Pompeo Unveils Dangerous US Approach to Israeli Settlements

In the latest reversal of long-standing United States policy in the Middle East, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared this week that Washington no longer views Israeli settlements in the West Bank as “inconsistent with international law.”

Pompeo framed the decision as a “reversal” of Obama administration policy. He said, “[Former] Secretary [of State John] Kerry changed decades of this careful bipartisan approach by publicly reaffirming the supposed illegality of settlements,” referring to a December 2016 resolution in the United Nations Security Council that termed the settlements illegal, which President Barack Obama permitted to pass by abstaining from the vote.

But in fact, Obama had been more tolerant of Israeli settlement than his predecessors. While he talked more often about their being an obstacle to peace, that abstention was the only time in his eight years in office that Obama had allowed a U.N. resolution critical of Israel to pass. By contrast, George W. Bush permitted six UNSC resolutions to which Israel objected to pass. Ronald Reagan permitted twenty.

Obama even vetoed a UNSC resolution whose text was almost verbatim U.S. policy, causing himself quite a bit of embarrassment in the international arena. On another occasion, Israel announced a new and highly controversial settlement in East Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was in the country. The administration’s reaction was to do a reading of standard talking points and move on.

Distorting Obama’s record affects more than the president’s legacy. It increases the distortion of politics around Israel and its occupation. Obama emphasized actual Israeli security needs, which, in his view, included finding an agreement with the Palestinians, and lowering the temperature between Israel (and Saudi Arabia) and Iran. Trump has focused on crowd-pleasing, grandiose gestures like moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem a move that eliminated any possibility of diplomacy with the Palestinians; or leaving the Iran nuclear deal, which aggravated tensions with Iran, thereby making the environment considerably less secure for Israel. Much like the neoconservative strategies of the early part of the century, casting those who pursue diplomacy as a threat to security allows hawks to get away with making the region less secure for everyone. Read more at LobeLog

Leveraging U.S. Aid To Israel Won’t Be So Easy

Not so long ago, a presidential candidate showing any hint that she would consider reducing aid to Israel was considered political suicide. Those days are over. This week, both Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg said they would consider using aid to Israel as leverage to get Israel to stop building settlements. The response has been almost total silence from Israel’s supporters in the United States.

The lack of response is somewhat surprising. While polls indicate that Americans support the idea that Israel’s disregard for Palestinian rights should impact the aid it gets from the United States, the numbers don’t indicate a sea change in public opinion. Many polls over the years reflected the willingness of the American public to use aid to press Israel to make concessions it did not want to make.

I suspect the reason there has been so little reaction to Warren’s and Buttigieg’s statements is indifference. It isn’t that pro-Israel groups which see any gains for Palestinian rights as a dangerous loss for Israel don’t care if the U.S. cuts aid to Israel. Rather, they see no danger of it happening any time soon, regardless of the outcome of the 2020 election. In many ways, seeing the United States continuing to quibble over settlement expansion and grasping on to an increasingly ephemeral two-state solution serves right-wing Israeli interests very well. Read more at LobeLog

Trump’s Anti-Semitism Spawns Dangerous Reactions

When Donald Trump declared that 70-80% of the U.S. Jewish community (the percentage that is voting Democrat these days) suffered from “a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” it set off a firestorm of objections from most of that community. From the center-right leadership of the American Jewish Committee to the left wing, progressive Jewish Voice for Peace, a wide swath of Jews expressed their outrage at the obvious anti-Semitism in Trump’s words.

Of course, the far-right Jews in Trump’s corner supported him. The Republican Jewish Coalition said that Trump was “talking about the survival of the Jewish state,” an argument Trump himself debunked when he clarified his remarks.

But the right was simply playing its role. The real problem came from the reaction of some so-called “liberals,” a reaction rooted in the same dishonesty that frames the entire Israel debate in the United States. Read more at LobeLog

Barring Members Of Congress From Israel-Palestine

In a sudden reversal, the Israeli government decided on Thursday to bar two members of Congress—Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN)—from

Photo tweeted by MPower Change

entering Israel. This means that they also cannot enter the West Bank, which was where they intended to spend bulk of their time in Israel-Palestine. After announcing the ban on the two congresswomen, Israel said that Tlaib could visit her family in the West Bank if she agreed “not to participate in any BDS activities.”

