Tag Archives: AIPAC

The Occupation of the American Mind

“Over the past few years, Israel’s ongoing military occupation of Palestinian territory and repeated invasions of the Gaza strip have triggered a fierce backlash against Israeli policies virtually everywhere in the world — except the United States. The Occupation of the American Mind takes an eye-opening look at this critical exception, zeroing in on pro-Israel public relations efforts within the U.S.”

“Narrated by Roger Waters and featuring leading observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and U.S. media culture, the film explores how the Israeli government, the U.S. government, and the pro-Israel lobby have joined forces, often with very different motives, to shape American media coverage of the conflict in Israel’s favor. From the U.S.-based public relations campaigns that emerged in the 1980s to today, the film provides a sweeping analysis of Israel’s decades-long battle for the hearts, minds, and tax dollars of the American people in the face of widening international condemnation of its increasingly right-wing policies.”

Narrated by Roger Waters / Featuring Amira Hass, M.J. Rosenberg, Stephen M. Walt, Noam Chomsky, Rula Jebreal, Henry Siegman, Rashid Khalidi, Rami Khouri, Yousef Munayyer, Norman Finkelstein, Max Blumenthal, Phyllis Bennis, Norman Solomon, Mark Crispin Miller, Peter Hart, and Sut Jhally.

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Two lives, two deaths, highlight Congress’ willful blindness

Taylor Force

Taylor Force

Taylor Force, 28 and a first-year student at Vanderbilt, was stabbed to death while visiting Tel Aviv in March 2016.  He was with 29 students and four staff members from the university who had gone to Israel to study global entrepreneurship.

Rachel Corrie, 23 and a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement, was crushed to death in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, in March 2003. She was standing with other ISM volunteers in front of a Palestinian home slated for destruction by Israel, along with other homes in the neighborhood.

Rachel Corrie
Rachel Corrie

 

The similarities in their deaths are striking.

Both Taylor and Rachel were Americans. Both were victims of deliberate attacks. Both were young, intelligent and, by all accounts, had tremendous gifts to give the world.  Both were unarmed and engaged in peaceful activities — Taylor was studying and Rachel was exercising Gandhian nonviolence resistance.

Taylor was killed by a knife-wielding Palestinian in the heart of Israel. Rachel was killed by an Israeli soldier driving a bulldozer in the occupied Palestinian territory outside of Israel.

Both families grieved their inexplicable losses, and sought some measure of justice.

This week, (March 2018) Congress will pass S.1697 and H.R.1164 — the Taylor Force Act. The bill ends $300 million in direct US funding to the Palestinian Authority if it does not halt payments to the families of “terrorists” who are either in jail or were killed carrying out their crimes.

In March 2003, Rachel’s parents asked Congress to help them get a full, fair and expeditious investigation into their daughter’s death, but Congress took no action on H.Con.Res.111. They also sued Caterpillar, Inc. alleging liability for Rachel’s death because the company supplied bulldozers to Israel knowing that they would be used in contravention of international law. The Ninth Circuit dismissed the lawsuit in 2009 based on the political question doctrine.

In 2005, the Corrie family also filed a civil lawsuit against the state of Israel. The lawsuit charged Israel with not conducting a full and credible investigation into the case and with responsibility for her death, contending that she had either been intentionally killed or that the soldiers had acted with reckless neglect. They sued for a symbolic one US dollar in damages.

In August 2012, an Israeli court rejected their suit and ruled that the Israeli government was not responsible for Corrie’s death. Former U.S. President Carter and some human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, criticized the ruling. 

I met Rachel’s parents in Gaza in November 2012 and asked if they were going to file an appeal. They both looked weary and said they didn’t know because of the costs and emotional toll it might entail. However, they did appeal and learned in February 2014 that it had been rejected by the Supreme Court of Israel.

The Corrie family established The Rachel Corrie Foundation to honor her memory, and to spread the values that their daughter embodied in her short life. In 2006, Alan Rickman’s play “My Name is Rachel Corrie” debuted in New York City. And every year, Palestinians remember Rachel and honor her as a martyr.

