What slapdash H.R. 1765 reveals about the lobby and public awareness

Israel/Palestine
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As House Resolution 1765, formerly 1731 and 1734, passed in the House by a voice vote enjoining the Obama administration to oppose a unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence, the peace camp looked disheveled and mystified. With every loss in the halls of Congress we reassure ourselves that the tide is changing, that soon members of Congress will see the right of Palestinians to statehood, that the next president will not succumb to the intransigence of Congress.

Today there are hundreds of organizations educating the American public about the facts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They raise the public’s awareness about the plight of Palestinians in the besieged Gaza strip. Some organizations highlight the importance of resolving the refugee crisis and yet others underline Israel’s apartheid regime in the West Bank, undergirded by Jewish-only settlements and Jewish-only infrastructure.

Almost all existing organizations focused on a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are 501(c)(3) educational organizations. Many of these organizations address congressional representatives by asking their members to sign petitions or letters to Congress. However, what is lost on, or neglected by, these organizations is the fact that members of Congress are almost entirely beholden to a powerful pro-Israel lobby whose fabled success stems primarily from its ability to fund congressional campaigns.

When the time for a vote comes, whether it is a symbolic nonbinding resolution such as H. Res. 1765 or a crucial bill funding Israel’s occupation, the vast majority of members of Congress will invariably vote on the side of Israel. The reason is quite simple: a member of Congress cannot listen to pro-peace organizations as hard-line pro-Israel PACs (political action committees) fund their campaigns, no matter how sympathetic the member is to the Palestinian cause.

The exception to this scenario would be a broadly mobilized campaign of pro-Palestinian activists. However, if financial regulation and healthcare reform, which impact every American citizen, cannot garner enough public support to thwart opposing lobbies, the Palestinian cause will not mobilize a broad national movement in the foreseeable future. To most Americans uninformed on the issue, it is seemingly too remote, too inconsequential, and too tangential to American interests, although the realty couldn’t be further from the truth.

By abdicating our responsibility to lobby Congress and fund congressional campaigns, we have relegated ourselves to fighting a formidable opponent while blindfolded with both hands tied behind our collective back. Hard-line pro-Israel PACs not only help elect members of Congress but they indirectly appoint administration officials through Senate confirmation hearings, as was painfully evident during the Chas Freeman debacle. We have been effectively shut out from the halls of power in the United States with grave consequences for all involved.

Under Federal Election Commission rules, only a political action committee can fund the campaign of a member of Congress. As of last year, there was not a single political action committee funding members of Congress who support a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, until the establishment of New Policy PAC. I, along with other pro-peace activists (please view board members at www.newpolicy.org), founded New Policy PAC a year ago as an alternative source of funding for members of Congress who push for an end to Israel’s occupation and an American troops withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, while opposing any attack on Iran.

As educational organizations increase the pool of informed Americans, New Policy PAC is decidedly singing to the choir: informed, engaged Americans who are ready to fund the campaigns of elected officials. As educational organizations work to strengthen the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement, New Policy PAC works to establish a Congressional Peace Caucus.

Even as Israel’s most ardent apologists struggle to justify its actions and its position becomes increasingly untenable, members of Congress continue to endorse one-sided resolutions in support of a prolonged occupation. Sometimes to avert a public debate, slapdash resolutions, as in the case of 1765, are introduced, their names changed repeatedly confounding public tracking and their hurried passage is implemented by a voice vote.

While this may signal the tenuous moral and political grounds these resolutions stand upon and the embarrassment of Congress at their passage, it also highlights the power of the pro-Israel PACs. They are most likely to retain their firm grip on our Capitol until we provide an alternative source of funding.

Sama Adnan, Ph.D. is executive director of NewPolicy.org and New Policy PAC, an American lobby for Middle East peace.

 

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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