The decision to bar entry to the congresswomen met with widespread condemnation in the United States, including by groups that normally march in lockstep with Israel. AIPAC, for example, said they disagree with Tlaib and Omar, of course, but “We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.” The American Jewish Committee said that “AJC believes that, out of two less-than-ideal options, neither of which was risk-free, Israel did not choose wisely by reversing its original decision [to allow Tlaib and Omar in].”

These were typical reactions from the center-right of the pro-Israel community in the U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), one of the most devoted Israel supporters in Congress, typified much of the congressional response, saying “No democratic society should fear an open debate. Many strong supporters of Israel will be deeply disappointed in this decision, which the Israeli government should reverse.”

Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the House Majority Leader who just returned from leading a congressional delegation of dozens of members to Israel and who is as lock-step a pro-Israel voice as any Democrat, said, “The decision of the Israeli government to deny entry to Israel by two Members of Congress is outrageous, regardless of their itinerary or their views. This action is contrary to the statement and assurances to me by Israel’s ambassador to the United States that ‘out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any Member of Congress into Israel.’ That representation was not true.”

What was so interesting about these responses, beyond the unusual tone of rebuke for Israel, is the seemingly deliberate decision not to blame President Donald Trump. After all, Israel had made it quite clear that they intended to admit Tlaib and Omar, and then reversed its decision quickly after a tweet from Trump, which read: “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel and all Jewish people, and there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.” Read more at LobeLog

Congress Opposes Non-Violent Support For Palestinian Rights

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

U.S. Aid To Israel: What You Need To Know

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has drawn some criticism from the left for avoiding the topic of Israel-Palestine. It’s actually a wise decision on her part. It was obvious during her campaign that she is not well-versed on the issue. N ew members of Congress ought to avoid this dangerous minefield of an issue unless they are very clear about what they want to say and how they want to say it.

But AOC may be learning. Earlier this week, she was asked if she favored reducing aid to Israel and she replied that it is “…certainly on the table. I think it’s something that can be discussed.”

Reducing aid to Israel is perhaps the highest voltage third rail in Beltway politics. But in a marker of how much things have changed in Washington—as well as how far they still have to go—the reactions to AOC’s statement have been far less animated than usual. The Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) issued a condescending but relatively mild statement, telling AOC to consult with three mainstream Democratic leaders—all prominent Jewish members with strong pro-Israel records—on the “correct” U.S. policy. “US-Israel ties must supersede politics,” the statement concluded. Surprisingly, the JDCA did not condemn AOC’s statement, despite its tired implication that support for Israel must be unconditional, unquestioned, and independent of any considerations except what is best for Israel. Read more at LobeLog

AIPAC: The Essential Profile

This week, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) held its annual policy meeting, and this one was quite different from many that came before it. For years, AIPAC conferences celebrated strong bipartisan support for Israel and for the unqualified U.S. support of Israel. But in 2019, that unity is very clearly fraying.

Where once there had been a significant number of foreign policy realists in the Republican Party who felt that the U.S. approach needed to be more even-handed, the GOP these days is passionately and overwhelmingly supportive of Israel and displays little if any concern about the lives of Palestinians. Democrats, on the other hand, are displeased with the Trump administration’s approach to the regional issues, feeling it has endangered and possibly doomed a two-state solution to the conflict.

But the Republican-Democrat divide is not the only area of division on Israel and Palestine. Within the Democratic party, a schism is widening between those who insist on supporting the right-wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu—which includes the powerful centrist leadership of the party such as Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Eliot Engel, and Hakeem Jeffries— and the more progressive wing, led proudly by women like Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Betty McCollum, and others, who want to open a debate on U.S. policy in the Middle East and orient it more toward universal human rights.

But AIPAC is not just the venue to display these growing cracks in the bipartisan consensus that have made it even more difficult for the United States to play a productive role in resolving this devastating conflict. It is also a major player in the policy process, especially in Congress, as well as a source of intense debate and controversy over the question of why the United States behaves as it does in the region.

At this year’s conference, Ilhan Omar was attacked by members of Congress from both parties as well as by members of AIPAC and by the vice president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel. The reason for these attacks was that Omar had the temerity to call out and challenge AIPAC’s destructive influence, its role in directing the campaign funds of pro-Israel political actions committees (something AIPAC itself is not, despite its confusing name), and its efforts to establish the boundaries of discourse in Washington. Read more at LobeLog