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In letter to John Kerry, 19 reps stand up for Palestinian children behind bars

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In arguably the strongest signal Congress has ever sent in support for Palestinian human rights, 19 members of Congress sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urging the Department of State to make the human rights of Palestinian children a priority in the U.S. bilateral relationship with Israel.  The letter was led by Rep. Betty McCollum (MN) and the letter’s other signatories include both co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and members serving on the Armed Services Committee, the Select Committee on Intelligence, the Appropriations Committee, and the Ways and Means Committee.

These 19 members of Congress call on the Department of State to “elevate the human rights of Palestinian children to a priority status in our bilateral relationship with the Government of Israel.” And note that they “fully expect the State Department to address the status of Israel’s military detention system’s treatment of Palestinian children in its annual human rights report.”

Rep. Betty McCollum makes it clear that this letter is intended to result in decisive action. In the Congresswoman’s own words: “Israel’s military detention of Palestinian children is an indefensible abuse of human rights. I hope this letter results in State Department pressure on the Government of Israel to end this systemic abuse immediately.  Palestinian children should be treated exactly the same as Israeli or American children, without the fear that one day soldiers will arrest them, beat them, and lock them away in prison.”

Human Rights and Faith Groups Advocate for Letter

The groups advocating in support of the letter include: American Friends Service Committee, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Defense for Children International-Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Amnesty International USA, Pax Christi USA, and Churches for Middle East Peace.

'No Way to Treat a Child' advocacy days logo

‘No Way to Treat a Child’ advocacy days logo

As the JTA reported, while J Street did not actively mobilize around the letter, they “signaled support for its signing when the group’s position was solicited by lawmakers.”

Amnesty International highlighted for advocates the stark contrast between the two separate and unequal legal systems in play that is so foundational in Israel’s military occupation: “While Palestinian children and adults face Israeli military courts, Israeli settlers benefit from Israeli civil law,” Sunjeev Bery, Amnesty International’s Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa noted.  “Israel gives settlers a different system of justice — even though they are living illegally in the very same occupied Palestinian territories.”

The letter comes just weeks after the launch of the “No Way to Treat a Child,” campaign led by the Chicago Faith Coalition on Middle East Policy, American Friends Service Committee, Defense for Children International Palestine, and supported by various Christian, Jewish, and Muslim organizations. The campaign kicked off with an interfaith vigil held at the U.S. Capitol on June 1st, the International Day for the Protection of a Child.

The following day the American Friends Service Committee hosted a congressional briefing on child detention in Israel-Palestine. Congressman Keith Ellison (MN) introduced the briefing, and was followed by remarks from various human rights experts.  Tariq Abu Khdeir presented on his experience as a Palestinian-American brutally beaten by Israeli police and subsequently detained when he traveled to Israel-Palestine for the memorial service of his cousin Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was burned alive by Israeli settlers.

In addition to Rep. McCollum, the following 18 members of Congress also joined this initiative:

Blumenauer, Earl (OR-3)
Beyer, Don (VA-8)
Carson, André (IN-7)
Conyers, John (MI-13)
Davis, Danny (IL-7)
DeFazio, Peter (OR-4)
Ellison, Keith (MN-5)
Eshoo, Anna G. (CA-18)
Grijalva, Raúl M.  (AZ-3)
Johnson, Eddie Bernice (TX-30)
Johnson, Hank (GA-4)
Lee, Barbara (CA-13)
McDermott, Jim (WA-7)
McGovern, James P. (MA-2)
Norton, Eleanor Holmes (DC)
Pingree, Chellie  (ME-1)
Rush, Bobby (IL-1)
Waters, Maxine (CA-43)

Kate Gould

Kate Gould is an analyst and advocate on Middle East policy for the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

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46 Responses

  1. Mooser on June 24, 2015, 4:09 pm

    I guess Israel’s new Justice Minister is going to have to give Congress the facts on herpetology.

  2. amigo on June 24, 2015, 4:47 pm

    AIPAC /Adelson and co will have to form another Co -Mitty to fight anti semite congress critters.This s–t has to be nipped in the bud before it spreads and nullifys Israel,s life sustaining hold on Congress.

