israel.
Putting the punishment of Israel into a current perspective, Cruz compared the FAA ban to the BDS movement, and also provided the historical basis for tying what he is calling an economic boycott on the threats raised by Secretary of State John Kerry last winter.
Today we have similar noxious efforts by the Boycott, Divest, Sanction or ‘BDS’ movement, which seeks to punish Israel for the fact that the militant terrorist elements embraced by the Palestinian Authority make any peace deal an intolerable security risk to Israel at this time. But the Obama Administration has refused to robustly denounce this effort to undermine our ally.
Instead, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a veiled threat last February when he encouraged boycotts of Israel and said that absent serious Israeli concessions at the negotiating table, Israel’s economic prosperity was ‘not sustainable’ and ‘illusory.’ Secretary Kerry unfortunately reprised this theme just this April, when he threatened that Israel risked becoming an ‘apartheid state’ if Israel did not submit to his chosen solution to the Israel-Palestinian crisis.
The State Department took the low road in responding to the senator’s questions, calling them “ridiculous” and “offensive.” Senator Cruz’s press secretary, Catherine Frazier, fired back at them.
“We find the Administration’s foreign policy to be ridiculous and offensive. The American people deserve answers to these questions and Sen. Cruz will continue to press for them. You are welcome to quote me,” Frazier wrote in a release. So we did.
The senator also responded to the state department’s statement.
“Serious questions were asked about the nature of a decision that handed Hamas a public relations victory and will cost Israel billions of dollars,” said Sen. Cruz. “The only thing ‘offensive’ about this situation is how the Obama Administration is spurning our allies to embolden our enemies; the only thing ‘ridiculous’ is the administration’s response to basic questions. Until the State Department answers my questions, I will hold all State Department nominees.”
Senator Cruz’s staff said that there are more responses to the FAA ban in the works. This is not an administration decision that the senator from Texas is going to accept without a concerted fight.