Congress continues to perpetuate the cycle of violence and trauma in Israel-Palestine that ultimately ended the young lives of Taylor Force and Rachel Corrie.*

They can’t stand back and view Israel-Palestine objectively, primarily because of the outrageous influence of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington (AIPAC). This is not in the best interests of the U.S., and I wonder how many more Americans, not to mention innocent Palestinians and Israelis, will pay the ultimate price by Congress’s willful blindness.

iStock 20492165 MD - American and Israeli flags

America and Israel flags

* Enacting Israel’s legislative agenda, funding Israel’s military to the tune of $3 billion+ each year, parroting Israel’s framing of the occupation which is contrary to international humanitarian law, and

 

 

 

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AIPAC’s agenda

iStock 20492165 MD - American and Israeli flags

America and Israel flags

AIPAC — America’s Pro-Israel lobby — is as powerful (if not more powerful) in the halls of Congress as the NRA.  A 2016 article in the Foreign Policy Journal noted:

The AIPAC-led pro-Israel lobby is probably the strongest, best organized and most effective lobby network in Washington DC. For the 2015-2016 election cycle, the pro-Israel network has already dispensed $4,255,136 in contributions. The largest single amount ($259,688) went to Senator Charles Schumer of New York.

Among interest groups that lobby on behalf of a foreign government, none ranks higher in contributions to members of Congress than the pro-Israel lobby.

So it should come to no one’s surprise that most members of Congress on both sides of the aisle carry water for AIPAC. We can find AIPAC’s fingerprints on many pieces of legislation.

  • Opposition to Iran – Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Economic Exclusion Act (H.R. 5132)—authored by Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY).
  • The Taylor Force Act (S. 1697 and H.R. 1164) cuts funding to the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a result of the PA’s practice of paying families of Palestinian fighters who have died or been imprisoned.
  • The United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 5141 and S. 2497)—authored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chris Coons (D-DE) and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL). Includes $3.3 billion in military assistance to Israel and an additional $500 million in missile defense funding.
  • The House of Representatives and Senate both introduced bipartisan resolutions — H. Res. 11 and S. Res. 6, respectively — reaffirming this principle and opposing efforts at the United Nations to impose a solution on the conflict. The House overwhelmingly adopted H. Res. 11 on Jan. 5.
  • The Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.720 and H.R.1697) and the Combating BDS Act of 2017 (S.170 and H.R. 2856).
  • The Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2017 (S.1595 and H.R. 3329)—that would impose additional sanctions on the terrorist organization and those that support it.

U.S. politicians are proud of confirming their support for Israel and boasting that there’s no daylight between Israel’s interests and America’s interests.

I’d feel a whole lot more confident of our “special relationship” with Israel if I knew that my elected officials were putting U.S. interests ahead of their allegiance to Israel.

Unfortunately, this is a good example of the tail (Israel) wagging the dog (U.S.) — with AIPAC establishing U.S. foreign policy by very clever messaging and lobbying tactics that sometimes borders on bullying.

If Congress was not tied to AIPAC at the hip, the 6 legislative priorities above might be recast as follows:

  • Iran is a growing power in the region with which diplomacy and negotiation is in our (the U.S.) best interest. Preventing a new nuclear power in the region is good for the community of nations and the U.S. There needs to be transparency and honesty in addressing Israel’s nuclear weapons too.
  • Payment to the families of soldiers in uniform is standard practice in the U.S. and Israel, there’s no reason why payment to Palestinian fighters should be treated any differently. Consistent treatment in our foreign policy enhances U.S. credibility.
  • Is it in the best interests of the U.S. to pay $3.3 billion+ annually to Israel? This represents by far the largest contribution to a foreign government at a time when the U.S. is running the largest deficit in its history and Congress is considering cut backs to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  At a minimum, there should be a public discussion about the pros and cons of U.S. financial support to Israel.
  • Resolutions are non-binding and some may think these resolutions condemning the United Nations are unimportant. However, Americans need to know that the U.S. (and particularly the U.S. Congress) stands apart from the vast majority of nations vis-à-vis criticism of Israel and its violations of international law. To rectify this criticism, the U.S. should be using carrots and sticks to convince Israel to comply with international law, not throwing its weight around with AIPAC-written resolutions.
  • AIPAC wants Congress to criminalize political speech that targets Israel. I’ve written about it here and here. While the NRA focuses on the Second Amendment, it appears AIPAC has set its target on the First Amendment. It will be interesting to see how members of Congress on both sides of the aisle justify this blatant attempt to undermine Americans’ right to express their political beliefs peacefully and nonviolently.
  • AIPAC wants Congress to sanction Hizballah in Lebanon. Yes, Hizballah may be a military mini-threat to Israel (“mini” — considering the disparity in the weapons between Israel and Hizballah) but the real threat to peace in the Middle East is the precarious situation Lebanon finds itself today.  “The problem for Lebanon, the world’s third most-indebted country, is that it’s starting to look more like Greece financially. And if Greece’s survival as part of the euro was crucial to the European project, Lebanon is key to keeping what’s left of peace in the Middle East.” So the U.S. Congress should be discussing ways to support Lebanon, not jumping on AIPAC’s wagon which will likely destablize Lebanon even further.