    Life is getting very tough for these guys. Adelson will have to reduce the odds in his gambling empire and AIPAC will have to up the subscription for members.

    The King of the Jews will have to start collecting more taxes from his subjects if his kingdom is to survive.Send in the royalists and off with the heads of those who do not bow to the king,s demands.

    • JWalters on June 24, 2015, 5:41 pm

      Very astute political and economic analysis!

      And kudos to these courageous congress critters for their trailblazing letter!

  3. ritzl on June 24, 2015, 4:53 pm

    Great work!!!

    Speaking of Tariq Abu Khdeir, even with this political cover, his Rep, Kathy Castor, couldn’t bring herself to be even slightly supportive of her brutally beaten constituent, and sign the damn letter.

    What an ongoing disgrace she is.

    And J Street also seems to have an ongoing issue with publicly supporting the obvious and most fundamental right thing to do. Worthless, especially and dangerously when given the role as acceptability-decider as they seem to have been given in this effort.

    Does timid, private assent give them the zero-cost option to change their minds later?

  4. Kay24 on June 24, 2015, 6:01 pm

    This is almost shocking to say the least. Finally we have a small group of spunky Congress people, who is risking the wrath of the zionists and their lobbies, to support the helpless children of Palestine. Something that should have been done years ago by the entire Congress.
    Good luck to all who are trying to be help those who are voiceless and defenseless, and who are ignored by the rest.

  5. a blah chick on June 24, 2015, 6:13 pm

    I see several of the “usual suspects” on that list and am pleased that Conyers signed since he’s from my neck of the woods.

    “As the JTA reported, while J Street did not actively mobilize around the letter, they “signaled support for its signing when the group’s position was solicited by lawmakers.”

    I think some of the saner pro-Israel folk realize that Butcher Bibi is not doing his country any favors by refusing to acknowledge ANY abuse. And his statements on election day did not help either. I think our representatives decided to tackle the issue of children in detention because they believe it a “softer” subject than collective punishment or settlements.

    Nevertheless that is a very small list and shows what a bunch of cowards most of them are.

  6. just on June 24, 2015, 6:23 pm

    Finally, something. It’s been a long time coming. Bravo people. Thanks to all that made this happen!

    Just one question~ what about the children of Gaza? I don’t see a single Republican among the signatories.

    Here’s a very good article by Ali Abunimah on this action:

    Thanks, Kate!

  7. lysias on June 24, 2015, 6:33 pm

    Many of the signatories are members of the Congressional Black Caucus. (Sorry to see Donna Edwards isn’t in the list, but she’s having a tough primary race to replace Barbara Mikulski in the Senate.) Methinks Israel is paying a price for the way Netanyahu disrespected the first black president.

    • JLewisDickerson on June 24, 2015, 9:54 pm

      I’m very disappointed that Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) did not sign. I suppose he does not want to eliminate himself from consideration for a leadership position.

      • Ellen on June 25, 2015, 10:19 pm

        You might want to call his office and ask if the letter was presented to him and if so, why did he refuse to sign it?

        Sometimes these letters are not passed onto them by their own staff, or they may be away or his signature was not solicited?

        It is a letter, signed by a tiny group. That’s it. It will go nowhere.

      • echinococcus on June 28, 2015, 5:48 am

        Lewis has consistently supported the Zionists. Useless.

  8. niass2 on June 24, 2015, 7:40 pm

    Umm, this is nice but its like watering a dead plant. Congress is useless, and while every movement helps, this seems like a definite signal that Congress couldn’t care less. Really, does Congress really care about American children? Do we? Probably not except in some kind of a Birkenstock like fantasy. I’ll be going to Santa Clara to think about this some more with Bob. maybe I will call Ms. Katherine Clark my congressperson to ask if she will sign it,

    That way my negative attitude might be equalized.

    Its a stretch to think that Americans like children of any kind. Look how we treat our own. many American kids would be better off growing up in..say…Senegal.

    • Ellen on June 25, 2015, 10:22 pm

      Right, in a country that has a school to prison pipeline industry in place to feed the largest incarcerated population on the earth.

