Tag Archives: AIPAC

#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.

IMG_20170326_144536714

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115th Congress: Israel’s BFF

iStock 20492165 MD - American and Israeli flags

America and Israel flags

In addition to H. Res. 11 mentioned in an earlier blog post, a number of other resolutions have been introduced in the House and Senate regarding Israel.

Reject the 2-state solution once and for all is what Representative Steve King (R-IA) is urging the new Administration to do with his H.Res. 27. Frankly, most Palestinians would agree that the 2-state solution is infeasible. Ramzy Baroud goes further and writes:

If the US was indeed keen on a two-state solution, it would have fought vehemently to make it a reality decades ago. To say that the two-state solution is now dead is to subscribe to the illusion that it was once alive and possible.

That said, it behooves everyone to understand that coexistence in one democratic state is not a dark scenario that spells doom for the region. It is time to abandon unattainable illusions and focus all energies to foster coexistence based on equality and justice for all. There can be one state between the river and the sea, and that is a democratic state for all its people, regardless of their ethnicity or religious beliefs.

However, King’s proposal is not for one democratic state. Far from it, he again demonizes the Palestinians for a failed Palestinian state in “Judea and Samaria” (code phrase for “this land between the river and the sea only belongs to the Jews and anyone else should leave”) which he says threatens the people of Israel, and he urges the Administration to reject the “two-state solution” as the U.S. diplomatic policy objective and to advocate for a new approach that prioritizes the State of Israel’s sovereignty, security, and borders.

That pesky little problem of what to do about the legal, human, economic and moral rights of the Palestinians is not addressed.

Representative Dennis Ross (R-FL) has 57 cosponsors for his asinine H. Res. 14 scolding President Obama for abstaining on the UN Security Council’s passage of  Resolution 2334 adopted on December 23, 2016. (Note: Don’t mistake this Dennis Ross for the other Dennis Ross, the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.)

What’s got Rep. Ross’s knickers in a bunch?  The community of nations reiterated well-established international law — that Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal. Period. There’s no debate among legal scholars about that fact, but AIPAC wants to make sure Israel’s supporters in Congress stand firm and denounce these “one-sided, anti-Israel” measures.

It will be interesting to see how many members of Congress jump to attention to reassure Netanyahu that they have his back. It will also be interesting to see how self-identified “progressive” Democrats in the Congress defend their support of H.Res. 14.  Since when did opposing international law become a progressive value?

Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) chastises the Obama Administration’s abstention decision at the U.N. in softer terms, but no less objectionable to any reasonable observer of politics in the Middle East. See, S.Res. 5.  Who can argue with bilateral talks – point 1?  Or with point 2? However, points 3 – 11 are so one-sided that they reveal the true intention of the sponsor. To illustrate the skewed nature of S.Res. 5, I’ve drafted some counter points.

S. Res. 5 –

(1) urges the President and the international community to join in supporting bilateral talks between the Israelis and Palestinians;

(2) expresses support for individuals and organizations working to bring about peace and cooperation between the Israelis and Palestinians;

(3) opposes the use of the United Nations as a medium to unfairly impose external remedies to challenges between the Israelis and Palestinians;

(3a) Lora writes: supports the United Nations as the appropriate venue for resolving international conflicts, including the challenges between the Israelis and Palestinians.

(4) objects to the December 2016 abstention and declination to veto United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 by delegates of the United States at the United Nations;

(4a) Lora writes: supports the December 2016 abstention and declination to veto United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334. 

(5) regrets and seeks to reverse the negative public criticism of Israel by United States diplomats;

(5a) Lora writes: applauds Secretary Kerry’s “Separate and Unequal” message on December 28 warning both sides that the end of the two-state solution is at hand.

