This has not been a good week for Democrats, especially those who wish to cast their party as the progressive alternative to the Trump-McConnell regime. As the feckless party leadership continued to avoid taking any action against Donald Trump for his numerous crimes—which go well beyond the Russia questions—they managed to find time to pass a bill opposing the right of U.S. citizens to use economic leverage to press for change in Israel-Palestine.
H. Res. 246, a nameless bill which declares the House of Representatives’ opposition to the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, passed with 398 in favor and only 17 (16 Democrats and one Republican) representatives voting against it. The bill was considerably weaker than the sort of legislation the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) had hoped to pass to criminalize BDS at the federal level. Those efforts ran afoul of free speech concerns among a wide variety of Congress members.
In the end, H. Res. 246 addressed those concerns sufficiently to attract the support of comparatively moderate Jewish groups such as J Street, Ameinu, Partners for Progressive Israel, the National Council of Jewish Women, and Reconstructing Judaism. But fundamental issues remained, and if we were having a rational discussion about BDS and U.S. policy toward Israel-Palestine in general, those issues would have been more of an obstacle. Read more at LobeLog
On July 17, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs convened for a markup of several bills, including a few that were directly related to the Israel-Palestine conflict. One member of the committee, Ilhan Omar (D-MN), whom you might have been hearing about for other reasons this week, spoke for a few minutes about achieving a resolution to that conflict. Her words were subsequently distorted and attacked.
Often those attacks have conflated her words with the presentation of a bill, also this week, which Omar is co-sponsoring with Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) which defends the right of people to boycott, as enshrined in the First Amendment. The bill has been prompted by a bipartisan House effort to move legislation that, while not criminalizing boycotts of Israel (an effort which was thwarted on legal grounds last year), heavily stigmatizes it. This will both have a chilling effect on free expression and lay the groundwork for more steps against boycotts in the future.
Omar, Lewis, and Tlaib quite correctly understand that not only does this put an obstacle in the path of non-violent action to oppose Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights but can lead to the stifling of organized economic action on any political matter, domestic or international. They have, therefore, not brought a bill that addresses BDS, Israel, or Palestine, but rather protects the right to boycott, one of the few effective tools grassroots movements have for impacting political realities. Continue reading →
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) made headlines by unveiling its latest project, the Congressional Black-Jewish Caucus. It sounds like a terrific idea, and certainly AJC is claiming to have done a lot to lay the groundwork for it. These two communities—which overlap a lot more than many people realize—have a long and complicated history, marked by periods of great mutual support but also of mistrust and hostility. A caucus in Congress to help inform policy that would be beneficial to both communities should be welcome.
But this is one of those eras where mistrust abounds, aggravated recently by the focus of the Jewish community on Black thought leaders who are sympathetic to the Palestinian side of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Accusations of disproportionate hostility toward Israel, accompanied by both indirect and direct accusations of anti-Semitism have tenderized already fraught community relations, where too many Jews and Black people feel that the other bears them ill will. These tensions are particularly hard on Black Jews and other Jews of Color, members of both communities who must contend with this friction in the most personal way.
All of this should make the caucus even more welcome. But the inclusion of Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) in the new Black-Jewish Congressional Caucus inevitably raises significant questions about its intent. Read more at LobeLog
There are still a few races to be decided, but the overall results of the 2018 midterms are clear. The hoped-for “blue wave” turned out to be a blue trickle, but Donald Trump’s era of completely unfettered action is over. Voter suppression and gerrymandering stack the deck in favor of Republicans, yet there was enough disgust with Trump and congressional Republicans to swing about 30 seats in the House of Representatives to the Democrats. Republicans still gained at least two—probably three—seats in the Senate, despite the fact that Democrats got nearly 13 million more votes in the Senate races. That’s not a great indicator for the state of democracy in the United States.
It wasn’t the rebuke of Trump’s behavior and policies that some hoped for, but given the ongoing strength of the U.S. economy, the Republican losses still mean something. Democratic control of the House creates a check on Trump’s worst excesses, at least domestically.
In foreign policy, the gains will be more meager and harder to gauge. Congress still holds considerably more power over domestic affairs than foreign, and that is even more true for the opposition party in a divided Congress. Read more at LobeLog
As midterm elections near, it is becoming clear that there is an opportunity in Washington to take the first few steps toward measurable change in U.S. politics around Israel and Palestine. Increasingly belligerent Israeli actions toward the Palestinians and toward Jews who oppose the occupation, a U.S. administration with unabashedly pro-settler leanings, and the decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to shift away from bipartisan efforts in the U.S. and depend on unflinching Republican support have combined to create a strong groundswell in the Democratic party for a change in policy.
This groundswell has not yet made a significant impact in Washington. Occasional letters of admonishment from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (who is not a Democrat, but caucuses with them in the Senate), or Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have little impact on the ground. Meanwhile, after New Jersey Senator Cory Booker was photographed at a progressive conference holding a sign that read, “From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go,” he scrambled to disavow the sign, claiming he didn’t know what it said. Read more at LobeLog