  9. rensanceman on June 24, 2015, 8:48 pm

    Israel’s treatment of children is a strong motivating factor in my efforts to expose the evils that Zionism has caused. I have two young grandchildren and when I read or see reports of children being mistreated, I easily empathize with their grieving parents. Can one even comprehend the grief of a parent who carries the pieces of his enfant son in a shopping bag who was just one of the victims of the recent war. Ban ki Moon’s decision to leave Israel off the list of countries guilty of massive child abuse is shameful.

    • michelle on June 24, 2015, 11:20 pm

      Israel should have been on that list for
      the children of Palestine
      the children of neighboring countries
      and the children of Israel
      seems like
      Israel children are brought up to hate fear and look down on
      every & all who are not one of ‘them’ not only by their families
      neighbors & schools but by their government
      G-d Bless

  10. ckg on June 24, 2015, 9:10 pm

    Kudos to the 19. I am disappointed Palestinian-American Rep Justin Amash (R-MI) did not sign. His parents live in Ramallah. And kudos to Amnesty International USA for its blog post, “Did your Member of Congress Stand up for Palestinian Children?”

    • ckg on June 24, 2015, 9:50 pm

      After doing a modicum of research it looks like all 19 signatories are Democrats, so it’s not clear the letter was passed to the other side of the aisle. I am not Republican and have never voted Republican but I know that a few of the most consistent critics of Israel and its policies towards Palestinians are the handful of congressional GOP antiwar libertarians.

    • Kay24 on June 25, 2015, 7:34 am

      He has a record of being a minority in resolutions favoring the occupier, so I am not sure why he did not join this group:

      “In 2011, Amash was one of only 6 congressmen who voted “No” on what Politico described as “a pedestrian pro-Israel resolution”, House Resolution 268 reaffirming the US commitment to a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiation, which passed with 407 members in support.[10][46] In 2014, he was one of only 8 congressmen who voted “No” on a $225 million package to restock Israel’s Iron Dome missile defenses, which passed with 398 members in support.[47] He supports a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.[10]” Wikipedia

  11. just on June 24, 2015, 10:01 pm

    Time to contact the Reps~ relentlessly, imho! I did.

    This has wings. I mean, really, how can they not sign on to protect the human rights of children?

  12. Henry Norr on June 24, 2015, 10:09 pm

    Many thanks to Kate and everyone else involved in this initiative.

    I called the local office of my Rep., Barbara Lee, today to thank her for signing this letter – and to urge her to work to end US aid and diplomatic cover for Israel. (Barbara Lee earned a reputation for political courage for being the only member of the House to oppose the open-ended authorization for the use of military force in 2001, but when it comes to Israel/Palestine, she’s generally been pretty timid, so it was a very welcome surprise to see her name on this.)

    I strongly urge MW readers who live in the districts of other signers to make similar calls to their representatives – to thank them for doing the right thing this time, but also to urge them to go further. You can bet the JCRCs, liberal Jewish donors, and other Zionists are going to be on their cases about this,. Encouraging calls from voters might help buck them up.

  13. Marnie on June 25, 2015, 12:03 am

    Am proud from afar of Rep. Keith Ellison and hope and pray these men and women have the fortitude to continue this battle until the zionists don’e even think again of arresting a Palestinian child. I hope these good men and women are adept at multi-tasking – don’t stop with the zionist state. African American children are, with increasing frequency, the object of police brutality and it must stop. Can’t believe at times this is 2015, it still seems we’re stuck in the 19th and 20th centuries all over.

  14. Citizen on June 25, 2015, 7:29 am

    We can be sure AIPAC now has all 19 on its shit list, the list MJ Rosenberg told us about years ago. Their competition will get lots of campaign cash.

    • catalan on June 25, 2015, 8:41 am

      “We can be sure AIPAC now has all 19 on its shit list, th
      e list MJ Rosenberg told us about years ago. Their competition will get lots of campaign cash. – ” citizen
      I wouldn’t worry. The incumbent reelection rate in the House is about 96 percent. Unless you die or have an affair at the taxpayer expense, you get reelected.
      Also, the cost of a House seat is 1.6 million. So, it wouldn’t be wise for pro-Israel groups to waste their cash on elections with 4 percent chance of winning. Seems like the average cash contribution to House members from pro Israel groups was a few thousand dollars, with some very friendly members getting more

      • lysias on June 25, 2015, 9:57 am

        It’s hard for an incumbent member of Congress to lose in the November election. But many of them have lost their primaries a few months earlier.