Is AIPAC’s agenda consistent with our best interests at home and abroad? I don’t think so, but at least Americans deserve an open and transparent discussion on the floor of the House and Senate before our elected members of Congress vote on these AIPAC-sponsored bills. They need to hear from intelligent, opposing viewpoints instead of marching lockstep down AIPAC’s misbegotten path.

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AIPAC wants to shut down political speech

AIPAC is meeting in Washington, DC (Sunday through Tuesday) amidst protesters gathered outside trying to disrupt their conference. Capitol Hill is AIPAC’s target on Tuesday, March 6, where its members will be pushing their anti-Palestinian rights agenda – part of which is criminalizing the right to boycott through the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. (S.720/H.R.1697)

Checking the links for both pieces of legislation, I learned that there are 290 cosponsors in the House and 51 cosponsors in the Senate. Thankfully, my Congresswoman and two U.S. Senators from New Mexico have not cosponsored.  Next step — a call to each office to ask them to oppose these bills.  The bill’s summary includes:

This bill declares that Congress: (1) opposes the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution of March 24, 2016, which urges countries to pressure companies to divest from, or break contracts with, Israel; and (2) encourages full implementation of the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014 through enhanced, governmentwide, coordinated U.S.-Israel scientific and technological cooperation in civilian areas.

The bill prohibits any U.S. person engaged interstate or foreign commerce from supporting:

  • any request by a foreign country to impose any boycott against a country that is friendly to the United States and that is not itself the object of any form of boycott pursuant to United States law or regulation, or
  • any boycott fostered or imposed by any international governmental organization against Israel or any request by any international governmental organization to impose such a boycott.

The American Civil Liberties Union wrote to the Senators last summer when the bill was first introduced to caution them that slapping civil and criminal penalties on individuals for expressing their political beliefs about Israel violates the First Amendment. Check out ACLU’s letter here.

The ACLU wrote: We take no position for or against the effort to boycott Israel or any foreign country, for that matter. However, we do assert that the government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, punish U.S. persons based solely on their expressed political beliefs.

Unfortunately, a number of states are taking their cue from AIPAC and these Israel Anti-Boycott Acts, and they’re passing similar versions. As of October 2017, Wisconsin was the 24th state to promulgate either a law or an executive order forbidding the state from conducting business with firms engaged in Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) activity targeting Israel.

The order states:  “Consistent with existing Wisconsin nondiscrimination provisions and regulations governing purchases… agencies may not execute a contract with a business entity if that entity is engaging in a boycott of Israel. Further, agencies shall reserve the right to terminate any contract with a business entity that engages in a boycott of Israel during the term of the contract.”

A teacher — Ms. Koontz — has taken the State of Kansas to federal court, challenging its anti-boycott legislation. She was qualified to train math teachers and accepted for employment, but when she refused to sign the state’s certification that she would not boycott Israel, Kansas wouldn’t hire her.

Esther Koontz Kansas teacher

Esther Koontz, Kansas teacher, credit to ACLU

In January 2018, the court ruled in her favor and granted her request for an injunction prior to trial. The Court ruled that a person doesn’t have to apply for a waiver in this type of case because of the chilling effect the Kansas law has on our First Amendment liberties. And Judge Crabtree said that Ms. Koontz is likely to win her case! Check out my blog post here for more details about her case.

Americans may have different opinions about Israel, about foreign policy issues, and about boycotts. But we should all have the same opinion about the sanctity of our right to express political opinions in whatever peaceful, nonviolent way we may choose, including boycotts. If the government comes for my speech today, it becomes much easier for the government to come for your speech tomorrow.

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Words matter! S.Res.176

Dear Senators Udall and Heinrich,

Disappointment and frustration.

A half-century after the Six-Day War which culminated in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, it is extremely disappointing that the U.S. Senate continues to succumb to Israel’s revisionist history (propaganda).

