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Sanders suggests giving Gaza a portion of $38 billion US military aid to Israel

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On Wednesday, Senator Bernie Sanders sent a one-page letter to David Friedman, President Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to Israel, asking the envoy-designee to explain his funding of a West Bank settlement and to consider repealing the tax-exempt status for charities financing settlements, like the one Friedman runs.

Sanders also suggested that the U.S. give some of the $3.8 billion it gives to Israel in military aid to Gaza. 

Given that Israeli security experts and officials have acknowledged that the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza and the lack of reconstruction there contributes to continuing instability and violence, do you believe that a portion of this aid should be directed toward measures that would facilitate a much greater flow of humanitarian and reconstruction materials?

The senator called out Friedman for his support of an illegal settlement, the Beit El settlement in the West Bank near Ramallah. 

Letter from Senator Bernie Sanders to Trump’s selection for the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. The letter was first obtained by Haaretz.

“Why, as an American citizen, did you finance these activities?” Sanders wrote.

The question was part of a longer line of inquiry into financially promoting projects that Israel deems illegal, and are constructed on land belonging to Palestinians.

“You yourself have helped raise millions of tax-exempt dollars for these settlements. Indeed, your name adorns a building in the Beit El settlement that was constructed on private Palestinian land and illegal even under Israeli law,” Sanders said.

“As ambassador, would you take steps to end the flow of donations to illegal settlements, perhaps by supporting the re-examination [of] their tax-exempt status?” Sanders continued.

In Israel, it is illegal for non-governmental organizations to hold tax-exempt status if their sole purpose is to build project in the West Bank. Often donations are made through American partner groups, like Friedman’s American Friends of Beit El, and then distributed overseas.

The issue of tax-exempt status for charities with a role in Israel’s occupation have come under scrutiny in the past, and organizations providing such funding are currently being challenged in a U.S. court. However, the IRS, which officially prohibits charity donations to any occupied territory, has yet to prosecute or strip the tax-exempt status of any group.

In 2010 the New York Times ran a piece looking into U.S. dollars funneled to Israeli settlements that were used to purchase, in part, “guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas.” One charity engaged in political campaigning. 

U.S. tax codes allow for the funding of educational and cultural projects abroad, but not security related expenses, or political expenditures. 

In 2015 the Israeli journalist Uri Blau investigated contributions to the settlements from American charities between 2009 and 2013. He found $281 million was sent to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, of which $224 million first passed through Israeli charities.

In 2015 a group of plaintiffs represented by Martin McMahon filed a lawsuit petitioning the Department of Treasury to revoke the tax-exempt status of charities that sent more than $20,000 annually to Israeli settlements. The suit was dismissed and later refiled with an amended complaint representing, in part, U.S. citizens of Palestinian heritage who own plots of land in the West Bank where settlers have constructed buildings financed by American tax-exempt charities.

Sanders also asked Friedman about his commitment to a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Friedman has previously written multiple op-eds against the two-state solution but recently retracted those remarks during his senate confirmation hearing in mid-February.

“Do you believe the Palestinians have a right to a state of their own? How would you propose to advance U.S. interests and values in the region in the absence of a two-state solution?” Sanders asked in the letter.

The letter was first reported yesterday by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and a copy was obtained and published by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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13 Responses

  1. Citizen on March 4, 2017, 9:53 am

    Good for Bernie! This issue is not going away for the Democrat Party. It will grow. Naturally the letter, by an American Senator to an American candidate for Ambassador to Israel, was first published by the Israeli press, not the US press–don’t hold your breath waiting for it to be discussed in the US mainstream media.

    • jd65 on March 4, 2017, 10:52 am

      As much as I understand your skepticism w/ our MSM (in general, I share it), this letter from Sanders will undoubtedly be reported on immediately in all major newspapers and TV networks. How thoroughly it will be discussed and for how long it will be paid attention to is another story. For most of the major networks, an “in-depth” look at an issue usually takes up maybe 3 minutes of a broadcast. And 5 minutes is like amazingly penetrating analysis by their standards. Usually we get a blurb that tells us next to nothing and it gets called news. We’ll see…

      • Citizen on March 4, 2017, 2:10 pm

        If it gets reported on cable tv news/infotainment, will be very interested in how it gets reported, the actual words.

      • jd65 on March 4, 2017, 4:10 pm

        @ Citizen:

        If it gets reported on cable tv news/infotainment, will be very interested in how it gets reported, the actual words.

        Right. Fox will report it by demonizing Sanders as anti-semitic and against peace. Maddow will report it as if this letter makes Bernie some kind of cool/hip, ultra-progressive radical of the “new left.” And PBS and CNN will report it w/ their usual non-commital, slightly (or sometimes overtly) pro-Israel manner. None of them will spend more than a few minutes on it. And all of them will focus on how this is good/bad for Israel and world jewry, instead of what they should be focusing on: how this affects Palestinians.

