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Beto O’Rourke is anti-Trump and pro-Israel — should progressives support him?

US Politics
on 25 Comments

With midterm elections happening across the country, Americans are once again debating the value of voting for “lesser evil” candidates, or candidates who are not quite satisfactory on all issues.  The country is certainly polarized, with opposition to Trump at a crescendo, as we continue to be outraged, daily, at his policies, his nominees, his whole vulgar persona. And there is something invigorating about the outspokenness of candidates running on an anti-Trump and anti-Trump Administration platform,.

One in particular, Texas’ Beto O’Rourke, has endeared himself to many because of his unambiguous support for NFL athletes taking a knee during the national anthem.  His answer is exemplary of a politician with integrity, not trying to please everyone by hedging, avoiding a direct answer, and being intentionally vague and formulaic.

Interestingly, O’Rourke showed the same directness when asked about Israel. In that he emphatically, unambiguously, and fully supports Israel.  A friend of mine, Austin, TX-based Palestinian American activist Haithem El-Zabri, sent O’Rourke an email inquiring about his “views on the Israel/Palestine issue,” and received the following letter, which he shared with me:

“Thanks for reaching out. Beto is a proud advocate of Israel. He believes that Israel is critically important to the United States, because it is the home of the Jewish people, because it is an exemplary democracy that shares our values, and because it is a crucial contributor to our national security objectives in the region.

Beto has voted for and will continue to support foreign aid for Israel. He cosponsored and then voted for a resolution in the last Congress to encourage the Obama Administration to quickly finalize a robust and long-term Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Israel. The resulting agreement will last 10 years and provide Israel $3.8 billion per year.

This Congress, Beto supported the Taylor Force Act, which prohibits certain foreign aid from being made available for the West Bank and Gaza unless the State Department certifies that the Palestinian Authority is taking steps to end acts of violence. In October, Beto cosponsored the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act, and he has voted in favor of the same bill each of the last three Congresses. He co-sponsored the Iran Ballistic Missiles and International Sanctions Enforcement Act. He opposes efforts, economically and diplomatically, to boycott or delegitimize Israel. So long as he is an elected official, Beto vows to stand as an advocate of security and peace in Israel.

Best,

Amanda, 
Team Beto

The letter is deeply disturbing, showing little understanding of the reality on the ground and could have been written by any rabid Zionist.  Indeed, it may well have been written by an Israel lobbyist, who offered it to “Team Beto.” O’Rourke, like so many other Democrats, has been chastised then “prepped” by AIPAC after showing some slight hesitation over rushing unconditional financial aid to Israel during its 2014 assault on Gaza, following which he took the apparently requisite Zionist-lobby sponsored trip to Israel in 2015.  Beto travelled to Israel on a J Street sponsored trip, and is a J Street endorsee.  It is interesting indeed that many of the more liberal US candidates are buoyed by J Street rather than AIPAC, albeit with the same goal: military support for Israel, two-states, opposition to BDS. Washington state’s Pramila Jayapal is another J Street endorsee, who has also been on a J Street sponsored trip to Israel, following which she called on Palestinians to “show restraint” in their protests against the violation of their human rights, even as she refuses to endorse BDS, that most restrained form of protest.  Today, the Zionist lobby in Texas is trumpeting that O’Rourke has “an outstanding record on Israel.”

With “Team Beto’s” letter being so extreme, and likely a form letter sent to anyone asking O’Rourke about his views on Palestine, the debate is naturally very intense in Texas—O’Rourke is running against Ted Cruz, and has a chance to win.   The consensus seems to be that progressives should of course vote for the opponent to Cruz, regardless of that opponent’s views on the one issue of Palestine.

But as we approach a turning point, with electoral victories that will hopefully weaken the current administration’s grip on the nation, it is absolutely critical that we  keep in mind all the damage that centrist Democrats have done, long before Trump ascended to power. We must not forget how uncomfortable we were with the Obama Administration, which waged wars on many countries, and bailed out the 1%.  We must keep in mind how much we disliked Hillary Clinton, not because she is a feminist, but because she is a neo-liberal imperialist whose feminism is restricted to the 1%.

