In this time of a divided and polarized Congress — they can’t even find bipartisan support for Trump’s impeachment or putting stimulus checks into the hands of Americans reeling from the impacts of the pandemic — there is an issue that will reliably bring both Republicans and Democrats running to embrace each other.
Sending US taxpayers’ money to Israel.
For decades, Israel has been the recipient of the largest amount of US foreign aid in the world. Before leaving office in 2016, President Obama ensured that the sweetheart deal would continue to the tune of $3.8 Billion/year for the next 10 years. The Congressional Research Service reported in November 2020 that “To date, the United States has provided Israel $146 billion (current, or noninflation-adjusted, dollars) in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding. At present, almost all U.S. bilateral aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance, although from 1971 to 2007, Israel also received significant economic assistance.” Check out the CRS publication — U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel — updated November 16, 2020 for good background and some eye-popping revelations.
Over the years, only a few members of Congress have asked why the U.S. doesn’t use its generous aid to Israel as leverage to ensure that Israel complies with international human rights laws. There’s no longer any serious disagreement that Israel is a repeat offender in the realm of human rights violations, and that Israel has obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention to protect the people they are occupying. In 2020, Amnesty itemized Israel’s continuing human rights violations of the Palestinians, including forcible transfers, forced evictions and demolitions, discrimination, unlawful killings and excessive use of force, freedom of movement, arbitrary detention, unfair trials, torture and other ill-treatment, freedoms of expression and association, and more. Read Amnesty’s report. Or the reports of the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine. Or the U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2019, available online.
The overwhelming silence in Congress about Israel’s human rights violations, and our country’s complicity in funding and providing Israel the weapons and instruments of destruction, is typically explained away with platitudes such as “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East” or “Israel is a great partner to the United States, and Israel has no greater friend than the United States.”
In the Spring of 2021, it appears the shock of Israel’s gross and outrageous violations against the Palestinian people has finally broken through the manufactured silence and coverup. The Emperor really is not wearing a stitch of clothing!
Here’s how it all unfolded.
On April 15, Representative Betty McCollum introduced H.R.2590 – To promote and protect the human rights of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation and to ensure that United States taxpayer funds are not used by the Government of Israel to support the military detention of Palestinian children, the unlawful seizure, appropriation, and destruction of Palestinian property and forcible transfer of civilians in the West Bank, or further annexation of Palestinian land in violation of international law.
This isn’t the first time; Rep. McCollum has introduced similar legislation twice before. H.R. 2590 prohibits Israel from using U.S. taxpayer dollars in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem for: the military detention, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention; to support the seizure and destruction of Palestinian property and homes in violation of international humanitarian law; or, to extend any assistance or support for Israel’s unilateral annexation of Palestinian territory in violation of international humanitarian law. The bill adds greater transparency in order to show Americans what the U.S. taxpayers are funding in Israel. There are 15 cosponsors to date.
A week later, approximately three-quarters of the House of Representatives — split relatively evenly between Democrats and Republicans — sent a letter to the chair and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee supporting continued security assistance to Israel. Without mentioning Rep. McCollum’s H.R. 2590, 330 members of Congress signed on to the proposition that “reducing funding or adding conditions on security assistance would be
detrimental to Israel’s ability to defend itself against all threats.” Read the letter and see who signed on here. The letter came only three days after the speeches of Democratic senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who said during the J Street conference that the administration should consider conditioning aid to Israel.
I wasn’t surprised to find that both members of Congress representing my home state of New Mexico are in agreement on this issue, a rabid Republican who supports QAnon, and a progressive Democrat who ran on support for Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. Dare I say their kneejerk support for unconditional funding to Israel is probably the only thing these two will ever agree on.
Now, perhaps for the first time, there’s a robust debate happening in Congress on whether Israel should be more transparent in how it uses American taxpayers’ largesse, and whether Congress should attach conditions to that military aid. Don’t Americans have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent?
Contrary to the letter’s warning that U.S. financial aid to Israel should not be reduced, H.R. 2590 doesn’t recommend any reduction in aid; Rep. McCollum and her colleagues simply want to hold Israel accountable for using the aid as it is intended — for security. “Security” should not give Israel carte blanche to imprison Palestinian children, destroy Palestinian homes and villages, or expand Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Every American should read H.R. 2590 and the letter side-by-side, and it will be clear which members of Congress are being thoughtful about U.S. support for Israel, and which members of Congress either don’t read the letters they sign, or they merely jump on AIPAC’s bandwagon when they’re told to.
What do the following cosponsors of H.R. 2590 and the organizations supporting H.R. 2590 have in common? They all believe in human rights, in transparency and accountability, and educating American taxpayers about how Israel is using their tax dollars.
Original Cosponsors: Bobby L. Rush (IL-01), Danny K. Davis (IL-07), Andre Carson (IN-07), Marie Newman (IL-03), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Cori Bush (MO-01), Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04)
Endorsing Organizations: Adalah Justice Project, Al-Haq, Americans for Peace Now (APN), American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, American Friends Service Committee, American Muslims for Palestine, Arab American Institute, Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC), Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Center for Constitutional Rights, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Jewish Allies for a Just Peace in Israel/Palestine, Churches for Middle East Peace, Church of the Brethren – Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, Coalition of Palestinian American Organizations, CODEPINK, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), DAARNA, Dallas Palestine Coalition , Defense for Children International – Palestine, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), Detention Watch Network, Disciples Israel Palestine Network, DSA BDS and Palestine Solidarity Working Group, The Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Eyewitness Palestine, Freedom Forward, Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), Friends of Sabeel – Colorado, Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA), Good Citizens Of DFW, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, IfNotNow, Institute for Policy Studies – New Internationalism Project, Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA), J Street, The Jerusalem Fund, Jewish Voice for Peace Action, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, Justice Democrats, MADRE, Massachusetts Peace Action, Middle East Children’s Alliance, Movement for Black Lives, MPower Action Fund, National Council of Churches USA, National Lawyers Guild, National Union of Palestinian Youth, New Generation for Palestine, NGP Action, Norwegian Refugee Council, Palestine American League, Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace, Palestine Legal, Peace Action, Presbyterian Church (USA), Progressive Democrats of America, Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, Rebuilding Alliance, Reformed Church in America, ReThinking Foreign Policy, Sacramento Democrats for Justice in Palestine, Sacramento Regional Coalition for Palestinian Rights, Tree of Life Educational Fund, U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN), Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East, United Church of Christ, United Church of Christ Palestine Israel Network, United Methodists for Kairos Response, United We Dream Network, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), US Palestinian Council, Veterans For Peace, Virginia Coalition for Human Rights, War Resisters League, Win Without War, Working Families Party