Your support for S.Res.176, A Resolution Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Reunification of Jerusalem, along with your colleagues, is further evidence that the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) may achieve by unilateral and incremental steps, what Israel failed to do in 1967-1968.

The Palestinians consider East Jerusalem the capital of their future state. The United Nations, the vast majority of countries, and international law, support this interpretation of history. Your resolution does violence to the truth and to international law.

Israel never “reunified” Jerusalem, as your resolution proclaims, but occupied East Jerusalem and then began drawing municipal borders to strengthen Israel’s sovereignty over the city by creating a Jewish majority. The legal status of the City of Jerusalem is clear. Under international law, Israel occupies East Jerusalem.

S.Res.176 fails to mention the occupation and the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem who are not even granted citizenship in Israel but rather permanent resident status. In a precedent-setting case, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled earlier this year that the permanent residents of East Jerusalem deserve better.

Last year I visited East Jerusalem. It’s like night and day between the Jewish settlements and the Palestinian neighborhoods. One has green lawns and swimming pools while the other struggles to live on about half the amount of water recommended by the World Health Organization.  One has new schools and playgrounds with equipment for their children, while the other hasn’t had any new classrooms built in many years. Mothers are now holding classes in their homes.

In 2011, the High Court of Justice ruled that over the next five years, the Education Ministry and municipality must build enough classrooms in the public school system for all East Jerusalem students.  … Yet the latest report by the Ir Amim organization says the problem has only gotten worse: East Jerusalem currently lacks 2,247 classrooms, compared to about 1,500 when the High Court petition was filed in 2007. Over the past five years, only some 35 classrooms a year have been built – less than the number needed to accommodate the population’s natural growth.”

The State of Israel has been creating its “facts on the ground,” moving Jewish settlers into East Jerusalem and forcibly displacing Palestinian families out of East Jerusalem.

I encourage you and your staff to watch these two short amateur videos about life in East Jerusalem. In the first, an Israeli activist talks about why she supports the Palestinians in East Jerusalem. In the second, children show how settlers have taken over the front part of their home, and the family continues to live in the back.  Other families were thrown out into the street. Israeli, international and Palestinian activists, Sara Benninga among them, have started a growing solidarity movement and demonstrate there weekly to oppose the injustice of Israel accepting pre-1948 ownership claims by Jews, but not by Palestinians.

S.Res.176 reaffirms that it is the longstanding, bipartisan policy of the United States Government that the permanent status of Jerusalem remains a matter to be decided between the parties through final status negotiations towards a two-state solution; and yet the very title and preamble clauses state unambiguously that Jerusalem is undivided and belongs to Israel, with no mention of Palestinians and their aspirations for East Jerusalem.

Words matter!  Even nonbinding resolutions matter!  Please take note of that fact and don’t add your name to such propaganda in the future.

Sincerely,

Lora Lucero

P.S. This Thursday, June 8, you have an opportunity to hear from experts at a briefing on Capitol Hill sponsored by Defense for Children International – Palestine & American Friends Service Committee. Congressional Briefing: 50 Years of Israeli Military Occupation & Life for Palestinian Children. Please plan to attend or send a staff person.

Thursday June 8, 2017
9:30AM – 11:00AM EST

Cannon House Office Building, Rm 122
27 Independence Ave, SE,
Washington, DC 20003

UPDATE – June 9, 2017 – Response received from Senator Tom Udall. I wonder if writing to our elected officials in DC makes any difference.

Dear Ms. Lucero,

Thank you for your comments regarding S. Res. 176, a resolution commemorating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.

On May 24, 2017, Senators Mitch McConnell (KY) and Charles Schumer (NY) introduced S. Res. 176. Upon introduction the bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. On May 25, 2017, the resolution was passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. On June 5, 2017, the resolution was passed in the Senate by a vote of 90 to Zero, with my vote in favor. I value receiving feedback from my constituents, and I appreciate your taking the time to keep me informed. Your help allows me to more effectively represent you in the U.S. Senate.

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with me.  Please feel free to contact me with your concerns regarding any federal issue by visiting my website at www.tomudall.senate.gov.  For more information, you may also visit my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/senatortomudall and receive up to the minute updates through my Twitter page at http://twitter.com/senatortomudall.

Very truly yours,
Signature
Tom Udall
United States Senator

 

 

 

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Senators should not build unity on the backs of Palestinians

When do U.S. Senators stand lockstep together?

When the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) convinces them that the United Nations is biased against the State of Israel.