      • ckg on June 25, 2015, 10:59 am

        In his 2014 primary win, GOP antiwar libertarian Walter Jones survived a “six-figure” television ad campaign funded by the Emergency Committee for Israel (Bill Kristol). Then another libertarian Justin Amash survived a primary challenge by an equally well-funded hawk, who called the Arab-American congressman “Al Queda’s best friend in Congress.” In his primary victory speech, Amash said, “I’m an Arab-American, and he has the audacity to say I’m Al Qaeda’s best friend in Congress. That’s pretty disgusting… I ran for office … to stop people who are more interested in themselves than doing what is best for their districts…Everyday Americans are taking back their government from the crooks and the cronies.”

      • Boo on June 25, 2015, 4:01 pm

        “Also, the cost of a House seat is 1.6 million. So, it wouldn’t be wise for pro-Israel groups to waste their cash on elections with 4 percent chance of winning.”

        Ah, I see. So it’s your contention that the controlling metric here has nothing to do with right or wrong — it’s purely monetary. Well, that’s abominably mercenary but actually sounds quite believable.

  15. Citizen on June 25, 2015, 7:42 am
  16. eusebio on June 25, 2015, 9:37 am

    The future are the children of Palestine human rights and freedoms to all

  17. Henry Norr on June 25, 2015, 10:10 am

    After calling Barbara Lee’s office yesterday, this morning I called Rep. Betty McCollum’s DC office to thank her for her leadership on this letter – and, again, to urge her to work to end US financial and diplomatic support for the Israeli government. The staffer I spoke to seemed quite pleased that I’d called, even though I made clear that I was not from McCollum’s district.

    Again, I urge everyone here to take a minute to make such a call – people who know about how congresscritters think always say phone calls make some difference. The number for McCollum’s DC office is (202) 225-6631.

  18. iResistDe4iAm on June 25, 2015, 12:12 pm

    To put this into perspective, 19 members is a mere 4.3% of the total number of US Representatives (441 = 435 + 6 non-voting members).

    ‘Israel’s military detention system targeting children is an anomaly in the world. In fact, UNICEF states, “It is understood that in no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights.” ‘ ~ Letter

    A reminder of the anomalistic “achievements” of the Israeli military detention system:

    The conviction rate for Palestinian suspects in Israeli military courts is a whopping 99.74%

    But the conviction rate for Palestinian CHILDREN in Israeli military courts is even higher at 99.88%

    However, the effective imprisonment rate for Palestinians is greater than 100% because when Israel cannot produce “evidence” to convict, it uses administrative detention to imprison Palestinians WITHOUT charge or trial (for arbitrary periods that can be renewed indefinitely).
    To add insult to injury, requests for administrative detention were approved at a rate of 98.77% (see first link above).

  19. ckg on June 25, 2015, 1:19 pm

    FYI…At this moment John Kerry is presenting to reporters the 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practics. The individual reports should be made immediately available following the presentation (i.e. by 2 pm ET) at

  20. annie on June 25, 2015, 2:40 pm

    one of the 4 children kidnapped and beat up (bloody face) by the iof yesterday (or tuesday night i can’t recall) was an american citizen. that’s just an aside and shouldn’t really matter because he’s no different than all the other children routinely abused by israel. just thought i’d mention.

  21. Raksha on June 25, 2015, 8:35 pm

    When I first read about this letter yesterday, I was tempted to forward it to Bernie Sanders to ask him to be the first senator to sign on. I think that if he puts himself ahead of the curve and gets on the right side of history, he will win the Democratic nomination and therefore the presidency.

    Many on the so-called “far left” (I’m not sure what that term means any more) accuse Bernie of being either an AIPAC tool or a “sheepdog” for Hillary Clinton. They don’t seem to have any hard evidence for either accusation, but then they have no evidence to the contrary either. It seems to me he says as little as possible about Israel, and I’m not sure what his position is.