(6) urges the President-elect to adopt a policy of opposing and vetoing if necessary one-sided United Nations Security Council resolutions targeting Israel;

(6a) Lora writes: urges the President-elect to adopt a policy of thoughtful review and consideration of all United Nations Security Council resolutions that address international law and the rights and responsibilities of the Israelis and Palestinians;

(7) rejects international efforts to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist;

(7a) Lora writes: rejects any efforts that undermine the rights of Palestinians to self-determination;

(8) supports Israel’s right to self-defense;

(8a) Lora writes: supports the right of all people in the Middle East to live in peace and harmony;

(9) condemns acts of terrorism and violence targeted at Israeli civilians;

(9a) Lora writes: condemns acts of terrorism and violence targeted at any civilians, regardless of ethnicity, race, or religion;

(10) reiterates that Palestinian political goals will never be achieved through violence; and

(10a) Lora writes: reiterates that the political goals of the Israelis and Palestinians will never be achieved through violence; and 

(11) calls on all parties to return to negotiations and without preconditions, as direct discussions remain the best mechanism to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

(11a) Lora writes: calls on the State of Israel to end its illegal settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, so that all parties may return to negotiations, as direct discussions remain the best mechanism to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

S. Res. 6, introduced by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) is similar to the others but probably has more steam with its bipartisan list of 59 cosponsors.  The take-away messages from S.Res. 6 are (1) damn the United Nations for meddling in the Middle East, (2) damn everyone else for unfairly boycotting or ostracizing Israel, and (3) lets return to the status quo of endless talking and searching for a two-state solution while Israel continues to build its settlements in the occupied West Bank. Sounds like Senator Rubio and his colleagues favor allowing Israel to eat the pizza while urging the parties to talk about how to divide the pizza.

S. Res. 6 also mentions the Paris Conference scheduled on January 15th – more about that in a later blog post.

The points itemized in S. Res. 6 are:

(1) expresses grave objection to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016);

(2) calls for United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 to be repealed or fundamentally altered so that it is no longer one-sided and allows all final status issues toward a two-state solution to be resolved through direct bilateral negotiations between the parties;

(3) rejects efforts by outside bodies, including the United Nations Security Council, to impose solutions from the outside that set back the cause of peace;

(4) demands that the United States ensure that no action is taken at the Paris Conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict scheduled for January 15, 2017, that imposes an agreement or parameters on the parties;

(5) notes that granting membership and statehood standing to the Palestinians at the United Nations, its specialized agencies, and other international institutions outside of the context of a bilateral peace agreement with Israel would cause severe harm to the peace process, and would likely trigger the implementation of penalties under sections 7036 and 7041(j) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016 (division K of Public Law 114–113);

(6) rejects any efforts by the United Nations, United Nations agencies, United Nations member states, and other international organizations to use United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 to further isolate Israel through economic or other boycotts or any other measures, and urges the United States Government to take action where needed to counter any attempts to use United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 to further isolate Israel;

(7) urges the current Presidential administration and all future Presidential administrations to uphold the practice of vetoing all United Nations Security Council resolutions that seek to insert the Council into the peace process, recognize unilateral Palestinian actions including declaration of a Palestinian state, or dictate terms and a timeline for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict;

(8) reaffirms that it is the policy of the United States to continue to seek a sustainable, just, and secure two-state solution to resolve the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians; and

(9) urges the incoming Administration to work with Congress to create conditions that facilitate the resumption of direct, bilateral negotiations without preconditions between Israelis and Palestinians with the goal of achieving a sustainable agreement that is acceptable to both sides.

H. Res. 23 sponsored by Rep. David Price (D-NC) has 101 cosponsors, including my Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D-NM), so it likely has alot of momentum. Although H. Res. 23 seems more benign than the others, it’s problematic for 2 simple reasons: it (1) opposes BDS, (“Whereas the United States steadfastly opposes boycotts, divestment campaigns and sanctions targeting the State of Israel”); and (2) favors the U.S. using its veto power in the U.N. Security Council to thwart the overwhelming global consensus on issues that impact Israel. H. Res. 23 provides:

(1) the United States should continue to support a durable and sustainable two-state solution to resolve the long-standing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians;

(2) a viable and sustainable two-state solution can only be achieved through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians;

(3) the United States should continue to oppose, and if necessary, veto future United Nations Security Council resolutions that seek to impose solutions to final status issues, or are one-sided and anti-Israel; and

(4) the United States should continue to work with Israelis and Palestinians to create the conditions for successful final-status peace negotiations.

Three other measures focus on Jerusalem. Both the Israelis and Palestinians consider Jerusalem their capital, and that city has been the focal point of much of the conflict. Members of the U.S. Congress want to bully their way into this hot pot by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, to the detriment of any legitimate claims the Palestinians might have.