The Wall Street Journal notes:

It’s rare, especially these days, for all 100 U.S. Senators—from Bernie Sanders to Ted Cruz, from Elizabeth Warren to Mitch McConnell—to agree on something. But the scourge of anti-Israel bias at the United Nations is such an issue.

So all of them, including Senators Warren, Sanders, and my two Senators from New Mexico signed on to the letter undoubtedly written by AIPAC, the pro-Israeli lobbying operation ensconced in Washington DC.

The letter is a warning note to Secretary-General Guterres – “reform your agencies from within or pay the consequences.”

Although, as Republicans and Democrats, we disagree on many issues, we are united in our desire to see the United Nations improve its treatment of Israel and to eliminate anti-Semitism in all its forms.

My response sent to my two U.S. Senators follows.  I hope they hear from many other constituents.

May 10, 2017

RE:   April 27 letter to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres – Israel & Palestine

Dear Senators Udall and Heinrich,

I’m very disappointed with your signatures on the letter (likely drafted by AIPAC) to the United Nations regarding Israel.

Senator Martin Heinrich

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM)

You, along with your colleagues in the Senate, have adopted Israel’s strategy of deflecting legitimate and worldwide criticism of Israel’s brutal 50-year occupation by focusing criticism on the messenger, the United Nations. We’ve all seen this same “strategy of deflection” coming from the White House in the form of childish Tweets. Your letter is just as childish.

Threatening the United Nations and demanding internal “reforms,” based on false assertions that the U.N. is unfairly targeting Israel, belies the fact that the community of nations stand together in their condemnation of Israel’s long-term, illegal occupation of Palestine.

A quick online review of recent actions in the United Nations reveals that the U.S. stands alone with the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau (and sometimes Canada) in supporting Israel in the U.N. General Assembly. Every other nation is united in speaking the truth about Israel’s continuing violations of international humanitarian law and the law of occupation. Your letter’s bullying demands to the Secretary-General reflect poorly on the United States, but it’s certainly a testament to AIPAC’s power over the U.S. Senate.

I particularly want to draw your attention to the letter’s outrageous claim about “UNRWA’s troubling anti-Israel bias and activities.” You write that “UNRWA must pursue reforms or risk significant consequences.” I’m personally familiar with UNRWA’s solid work in the Gaza Strip and I find this characterization and threat totally unacceptable. The Senate’s blind loyalty to Israel’s hasbara must end.

Udall

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM)

I’m also astonished that you oppose the international call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as stated in the letter to the U.N.  Peaceful, nonviolent methods to end Israel’s occupation deserve your strong support, not condemnation.

Please learn the facts about the occupation, beginning with the fact that the Gaza Strip will be unlivable by 2020.

Israel’s leaders have proven over many decades that they are incapable or unwilling to end the occupation. If the United States cannot play a constructive role, then please support the United Nations and its constituent agencies in the work they are doing in the Middle East.

Finally, I invite you and your staff to join me in UNRWA-USA’s 5K run in Washington, DC in September.  Your support for this worthy cause would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Lora A. Lucero

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#AIPAC2017

IMG_20170326_141847221I’ve never attended the annual protest at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington DC, and I was ambivalent about attending this year.

AIPAC is the notoriously strong Israeli lobby that successfully (from its perspective) bamboozles our members of Congress into towing Israel’s objectives, even when they arguably may not be in the US interest to do so.  I’ve written about AIPAC here, here and here (among other posts).

I hopped on the train in Baltimore and arrived at the Convention Center in Washington, DC a couple of hours after the protest was announced to begin. I decided to go as an observer, wearing my keffiyeh but not carrying a sign.

IMG_20170326_142521260The protest was noisy (YEAH!) and there appeared to be a number of different groups involved (YEAH!).

I was left with two big impressions: (1) The large number of American Jews standing and yelling outside the convention center must have given the Jews inside a moment of pause. I hope that fact also makes our elected officials stop and think.

(2) The youth are not only the future of this movement to end the occupation, they have stepped up and are now the leaders.  It’s time for the old folks to take a back seat.

A woman holding the sign of a martyr killed in Ramallah by Israel last week really moved me. I don’t know if she was a family member or someone raising awareness of the ongoing killing of Palestinians, almost daily. Can my Congresswoman and two Senators not see the horrible nature of this occupation?

The young man was known as Abu Saleh, his nickname. He was the only child in the family.

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