And so, as it comes down to O’Rourke vs. Cruz, the choice may well be obvious to some.  Others, however, feel differently, namely, they feel that a “lesser evil” is still evil, and is what has led us to the present dystopia.  There are enough of us who are so thoroughly disenchanted with the system that we will not vote for “Progressives for Israel,” even if we support their positions on other issues.   Indeed, El-Zabri has posted an Open Letter in which he responds to O’Rourke’s problematic letter, taking him to task over his opposition to BDS—a particularly problematic one as O’Rourke rightly supports taking a knee during the US national anthem.  “Efforts to boycott or delegitimize Israel are constitutionally protected forms of free speech,” El-Zabri informs O’Rourke, adding, “So you’re willing to stifle free speech and compromise our own constitution in order to shield a foreign country from legitimate criticism of the crimes that it commits?”

The Open Letter concludes with “it is urgent that you adjust your position and support Palestinian rights, otherwise you are going to lose the votes of Palestinian-Americans and our allies, which are growing in number. We realize that Ted Cruz is no better on this issue, but as a matter of principle, we will not give our vote to someone who will throw the Palestinians under the bus.”  It has been shared widely, with many reposting it with a preface indicating they will not vote at all, rather than vote for a pro-Israel politician.

Candidates who hope to turn this country around must understand that we are not only rejecting Trump and his administration.  We want a break from the many evils that plagued the US before January 2107.  Democracy is participatory, and many potential voters are not participating because there is little to entice us to vote, and a whole lot that repulses us.  We want candidates who are accountable to their own communities, and who understand that they cannot pay lip service to democracy at home, while supporting apartheid abroad. We are energized, motivated, willing to meet with them, share our concerns, our struggles, our yearning for an end to racism, militarism, sexism, and other social ills.  We want candidates who listen to us, their constituents, not a political lobby devoted to a foreign country that represents all we are fighting against. If we do not have such candidates, Zionism wins, with its proud embrace of apartheid. If we do not have such candidates, Trump wins, in his myriad American manifestations.

About Nada Elia

Nada Elia is a Palestinian scholar-activist, writer, and grassroots organizer, currently completing a book on Palestinian Diaspora activism.

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25 Responses

  1. Cliff
    Cliff
    September 24, 2018, 3:50 pm

    Jewish people are part and parcel to the American Establishment.

    Given the history of Jewish suffering, and the strong sense of tribal identity among Jewish Americans – there’s no surprise that such a strong, prolonged, coordinated effort exists to support issues important to the Jewish community here. I.e., Israel.

    I recall reading a psychology study about group dynamics recently – it concluded that a strong, vocal minority can sway the attitudes of a majority. It’s not 100% affirmation of my views re: the Israel Lobby, but it does provide some supporting evidence to the nature of the phenomenon.

    If the Lobby is a network of coordinated support for Israel, then that would be bad enough. But it also must be noted that plenty of non-Israel Lobby Jewish Americans, Christian Americans, etc. (etc. meaning a lot of different things; ranging from the complicit to the naive to the most vulgar segments of our society) support Israel as well.

    It’s so odd that Beto supports or is sympathetic to BLM and so aware on issues like police brutality. Yet, he is completely lock-step on the Israel Lobby.

    This issue – the Israel issue – is the one true litmus test for American political life. It’s because it’s personal. There are people behind it. It’s not like the NRA – which is about a physical object and an abstract notion pertaining to ‘freedom’ and ‘security’.

    Israel is about people. Tangible things. And those people are our fellow citizens.

    So the pressure is felt at EVERY level in American political life. The pressure can come from every political camp.

    How does a political newcomer take this pressure on? People like Beto and that young lady (her name escapes me) are already standing apart from the old vanguard – and that defines them. That defines them and also can polarize others towards them.