    But there’s no way he can support the imprisonment of children. If he goes on record and says so, it will go a long way towards disarming his critics on the left.

    • echinococcus on June 26, 2015, 4:41 am

      It seems to me he says as little as possible about Israel, and I’m not sure what his position is.

      No, Senator BS was exceedingly clear when he very emotionally defended the last major Gaza massacre. I believe there were a large number of child victims, so it would be a bit awkward to ask him to sign some support paper for Palestinian children, protesting imprisonment while approving mass murder.

      I suppose he says as little as possible on relevant issues because that would be the end of his miraculous sainthood, revealing him to be no better than the rest of the field.

  22. Ellen on June 25, 2015, 10:36 pm

    How dare this little cabal claim, “Israel’s military detention of Palestinian children is an indefensible abuse of human rights.”

    What about Mexico or Russia? Or or Afghanistan or or…Saudi Arabia or or Pakistan ? Why do they single out Israel!

    They must be Judeophobes, Jew haters , everyone of them!

  23. kritis on June 26, 2015, 7:05 am

    Bravo, Rep. McCollum!

    Here’s a letter she wrote to AIPAC in 2006 after they tried to smear her as supporting terrorists:

    Here’s my favorite part:

    “But until I receive a formal, written apology from your organization I must inform you that AIPAC representatives are not welcome in my offices or for meetings with my staff.”

    Good to know you can throw AIPAC out of your office and still survive in Congress. I hope her courage is contagious.

    • Ellen on June 26, 2015, 11:43 am

      Great letter. Her refusal to receive AIPAC in her office was well deserved after, as she writes:

      “a hateful attack that is vile and offensive to me and the families I represent. I call on AIPAC to immediately condemn this un-American attack and disavow any attempt to use this type of threat and intimidation to stifle legitimate policy differences. I will not stand to be labeled or threatened in a manner that questions my patriotism or my oath of office.”

      Use of threats and intimidation against an elected official just because of policy differences? That is the stuff of gangsterism.

      Did AIPAC ever apologize?

  24. ckg on June 26, 2015, 10:10 am

    Speaking of Palestinian children behind bars in Israel, yesterday (Jun 25) AP correspondent Matt Lee asked a question about a Palestinian-American minor teenager who was “arrested yesterday or the day before by Israeli police in…” State Department Spox John Kirby replied that he was aware but did not provide any specifics.

    QUESTION: Can I stay on Israel for a second?

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: I just – are you aware of a case of a Palestinian American youth – a minor teenager, I believe – who was arrested yesterday or the day before by Israeli police in —

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, I am aware of —

    QUESTION: Do you know if that case has been resolved or if it – even if it hasn’t – or if it has or it hasn’t, if you’ve been given consular access?

    MR KIRBY: I’m aware of the case, Matt. As in every other one, we are offering appropriate consular assistance. I don’t have an update for you in terms of what assistance has yet been rendered, and I’m really not at liberty to go into more detail about it.

    QUESTION: Is it your understanding that he is still in custody?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update on the individual.

    QUESTION: Syria?

    QUESTION: Sorry, can someone check and also find out if this is – if this case has been raised with Israeli officials?

    MR KIRBY: I will see what I can do, yeah.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    QUESTION: Can we go to Iran?

    I am unable to find any information on this case on the internet. If anyone here knows more, please share. Thanks.

    • ckg on June 26, 2015, 10:55 am

      IMEMC is reporting that 14-year old ‘Omar Yassin is an American citizen. He was in a group of Palestinian children arrested Tuesday in East Jerusalem. “The soldiers struck the children with their rifles in addition to punching and kicking them, causing various cuts and bruises, especially in their faces…The soldiers also attacked the children while moving them to an interrogation facility, and assaulted them again during interrogation. “

    • ckg on June 26, 2015, 11:05 am

      I don’t mean to imply that the welfare of American citizens is more important than the welfare of those lacking this status. But Tariq Abu Khdeir made important informational trips to the U.S. Capitol and the U.S. White House after his similar experience.

      • annie on June 26, 2015, 11:08 am

        I don’t mean to imply that the welfare of American citizens is more important

        no worries. i mentioned that upthread too. i thought of those kids as soon as i read the headline, it being such fresh news — and the american boy.