        Democracy Now will possibly have a good piece on it. We’ll see…

  2. JLewisDickerson on March 4, 2017, 10:50 am

    RE: “Sanders also asked Friedman about his commitment to a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Friedman has previously written multiple op-eds against the two-state solution but recently retracted those remarks during his senate confirmation hearing in mid-February.” ~ Deger

    SEE: “David Friedman will say (almost) anything to become U.S. Ambassador to Israel” › Israel News
    Feb 16, 2017 – At the Senate confirmation hearing, an unrecognizable Friedman goes back on contentious past remarks on settlements and peacemaking, but stops short of full-throated apology for insulting Jewish leaders. . .
    LINK –

  3. JLewisDickerson on March 4, 2017, 11:21 am

    Sanders asked Friedman whether “a portion” of the $38 billion in defense aid to Israel over the next 10 years “should be directed toward measures that would facilitate a much greater flow of humanitarian and reconstruction materials” to Gaza.
    Consequently, this could simply mean Israel allocating more resources to clearing humanitarian and reconstruction materials for transit into Gaza through the Erez Crossing (not actually giving Gaza anything).

    Erez Crossing –

    • JLewisDickerson on March 4, 2017, 11:51 am

      P.S. ALSO SEE:
      Gaza Strip
      From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia –

      The Gaza Strip (/ˈɡɑːzəˈstrɪp/;[4] Arabic: قطاع غزة‎‎ Qiṭāʿ Ġazzah [qɪˈtˤɑːʕ ˈɣazza]), or simply Gaza, is a small self-governing Palestinian territory[5][6][7][8][9][10][11] on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea . . .

      Gaza blockade
      Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade of the Gaza Strip, although Israel allows in limited quantities of medical humanitarian aid. The Red Cross claimed that the blockade harms the economy and causes a shortage of basic medicines and equipment such as painkillers and x-ray film.[154]

      Israel claims the blockade is necessary to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza. For example, in 2014, a Panamanian-flagged ship claiming to be carrying construction materials was boarded by the IDF [more than a thousand miles away from Gaza, and heading not for Gaza but for Port Sudan ~ J.L.D.] and was found to contain Syrian produced rockets.[155] Israel maintains that the blockade is legal and necessary to limit Palestinian rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip on its cities and to prevent Hamas from obtaining other weapons.[31][32][29][156][157][158]

      Director of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Yuval Diskin did not oppose easing trade restrictions, but said that smuggling tunnels in Sinai and an open seaport in the Gaza Strip endangered Israel’s security. According to Diskin, Hamas and Islamic Jihad had smuggled in over “5,000 rockets with ranges up to 40 km (25 mi).” Some of the rockets could reach as far as the Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area.[159]

      Israeli spokesman Mark Regev described Israel’s actions as “sanctions,” not a blockade, but a Gazan legal consultant for UNRWA called the blockade “an action outside of international law.”[160]

      In July 2010, British Prime Minister David Cameron said, “humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.”[161] In response, the spokesman for the Israeli embassy in London said, “The people of Gaza are the prisoners of the terrorist organization Hamas. The situation in Gaza is the direct result of Hamas’ rule and priorities.”

      The Arab League accused Israel of waging a financial war.[162] The IDF strictly controlled travel within the area of the crossing points between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and sealed its border with Gaza. U.S. government travel guides warned tourists that the region was dangerous.

      Facing mounting international pressure, Egypt and Israel lessened the restrictions starting in June 2010, when the Rafah border crossing from Egypt to Gaza was partially opened by Egypt. Egypt’s foreign ministry said that the crossing would remain open mainly for people, but not for supplies.[163] Israel announced that it would allow the passage of civilian goods but not weapons and items that could be used for dual purposes.[164] In December 2015, Egypt asked Israel not to allow Turkish aid to get through to the Gaza Strip.[165] Benjamin Netanyahu said that it is impossible to lift the siege on Gaza and that the security of Israel is the primary issue for him. He confirmed “that Israel is the only country that currently sends supplies to the coastal enclave”.[166]

      In January and February 2011, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) assessed measures taken to ease the blockade[167] and concluded that they were helpful but not sufficient to improve the lives of the local inhabitants.[167] UNOCHA called on Israel to reduce restrictions on exports and the import of construction materials, and to lift the general ban on movement between Gaza and the West Bank via Israel.[167] After Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak resigned on 28 May 2011, Egypt permanently opened its border with the Gaza Strip to students, medical patients, and foreign passport holders.[167][168] Following the 2013 Egyptian coup d’état, Egypt’s military has destroyed most of the 1,200 tunnels which are used for smuggling food, weapons, and other goods to Gaza.[169] After the August 2013 Rabaa Massacre in Egypt, the border crossing was closed ‘indefinitely.'[170]