    So to have their own story and political attitudes define them and potentially handicap them is enough stress.

    If they were to then add in the Israel angle, it would be too much weight. So – assuming Beto is consistent with his belief system and can extrapolate towards the Israel/Palestine conflict – he is playing the game now that all US politicians have to play.

    There’s nothing likeable about a group of people (rabid pro-Israel ideologues) that constantly deploy logical fallacies, emotional blackmail, threats against you and your family and your livelihood and your reputation, etc.

    There’s nothing likeable about Zionists. They are awful and immoral and will debase themselves to achieve their political goals.

    So when you see the same old language used to ensure a politician is pro-Israel – it’s fucking NAUSEATING because you know its so untrue and the politician most likely knows how untrue it is.

    Fuck this world. Fuck Israel. Fuck Zionism. Fuck the Dems and Beto.

    ————

    I recently watched Michael Moore give a long Q&A about his recent documentary. He talks about a comment Steve Bannon made to him. Bannon says, ‘ You (Michael Moore) not only have to contend with the Right, but you also have to deal with the Establishment Dems.’

    Beto is fighting the right-wingers and the Establishment Dems (potentially; although I’m sure now they are co-opting him and other neophyte progressives). He nor any other US politician can afford to fight the Right and the Establishment Dems on a bipartisan issue (Israel). An issue that has – like I said – identity politics all around it.

    We don’t talk enough about Jewish identity politics in America – openly and honestly – to tackle Israel/Palestine honestly. We can kind of talk about Black and White or even Muslim identity. But Jewish identity? NOPE! Because then comes the accusations of antisemtism or no tenure or fired from the network or dismissed as a ‘loony far-lefty’.

    We are so fucked in America. We fail this litmus test of basic courage. Every single fucking American politician – no matter how ‘progressive’ – is a fucking coward on Israel.

  2. Maghlawatan
    Maghlawatan
    September 24, 2018, 4:01 pm

    Beto is not stupid.
    He prolly hates Israel but it is suicide to say it.

    • Veti
      Veti
      November 1, 2018, 4:00 am

      It is only suicide, if you buy into the fear tactics. Barbara Lee does not support Israel. The Andrew Gillum supports Palestine. Bernie does in a round about way. What I find most disturbing is that AIPAC and J Street have so much power in the US Govt, the fact that Congress is afraid to speak out against Israel, that in itself is deeply disturbing. Obama spoke out against Israel, I wish he had been much much stronger. He currently follows some high profile Pro Palestine accounts on twitter. Then some of Congress bark like obedient little doggies waiting for their thousands of Dollars hand outs from AIPAC. Among the presidential candidates for 2015-16, AIPAC generated contributions in the amount of $212,927 for Hillary Clinton and $203,850 for Ted Cruz. Marco Rubio received $132,552 and Lindsey Graham $74,200. No surprise that all of those candidates have pledged “full support” for Israel.”

  3. Another Dave
    Another Dave
    September 24, 2018, 4:40 pm

    Yes. They should support Beto, and every other Democrat.

    The alternative is more power to Mr. Trump, which he will use in a way that will harm not only the USA, but also everyone else on the planet.

    Kick the Republicans out of power, as much as possible. Then kick the establishment Democrats out of power…

    • pgtl10
      pgtl10
      September 25, 2018, 10:57 am

      Lesser of two evils never accomplished anything.

      • Sibiriak
        Sibiriak
        September 25, 2018, 11:43 am

        pgtl10 : Lesser of two evils never accomplished anything
        ——————————–

        Other than avoiding the greater of two evils.

      • Another Dave
        Another Dave
        September 25, 2018, 2:48 pm

        And Trump has accomplished what?

        Before the election in 2016 I argued that Hillary was the lesser of two evils. I have been proven right.

      • pgtl10
        pgtl10
        September 25, 2018, 3:23 pm

        Sure guys keep dreaming that your lesser of two evil politician will care about you.