H.R.265 – To recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to relocate to Jerusalem the United States Embassy in Israel, and for other purposes.

H.R.257 – To recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to transfer to Jerusalem the United States Embassy located in Tel Aviv.

S.11 – Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act

Time to write and/or call your member of Congress and let them know what you think about these resolutions.

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Congress genuflects again

Just like clockwork, the U.S. Congress has disgracefully genuflected again to the State of Israel.

Every January, one of the first resolutions introduced in our august Capitol is AIPAC‘s loyalty test to determine which members of Congress might be straying from Israel’s tight leash.

Just like clockwork, the majority of both Republicans and Democrats lined up this week, including New Mexico’s three members of Congress. Representatives Steve Pearce (R-NM), Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D-NM), and Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) each want you to know they are unwavering in their loyalty to Israel.

This week, H. Res. 11 provided the litmus test. H. Res. 11 condemns the United Nations for passing Security Council Resolution 2334 in December which stated:

Israel′s settlement activity constitutes a “flagrant violation” of international law and has “no legal validity”. It demands that Israel stop such activity and fulfill its obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The substance of the U.N. resolution was not remarkable because the international community has recognized the illegality of Israel’s settlement activity for decades. What WAS notable is that the United States did not exercise its veto to thwart the Security Council’s resolution.

In a remarkable display of independence, President Obama broke with our country’s track record of providing diplomatic protection for Israel at the United Nations. The news sent shock waves on both sides of the Atlantic. Netanyahu gave the U.N. his proverbial finger and said Israel would continue to build settlements in the occupied West Bank, while the Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) expressed support for Obama’s abstention.

Statement by Jewish Voice for Peace Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson on UN Security Council vote to condemn Israeli settlements.

There is an increasing understanding among U.S. political leaders, thanks to ongoing grassroots pressure, of the need to hold Israel accountable to international law.

The U.S. abstention from this resolution is a welcome sign in that regard. As the only country that abstained, the evidence of the U.S.’s isolation from the global consensus during the vote was stark.

Unfortunately, JVP’s optimism about U.S. political leaders was premature, as we learned on Thursday, January 5, 2017.  The final vote on AIPAC’s creepy resolution was 342 to 80.

Why is it creepy?  Because the votes of a clear majority of both Republicans and Democrats (including the three from New Mexico) indicate they oppose international law, oppose holding Israel accountable for breaking international law, and oppose President Obama’s tepid action (a mere abstention) which only reflected the official U.S. foreign policy of past Presidents.

Fortunately, there are some thoughtful members of Congress (both Ds and Rs) who rejected AIPAC’s H.Res. 11, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA), and others. The messages from constituents who want the U.S. government to break with its lapdog fealty to Israel are finally making a difference.

Now it’s time to turn our attention on the other AIPAC-sponsored measures introduced in the first week of the new Congress.  Constituents need to be heard loud and clear.

H.Res. 27 – Rejecting the “two-state solution” as the United States’ diplomatic policy objective and calls for the Administration to advocate for a new approach that prioritizes the State of Israel’s sovereignty, security, and borders.

S.Res.6 – A resolution objecting to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 and to all efforts that undermine direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians for a secure and peaceful settlement.

H. Res.14 – Disapproving of President Obama and his administration’s refusal to veto the anti-Israel resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council on December 23, 2016.

S.Res.5 – A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate in support of Israel.

S.15 – Iran Ballistic Missile Sanctions Act

H.R.265 – To recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to relocate to Jerusalem the United States Embassy in Israel, and for other purposes.

H.R.257 – To recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to transfer to Jerusalem the United States Embassy located in Tel Aviv.

S.11 – Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act

H.Res.23 – Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives and reaffirming long-standing United States policy in support of a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 

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We don’t have to choose violence

In a follow-up to my post on September 6, Choosing Violence, I’m mailing letters to the President, and my members of Congress, with a copy of the article from the Boston Review.

(L to R – President Obama, Senator Tom Udall, Senator Martin Heinrich, Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham)

September 14, 2016

An Open Letter to President Obama, Senator Tom Udall, Senator Martin Heinrich and Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham:

We need to address someone who might actually listen, even if at present they cannot hear. They might be distant, but we must believe, if our conviction is to make sense to us, that there is a real chance they will receive our message. Conviction relies on a community, real or really possible, that subscribes to different standards than those of the majority.” — Oded Na’aman in Choosing Violence (Boston Review, August 15, 2016)

This letter is about choosing a different path.