      Israel has alternately restricted or allowed goods and people to cross the terrestrial border and handles vicariously the movement of goods into and out of Gaza by air and sea. Israel largely provides for Gaza’s water supply, electricity, and communications infrastructure. While the import of food is restricted through the Gaza blockade, the Israeli military destroys agricultural crops by spraying toxic chemicals over the Gazan lands, using aircraft flying over the border zone.[171][172] Also Gaza’s agricultural research and development station was destroyed in 2014 and again in January 2016, while import of new equipment is obstructed.[173]

      Movement of people
      Because of the Israeli–Egyptian blockade, the population is not free to leave or enter the Gaza Strip. Only in exceptional cases are people allowed to pass through the Erez Crossing or the Rafah Border Crossing.[2][174][175][176] In 2015, a Gazan woman was not allowed to travel through Israel to Jordan on her way to her own wedding. The Israeli authorities found she did not meet the criteria for travel, namely only in exceptional humanitarian cases.[177]

      Under the long-term blockade, the Gaza Strip is often described as a “prison-camp or open air prison for its collective denizens”. The comparison is done by observers, ranging from Roger Cohen and Lawrence Weschler to NGOs, such as B’tselem, and politicians and diplomats, such as David Cameron, Noam Chomsky, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, David Shoebridge and Sir John Holmes[178][179][180][181][182][183][184][185] In 2014 French President Francois Hollande called for the demilitarization of Gaza and a lifting of the blockade, saying “Gaza must neither be an open prison nor a military base.”[186] . . .,

      An anonymous Israeli analyst has called it “Israel’s Alcatraz”.[187] While Lauren Booth,[188][189] Philip Slater,[190] Giorgio Agamben[191] compare it to a “concentration camp”. For Robert S. Wistrich,[192] and Philip Mendes,[193] such analogies are designed to offend Jews, while Philip Seib dismisses the comparison as absurd, and claims that it arises from sources like Al Jazeera and statements by Arab leaders.[194] . . .

  4. guidecca on March 4, 2017, 9:01 pm

    This is amazing. It is also business as usual in the U.S. and Israel. Skeptical yet? You should be. 700,000 displaced from their homes! All because of poor little Israel. Ha! This is just more of the same.

  5. CigarGod on March 5, 2017, 9:27 am

    This is just the same old Bernie going about rounding up strays. Just like last time, he’ll herd them into the corral and hold them there until the cattle truck arrives…and he drives them into it…saying “it is what’s best…the greater good.”

  6. pabelmont on March 5, 2017, 9:38 am

    We’ll see if Perez/Ellison step up to the plate on this.
    Are the CAPTURED or FREE?

  7. Boomer on March 5, 2017, 11:55 am

    I don’t see much new here, or much reason to expect change. I just did a search on Google News and didn’t find an outpouring of MSM coverage as yet. It may happen later, of course: currently they are all focused on Trump’s Tweet Storm (they seem to love saying that) about wire taps. I’d be more impressed if Sanders had made a more forthright statement many years ago. At this point, I don’t see much point to it, nor much courage. It would be nice to be proven wrong.

  8. Atlantaiconoclast on March 5, 2017, 8:26 pm

    Oh isn’t he generous. NOT! We should not be giving ANY foreign aid to either the apartheid state OR the corrupt PA. I would respect him if he had the courage to call for an end to this foreign aid. Then the Palestinians wouldn’t need so much aid, for Israel would not have its occupation subsidized by us. Sanders, like Obama, has been a cruel hoax.

  9. Ossinev on March 6, 2017, 7:45 am

    The $3.8 Billion dollar question as far as I am concerned is when will Trump supporters start to join the dots on the justification for America giving this huge amount of US taxpayer dollars in military aid each year money to a country which claims to have a strong and thriving economy (cherry tomatoes etc) ,is a nuclear power and boasts relentlessly about being able to defend itself. Trump is Twittering “America First”,”NATO pay your share” etc. He is also Trumpeting about huge increases in the US military budget which begs the question if US taxpayer dollars are being spent on this why isn`t the £3.8 billion per annum not being withdrawn from rich successful Israel and devoted directly instead to this America First military budget. The usual Zioland crap about we are not actually getting the money as a freebie because it all goes into the purchase of US military equipment which creates jobs for Americans in the US defence industry simply won`t wash in the new order of things. Even the thickest of Trump supporters would be able to fathom that the £3.8 billion if spent directly on US military manufacturing will still create the jobs.

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