        Voting for the lesser of two evils means you already gave up your position at the ballot box. It’s a spineless cop out from standing firm on your positions.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        September 25, 2018, 4:53 pm

        “Voting for the lesser of two evils means you already gave up your position at the ballot box.”

        Whereas if you don’t vote, the election turnout will fall below the minimum required, and the results will be invalidated. That’ll show both the morer and the lesser evils not to take you for granted.

      • RoHa
        RoHa
        September 25, 2018, 10:36 pm

        “Sure guys keep dreaming that your lesser of two evil politician will care about you.”

        The general problem is that the majority of candidates we are offered fall into two types:
        (1) corrupt, conniving, power-seekers who lack any shred of human decency, and
        (2) drunks, unemployables, and total morons, all of whom are puppets and lobby-fodder for the corrupt, conniving, power-seekers.

        In the USA in particular, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that the candidates are Americans, and thus undereducated, crazy, and, frequently, religious fanatics.

        As I have said before, the only solutions is to dump the whole system and accept me as King.

      • pgtl10
        pgtl10
        September 28, 2018, 2:43 pm

        RoHa,

        You can be a king under my imperial rule.

      • pgtl10
        pgtl10
        September 28, 2018, 2:44 pm

        Mooser,

        Last I check there is no minimum population voting requirement for the US. It’s valid regardless.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        September 28, 2018, 6:22 pm

        “Last I check there is no minimum population voting requirement for the US. It’s valid regardless.”

        In spite of however many people refusing to vote for the lesser of two evils

  4. Kay24
    Kay24
    September 24, 2018, 5:01 pm

    To me Beto O’Rourke is a far better choice than that zionist tool Cruz, who flew over to Jerusalem for the new embassy opening, and was seen with his usual smirk with Jared and Ivanka.

    From a Houston Chronicle article:

    “Six months later, O’Rourke was among 58 representatives and senators who boycotted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress. O’Rourke and other Democrats objected to the speech because they saw it as a slight to then-President Barack Obama.”

    and

    “Less than two months later, O’Rourke was on a flight to Israel to meet with both Israelis and Palestinians during a seven-day trip paid for by the J Street. Education Fund, which describes itself as a pro-Israel, pro-peace organization.

    “I strongly support the U.S.-Israel relationship, and that is reflected in the votes I’ve taken,” O’Rourke said.

    While Cruz calls O’Rourke one of the most “anti-Israel” Democrats running for the Senate, J Street has come to O’Rourke’s support. On the group’s website, it says: “defeating Ted Cruz in 2018 would be a major victory for the two-state solution and diplomacy-first foreign policy.”

    https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/politics/texas/article/Ted-Cruz-slams-Beto-O-Rourke-over-Israel-vote-13236738.php

    Most probably Beto is saying the right things to win this election.

    • Marnie
      Marnie
      September 26, 2018, 12:13 pm

      “Most probably Beto is saying the right things to win this election.”

      Everybody else does. I watched ‘Lyin’ Ted” debate Beto and I think cruz looked as slick and vile as the used car salesman in chief. Beto did not; he appeared sincere and thoughtful in his responses. cruz is a hypocrite who let tRUMP slander his father and insult his wife and now he’s tRUMP’s bitch, like every other career politician.

      • Kay24
        Kay24
        September 26, 2018, 12:57 pm

        I agree. Cruz is a slimy worm, and I am glad he is getting some tough competition from Beto O’Rourke.

  5. dx
    dx
    September 24, 2018, 8:26 pm

    As a Texan, I’ll take my chances on Beto over Cruz. Cruz is incapable of change and will never be anything but a mini-trump. Beto is a reasonable human being with the potential to lead the way on this and other issues.

    • Maghlawatan
      Maghlawatan
      September 25, 2018, 10:55 am

      Cruz is odious. He is mainstreamish GOP which is the scary thing. I would say that a lot of support for Israel in DC is because it is paid for and only as good as Israel behaving like it is civilized. When the people turn on Zionism so will DC.