      • ckg on June 26, 2015, 11:14 am

        Thanks, Annie. I completely overlooked your comment.

        (Also, the I see now the arrest was in Beit Hanina near Jerusalem.)

  25. just on June 26, 2015, 3:53 pm

    Charlotte Silver:

    “Israel shoots four boys enjoying evening walk in Gaza

    On Monday, 22 June, Israeli soldiers fired on a group of four boys aged 16 to 17 in the southern Gaza Strip village of Khuzaa. Two of the boys were hit in the legs and one was critically injured.

    The four friends had walked out to the edge of the village to spend the final hour of their fast for Ramadan.

    “We were there to waste time before iftar [the meal that breaks the fast],” Muhammad Sami Abu Reda, 17, told The Electronic Intifada. Muhammad was one of the two boys who escaped injury on Monday.

    “It’s a very nice area. You can see the fields and farms, and we go there because it used to be closed off but now they told us we can go there,” he explained. …

    … But the other youth, Ibrahim Abu Reda, remains in intensive care. The outcome of his far more severe injuries is uncertain. Two bullets entered his right leg, one near the ankle and another below the knee, shattering his shinbone and severing veins and arteries.

    The night he was shot, Ibrahim was treated by Dr. Qasim Kamel in a six-hour surgery at the European Hospital near Rafah, a city in southern Gaza. Kamel told The Electronic Intifada he hopes that he will not need to amputate the teenager’s leg.

    n Ibrahim’s home, his parents showed this reporter photographs of the boy lifting weights and playing sports. His father, Jamal Ahmad Abu Reda, said Ibrahim was in Khuzaa’s soccer club and loved to go to the gym. He struggled not to cry as he described his son.

    With tears streaming down her face, Safaa Abu Reda, Ibrahim’s mother, said “It’s my right to see my son walking.”

    She is desperately worried that her son will not be able to receive adequate treatment in Gaza and wants him to be transferred to Israel. Doctors have told her that the likelihood that Ibrahim will be able to walk again is a slim 15 percent. She believes the odds would be higher if he could get treatment in Israel.

    “Why are they doing this to my son? He had no weapons,” she said. “He just went there to walk and have fun, like everyone.”

    Ibrahim is the younger brother of Ahmed Abu Reda, 18, who was used as a human shield by Israeli soldiers for five days during last summer’s war, as documented by the recent UN Human Rights Council’s independent investigation of Israel’s assault on Gaza as well as by other independent observers.

    Ahmed was detained by Israeli soldiers on 23 July while attempting to flee Khuzaa with the rest of his family during Israel’s 11-day ground invasion of the small village. …

    “Silent gunshots”
    At the hospital, The Electronic Intifada met the two other boys who were with Ibrahim and Islam when they were shot. Muhammad Sami Abu Reda, 17, said there was no sign that any Israeli soldiers were around. The boys had just paused for a moment while taking their walk when Islam suddenly fell to the ground. Then Ibrahim. Muhammad said the gunshots were silent.

    “There were no warning shots,” Muhammad explained.

    Muhammad and the other youth, Hisham Abu Mutliq, 17, tried to pick their friends up off the ground, but more shots were fired toward them.

    “We ran behind a sand hill to take cover, but the Israelis kept shooting,” Hisham said.

    The boys were able to use their mobile phones to call an ambulance, but help did not arrive for 15 minutes. The injured boys lay bleeding on the ground. …”

    What ‘ceasefire’.

    This is target practice and attempted murder by the IOF…

    More crimes.

  26. jon s on June 28, 2015, 6:46 am

    I don’t know how much this is being covered abroad, but the major news today in Israel is about the huge natural-gas deal:

    The connection to this thread is here, it seems that Sec. Kerry may have a personal stake in the deal:

  27. jon s on June 30, 2015, 12:26 pm

    Following up:
    Today it was reported that the US Embassy in Israel tried to exert pressure on Knesset members of the Joint List, no less, to vote for the natural-gas deal.
    Could this also have to do with Sec. Kerry’s reported personal interest? Embassies are, after all, under the authority of the Secretary of State.

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