I am writing because I believe each of you may hear my message. If you can’t hear it today, I’m convinced you will in the near future because each of you has shown intelligent compassion mixed with creative thinking in actions that you’ve taken in the past.  Those are the qualities we need today more than ever before.

I’m referring specifically to the tragedy in Israel-Palestine unfolding for all sides there, but my message is just as germane in every conflict the U.S. is engaged in abroad, as well as conflicts at home.

Oded Na’aman, a Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University, was a soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces in the early 2000s, and he’s written an insightful article entitled Choosing Violence which I’ve enclosed and encourage you to read.

The take-away message from Mr. Na’aman’s article is that violence and war are not tragedies that befall us but rather a choice we make. We choose war as a tool to respond to difficult challenges. I’m convinced we can make other choices using our compassionate intelligence and creative thinking.

The common wisdom in the United States, in Congress, and in the mainstream media, is that we must use violence to fight the terrorists. We must defend ourselves and our values with violence. We believe that our violence, as abhorrent as we may agree it is, is not by choice but by necessity.

I’ve wondered (especially after returning from my 9-month teaching sabbatical in Gaza three years ago) whether I’m a kook for believing that we can choose another path. In 2012-2013, while I was teaching young people about climate change in Gaza, I didn’t find the terrorists that my government warned me about before I traveled. I met with Hamas officials at their offices and in their homes, and I found humans struggling to lead under a long-term siege and occupation. I found humans making mistakes, as all leaders do, but trying to make life better for their people. Hamas’ tactics might be ill-advised, just as I would argue that many of Israel’s tactics are ill-advised, but I didn’t meet any terrorists.

Certainly each side argues why its use of violence is one of necessity and is justified. I’ve heard justifications ad nauseum from people in both Israel and Palestine. The truth, however, is that regardless of which side initiates the violence or defends itself against violence – both are trapped in a cycle of violence which must stop. Neither can get off the treadmill by himself. The United States must help.

Given our significant military aid to Israel, the U.S. has leverage to hold each side accountable for choosing a different path.  Why aren’t we using our leverage?

this-way-that-way-signpost

The MOU expected to be signed this week embodies our decision to choose violence once again by pledging to give Israel $38 billion in military aid over ten years. The agreement might speak about “security” but the weapons do not represent future security for Israel but rather prolong Israel’s illegal occupation and humiliation of Palestinians.

Israel’s “qualitative military edge” undermines the possibility of building a just and long-term peace with its neighbors. Instead, we should be helping Israel build a “qualitative peaceful edge.” Israel must remain strong militarily but even stronger as a role model for respecting human dignity and human rights. What path would the U.S. be forging if our financial aid to Israel was directed towards sustainable development projects for both Israel and Palestine?

There may be quiet, private reasons for Congress’s decision to add fuel to the fire in the Middle East. I understand the historical relationship between Israel and the United States; the powerful influence that AIPAC wields in Congress and in elections. I understand how the military aid package to Israel benefits our laboratories and jobs in the U.S., which translates into votes each election cycle. There is no justification, however, for the tremendous pain and destruction perpetrated by the violence we support.

We have a choice.  Violence doesn’t choose us, we choose violence.  

I may sound like a “deluded crank” to you, but I’m convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that true justice and the moral high ground will prove me right, hopefully sooner rather than later.

I simply ask that you step on the right side of history.  Please choose a different path away from violence.

albert_einstein_quotes2

 

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Gideon Levy: Americans “Are Supporting the First Signs of Fascism in Israel”

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The Fork in the Road – Building Trust or Digging in Deeper?

There’s certainly been plenty of impassioned rhetoric spewed in recent weeks about the P5+1 agreement with Iran.  (P5+1 stands for the U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia plus Germany ). Few people have even read the agreement I suspect, but you can right here on the White House website, all 159 pages, if you really want to.  Frankly, I have no desire to read the fine print, but I think the explanation provided by this nuclear physicist is a good substitute. The State Department’s website has plenty of information about this agreement too.