  6. Boomer
    Boomer
    September 25, 2018, 9:22 am

    An interesting essay with good comments. It shows the reality of politics in Texas, and more broadly. Cruz has been attacking Betto for being insufficiently supportive of Israel; evidently Cruz figures that’s a vote getter and/or money getter. Right or wrong, I’m not sure that any candidate who didn’t respond as Betto has, with some sign of approval from an explicitly Jewish group, would have a chance at election. I would guess it’s similar to the dynamic we saw with Obama at the national level.

    It may be worth adding that Texas is one of the states in which the number of Christian Zionists may be relevant. John Hagee is probably the best known example, but he is hardly alone. Love of Israel is a common theme from many pulpits. The Christian Zionists are not the animating heart and soul of the Lobby, even in Texas, but they add heft at the ballot box.

    Perhaps it is relevant to mention that I’ve been seeing ads on late night TV soliciting relief donations for “poor, starving, elderly Jews in Israel.” I don’t know what organizations are behind the ads, nor who donates, nor where the money goes. But considering the demographics, and the nature of the ads, I would guess that they target unsophisticated viewers, many of whom are likely Christian.

    • Maghlawatan
      Maghlawatan
      September 25, 2018, 12:01 pm

      There was a really interesting article in the Guardian about living conditions and social development. Texas has a lot of adherents to an authoritarian doctrine rooted in the Rapture which is nonsense. It must be linked to precarity. Fundamentalist Christians are poorer than the average.

      https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/sep/17/science-behind-brexit-vote-trump
      Of course Austin is different.

      • Boomer
        Boomer
        September 25, 2018, 1:32 pm

        Yes, Austin is different, and to some extent all the big cities: Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio have also become Democratic islands in the Republican state-wide sea.

        The article from the Guardian is interesting, and echoes some other things I’ve read (e.g., Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind.”) He and others discuss why fear-based politics after the attack of 9/11 worked well for conservatives.

        “Precarity” is a new word for me, which led to some interesting reading, e.g.,
        https://culanth.org/curated_collections/21-precarity

  7. JoeSmack
    JoeSmack
    September 25, 2018, 10:01 am

    It is definitely gross but let’s keep in mind that none of these people — AOC, Pramila Jaypal, Bernie Sanders, etc. — are beacons of hope for Palestine. They are at best an attempt to return America to within the general bounds of caring about the poor.

    Beto has an actual chance at winning and knocking out Ted Cruz. It would be political suicide to defend Palestine in Texas, and it would be a massive step backward if we could have a “less” pro-Israel person in Ted Cruz’ place. We shouldn’t just be measuring it by how “good” Beto is, but how disgusting and freakish Ted Cruz is. Beto’s remarks are gross, but compared to Ted Cruz’ unyielding support for Israel, Beto is still better.

    None of these people will ever liberate Palestine. Until there is a functioning Palestinian national movement, the best you will get is a few people who rabble-rouse about Palestine because they have no shot at power. Indeed, that’s what AOC was. She condemned Israel because she and everyone else thought she would lose. Look at how quickly she changed her position once she was guaranteed a victory. It is the same thing here.

    The only question is, given the current reality, whether we can continue to use Palestine as a deal-breaker. In activism, I’d agree with NE but when it comes to voting for a Congressperson or Senator, we aren’t there yet and we may never get there.

  8. haithem
    haithem
    September 25, 2018, 9:44 pm

    A petition was launched today asking Beto to take support justice for Palestine. Please consider signing and sharing it.

    https://www.change.org/p/beto-o-rourke-beto-support-peace-justice-in-palestine-israel

  9. Leahj
    Leahj
    October 1, 2018, 4:19 am

    The article states ‘Candidates who hope to turn this country around must understand that we are not only rejecting Trump and his administration. We want a break from the many evils that plagued the US before January 2107. ‘

    2107?? Everything from 2018 through 2107 must have swept past while I wasn’t paying attention. Will try harder to keep up.

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