In June 2011, an effort to codify state legislative support for Israel’s right to control the occupied territories kicked off in South Carolina.
Since then, similar resolutions have passed in five other states–with New Mexico the latest legislature to consider the measure. No votes have been cast on the resolution so far in the state, and local activists have put up a fight against it. The effort would put New Mexico on the record as supporting a God-given Greater Israel.
Like all the others, the New Mexico legislation “commends” Israel for its “beneficial” relationship with the U.S. and the state. It claims a biblical mandate for Israel and states that a 1922 League of Nations resolution legitimized Jewish control over “Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem.”
While the exact language on these measures changes from state to state, the tenor and general text of each bill are similar. Republican state Representative Yvette Herrell introduced the New Mexico resolution in early January. Herrell did not respond to inquiries for comment.
In an e-mail Herrell sent to one opponent of the bill, the representative explained that “the importance of Israel’s Biblical history to Jews and Christians is a simple matter of fact that is referred to for the sake of context and understanding.” Herrell also directed the opponent to look at the website MythsandFacts.org, which she said backed the resolution’s claims up. Created by pro-Israel businessman and AIPAC Executive Council member Eli Hertz, the website claims that there is no Palestinian people and that Palestinian society “sacrifices its own youth for political gain.”
“The house of representatives supports Israel in its legal, historical, moral and God-given right of self-governance and self-defense upon the entirety of its own lands, recognizing that Israel is neither an attacking force nor an occupier of the lands of others, and that peace can be afforded the region only through a whole and united Israel,” the bill reads.
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), the oldest pro-Israel group in the U.S., pushed for the bill to pass in a number of state legislatures, including New Mexico, though they signed on to the effort only after a South Carolina legislator penned his own version. “We’ve been in touch with many, many state legislatures. New Mexico is one of the legislatures we were in touch with a while back,” said Morton Klein, the president of the ZOA. “It’s important to not simply talk about security issues, as if security is the only reason Israel wants to hold onto certain territory. We should also make arguments for the political, legal and Biblical religious claims as well. And this is one way to do that.”
It has sailed through other state legislatures in deeply red states. In the Oklahoma House, for instance, the resolution garnered the support of all 101 representatives. But in New Mexico, activist groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, Peace And Justice Organizations Linking Arms (a project of the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice), Students for Justice in Palestine (University of New Mexico chapter), and the Coalition to Stop $30 Billion to Israel have lobbied legislators against the bill. In an e-mail sent to supporters, the Jewish Voice for Peace chapter in Albuquerque blasted the resolution as privileging Judaism and Christianity over Islam and as supporting “a prescription for a caste system.”
The lobbying has had an impact. The House Judiciary Committee was originally set to hear the bill. But the chair of the committee, progressive legislator Gail Chasey, decided to move it into the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee, where “it can be heard quickly and dispensed with quickly,” she told me in an interview.
“I was just alarmed at the title,” Chasey said. “It’s designed for political purposes. I mean, what are we doing in international relations? We’re a state legislature.”
The resolution’s roots lie in the pen of South Carolina lawmaker Alan Clemmons, who authored the measure that passed the state’s House of Representatives in 2011. Clemmons told the Jewish Daily Forward’s Josh Nathan-Kazis that the bill passed to “send a signal to Jews worldwide and to Israel that…we consider Judea and Samaria and East Jerusalem to be part of Israel, and what Israel decides to do with it is Israel’s business.”
As writer and analyst Mitchell Plitnick first reported, the Republican National Committee adopted the measure in January 2012. The resolution then migrated to Florida, where the Zionist Organization of America slightly changed the text. The ZOA took out some references to the Bible and replaced them by citing the 1922 League of Nations resolution, the Forward’s Nathan-Kazis reported. It passed both bodies in the Florida state legislature in February 2012.
The latest legislative body to pass the resolution was the Georgia State Senate, which approved the measure in mid-January. A Los Angeles Times Op-Ed by Michael McGough, a senior editorial writer for the paper, criticized the resolution.
The New Mexico resolution is tentatively scheduled for discussion on February 18th, according one House staffer. But if it’s up to Rep. Gail Chasey, the bill won’t move any further.
“I predict that it will die” in the Consumer and Public Affairs Committee, said Chasey. “People have their agendas and then all we do is kill it, if it’s ridiculous–which this is.”