Former Ambassador Joe C. Wilson spoke in favor of the Iranian nuke agreement this week in Albuquerque at Congregation Albert. Although linked to J Street, the Ambassador made clear that he was speaking only for himself. Two weeks earlier, the synagogue invited a speaker sponsored by AIPAC opposed to the agreement. In good humor, Wilson noted that he didn’t want to be the goy between the two Jews.

Former Ambassador Joe C. Wilson

Former Ambassador Joe C. Wilson speaking at Congregation Albert 8/26/15

Americans might best remember Ambassador Wilson for his role in exposing the Bush Administration’s lies about Saddam Hussein obtaining yellow cake from Niger. Bush needed to fabricate a reason to go to war, and after Wilson exposed his lies in an article in the New York Times, the Bush Administration exposed Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent, ending her career. Her book, Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent was Betrayed By Her Own Government has been made into a movie and I understand Sean Penn plays Wilson. Now, I have to see it!

On to serious matters.

Ambassador Wilson says the Iranian nuke agreement is both a technical and political agreement. Scientists from both Sandia Labs and Los Alamos Labs were involved in the negotiations. Iran has agreed to “very intrusive and comprehensive inspections” with very close oversight for the next 15-25 years.

The IAEA negotiated a “side agreement” with Iran on technical issues that has apparently created some angst among the naysayers, but Wilson didn’t appear concerned. He said Congressman Jerry Nadler, a Jewish Democrat from New York, has written the best piece about the agreement that he’s read.

Presentation at Congregation Albert - Albuquerque, NM

Presentation at Congregation Albert – Albuquerque, NM

“We can’t trust the Iranians!”  Wilson said it goes both ways, the Iranians don’t trust the Americans. We don’t need to trust the Iranians to live up to the agreement because there are mechanisms in the agreement to allow inspections and the scientists tell us that no one can remove nuclear traces within 24 days (the time designated in the agreement within which Iran must let IAEA inspectors to come in and look). Our scientists are telling us that there’s no way Iran could surreptitiously build a nuclear bomb without the world knowing about it. That argument against the agreement sounds like a red herring to me.

“Iranians will still have centrifuges — even after signing the agreement.”  They will be required to reduce their stockpile of centrifuges from 19,000 to 6,104 (I think is the # Wilson said.) Fewer is better than allowing them to continue to build new ones, which would be the case without the agreement.

Centrifuges

Centrifuges

“What will the Iranians do with the $150 Billion returned to them when the embargo is lifted (I think that’s the # I heard)?”  I don’t think Wilson speculated about the answer, but said the U.S. will be the big loser in a “profound way” if we fail to sign the agreement. “Our standing as a world leader will be sorely tested” and will “play right into the hands of the extremists in Iran.” “See, we told you the Americans can’t be trusted.”  Wilson doesn’t believe it would be in Israel’s long-term strategic interests to walk away from the agreement either. Retired members of the Israeli security support the agreement.

This doesn’t mean that the relationships between Iran and the rest of the world will come up all roses, Wilson said.  But this agreement will give the world 10-15 years to pursue confidence-building actions in the region. The negotiating process brought together allies, adversaries and competitors …. really a first!  “It’s a good deal to benefit the region.”

Question from the audience: “What happens if the U.S. doesn’t sign?”

The U.S. Congress would have to override President Obama’s veto. Then everything would be up in the air. Both the U.S. and Israel will be isolated from the rest of the world. Other countries will do business with Iran. Wilson believes the Iranian moderates won with this agreement, and the hardliners lost out. If the U.S. fails to sign, then the hardliners’ position is strengthened.

Ambassador Wilson said that Israel needs to find peace with its neighbors. This agreement gives Israel time to do that. Wilson did not hide his disdain for Netanyahu or AIPAC, which he said is an arm of Likud and divides all of us.  AIPAC shapes the discussion in a toxic way.

“Agreements lead to potential new agreements.” 

“De-escalation of tensions leads to further de-escalation.”

Iranians have a very long memory. Americans don’t. If the U.S. fails to sign onto this agreement which we played a leadership role in designing and negotiating, future generations of Iranians will understand they can’t trust America.

I was going to ask about the letter in the New York Times written by Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian lead negotiator, urging the only nuclear country in the Middle East to follow suit now and agree to negotiate a nuclear free Middle East.  But someone else from the audience asked a related question, which Wilson deflected so I didn’t think he would answer my question.

