Israel used to be a “safe” bipartisan issue for members of Congress to rally behind. Israel’s lobbying arm in Washington (AIPAC) proudly touted this broad support.
If any members of Congress had the courage not to join in AIPAC’s love-fest for Israel, they merely abstained from voting. Certainly, a vote in opposition was unthinkable.
The support for the State of Israel has been slowly eroding over the years, but this summer it appears the dam has broken.
On June 30, thirteen members of Congress (all Democrats) sent a letter to Secretary of State Pompeo urging him to stop Israel’s planned annexation of a large part of the West Bank.
We write to you to express our deep concern over the planned annexation of occupied Palestinian territory by the government of Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said annexation could begin as early as July 1, 2020. Should the Israeli government move forward with these plans, they would actively harm prospects for a future in which all Israelis and Palestinians can live with full equality, human rights and dignity, and would lay the groundwork for Israel becoming an apartheid state, as your predecessor John Kerry warned in 2014.
We call on you to take all necessary action available to reverse course on this proposal, which will cause more tension and conflict for decades to come. While the full scope and details of the plan are not yet public, Palestinians have overwhelmingly rejected the idea of annexation, and have understandably refused to participate in a process that is not grounded in a recognition of their national rights under international law.
Spearheaded by Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Betty McCollum, D-Minn., and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., they ended with strong words.
Should the Israeli government continue down this path, we will work to ensure non-recognition of annexed territories as well as pursue legislation that conditions the $3.8 billion in U.S. military funding to Israel to ensure that U.S. taxpayers are not supporting annexation in any way. We will include human rights conditions and the withholding of funds for the offshore procurement of Israeli weapons equal to or exceeding the amount the Israeli government spends annually to fund settlements, as well as the policies and practices that sustain and enable them.
Read the entire letter here. The other House signatories to the letter included Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., André Carson, D-Ind., Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., Bobby Rush, D-Ill., Jesús “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., Danny Davis, D-Ill., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. Reach out to thank them for their courage for standing up for human rights and international law. I’m writing my Congresswoman from New Mexico and asking her to join them.
This simple letter didn’t happen without years of advocacy work by many groups and individuals, including IfNotNow, CODEPINK, Jewish Voice for Peace, Defense for Children International-Palestine, Rebuilding Alliance, the Rachel Corrie Foundation, the Middle East Children’s Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Lawyers Guild, the Center for Constitutional Rights and more. AIPAC is no longer the behemoth I thought it was!
Then a few days later, this happened . . . .
On July 2, thirteen Senators filed an amendment to the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to prohibit Israel from using U.S. security assistance funds to unilaterally annex Palestinian territory in the West Bank. My two US Senators from New Mexico were part of this group. I’m so proud of them! I’m writing thank you letters today.
In addition to Senators Udall and Heinrich, the amendment was sponsored by Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). The text of the amendment is here. It’s short and sweet.
None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by the United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2020, this Act, or any other Act enacted before the date of the enactment of this Act, or otherwise made available for the Department of Defense, may be obligated or expended to deploy, or support the deployment of, United States defense articles, services, or training to territories in the West Bank unilaterally annexed by Israel after July 1, 2020, or to facilitate the unilateral annexation of such territories.
I heard a strong organizer – activist, Raed Jarrar, speak on Friday about these recent actions in Congress, and I knew immediately the significance of this watershed moment. Once the genie is out of the bottle, there’s no putting her back in.
And check out Raed Jarrar’s commentary on this Facebook livestream from Friday.