I left the gathering at Congregation Albert believing that Congress is really standing at a fork in the road — with an opportunity to build trust in this volatile region or dig ourselves deeper into conflict and war. This is a very important decision for our members of Congress, for our nation’s future influence in foreign policy, and future generations. I hope they make the right decision.

Jafar Panahi, a leading Iranian film director (who has won numerous international awards including the Golden Bear in the 65th Berlin International Film Festival in 2015), supports the Iran Deal, as do many others.

Thanks to the talented Mike Swick who recorded the Ambassador’s remarks, here’s the entire 1+ hour video.

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al-Nakba Day on Capitol Hill

Lora squinting in front of the US Capitol

Lora squinting in front of the US Capitol

Today I visited Washington, DC where the Capitol Building is getting a facelift. My goal was to connect with staff in each of the offices of the New Mexico delegation to talk about al-Nakba.  It went something like this . . .

Staffer: Welcome to the office. We always like to hear from our constituents.

Lora: Thank you for taking time to meet with me. I have a personal interest in the Middle East (and I proceeded to share a bit about my background to set some context).  Have you heard of al-Nakba?

Staffer: Nope!

Lora: Maybe you know about Israel’s Independence Day which was celebrated yesterday.

Staffer: Oh sure.

Lora: When the Zionists declared the new State of Israel in 1948,  they began to forcibly expel over 750,000 indigenous Palestinians from their homes, businesses, and land. Many were killed. Over 500 Palestinians villages were destroyed. That expulsion is referred to as al-Nakba or “Catastrophe” in English, which continues to this day.

Staffer: <furiously scribbling notes>

Lora: What does the Senator / Congresswoman think about Israel & Palestine?

Staffer: Well, Israel has a right to defend herself, but we think Israel’s bombing of schools and hospitals last summer was over the top.

Lora: The situation in the Gaza Strip is dire. More than 2,000 Palestinians (most of them civilians) were killed last summer. Thousands of homes were destroyed and hundreds of families remain without shelter today. The status quo cannot continue. In fact, the U.N. issued a report in the summer of 2012 that said the Gaza Strip would be unlivable by 2020!

Staffer: Yes, but the situation is complex. What do you think the Senator / Congresswoman should do?

Lora: Well, we could begin by recognizing the State of Palestine.  “Direct negotiations” between Israel and Palestine will not be fruitful if the international status of the parties remains unequal. This week Pope Francis recognized the State of Palestine.  And as of October 2014, 135 of the 193 member states of the United Nations have recognized the State of Palestine.  I think it’s long past time for the U.S. to recognize the State of Palestine too.

Staffer:   Hmmmm! OK.

Lora: You know that the official U.S. policy regarding Israel/Palestine has been consistent for decades and under the Administrations of both parties. Carrots haven’t worked, it’s time to use sticks. Expressions of “concerns” about Israel’s settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories (a violation of international law) have not resulted in any change.

Staffer: What kind of sticks?

Lora: Such as reducing the $3+ Billion/year the U.S. taxpayers give to Israel;  supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement; and refusing to shield Israel from criticism at the United Nations.

Staffer: What’s BDS?

Lora: <exacerbated but remaining calm> You know, like what we did with South Africa to help end the apartheid regime? And since Congress heard Netanyahu speak in March, maybe an invitation  to Ambassador Riyad Mansour, Palestine’s permanent observer to the U.N., and former President Jimmy Carter, to speak to Congress would be helpful. Shouldn’t Congress hear from both sides?

Staffer: When an important vote comes up, the Senator / Congresswoman always asks staff “who have we heard from in the District about this issue and what did they say?”

Lora in Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham's office sitting with the office dog - Mattie.

Lora in Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham’s office sitting with the office dog – Mattie.

Which leads me to the point of this blog post. Don’t take it for granted that your members of Congress understand the issues in the Middle East. Reach out to them, call or write, and tell them what you think. Although the AIPAC and J Street lobbyists are known to Congressional staffers, other groups (Jewish Voices for Peace) and individuals may be unknown. We need to be heard in Congress. It’s easy (check out this website) and there’s no excuse not to.

My hunch is that not a single member of Congress has heard of al-Nakba. I know the staffers of the New Mexico delegation hadn’t.

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