Last night House Democrats overwhelmingly backed Israel and its lobby over critics of the country’s human rights violations. Democrats voted 209-16 for a resolution that characterizes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign targeting Israel as bigoted, promoting “principles of collective guilt, mass punishment, and group isolation.” The resolution passed the House by 398 to 17.
The Israeli prime minister today trumpeted the fact that the vote was bipartisan. So did the Israel lobby group AIPAC, which took credit for the vote, saying it worked to keep Democrats in the pro-Israel fold. Elliot Brandt, a lobby official, announced the vote within minutes last night.
I have great news to share from Washington. Just moments ago the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution opposing BDS… Our work on this resolution started months ago… This overwhelming Democratic and Republican support is a reminder of the importance of focusing on policy and our commitment to bipartisanship. I’m proud to report that over 70 percent of each party supported this resolution.
AIPAC’s message that support for Israel remains bipartisan has also been the message of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Stop “paying attention to a few people who may want to go their own way,” she told an Israel lobby group last year. “If this Capitol crumbled to the ground, the one thing that would remain would be our commitment to… our cooperation with Israel.”
Of course, Donald Trump has been paying a lot of attention to the few Democrats who are critical of Israel, calling them out as “anti-Israel” and urging them to apologize to Israel (amid racist tweets telling them to leave the country). Trump’s intention is surely to take donors and voters away from the Democratic Party for 2020. Just as surely, Nancy Pelosi and other Dem leaders urged members to vote for the resolution in order to keep the party united and on the side of the powerful Israel lobby in order to retake the White House.
Batya Ungar-Sargon of the Forward laid out the mainstream political stakes when Rep. Ilhan Omar introduced a resolution that affirms Americans’ support for the right to boycott.
“Is she working for [Trump’s] campaign … The right to boycott is of course an American right that I support. But introducing this now is playing right into Trump’s hands. What an epic miscalculation.”
The political harm reflects the fact that the Israel lobby remains a central force inside the Democratic Party, and as Omar herself said in February, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” i.e., there’s a lot of money at stake. Joe Biden has bragged of raising money at AIPAC. Kamala Harris has addressed AIPAC repeatedly, and linked her support to Israel to her support for the civil rights movement. Chuck Schumer became Senate minority leader even after choosing AIPAC over a Democratic president on the Iran deal; so the consequences of bucking the president were only positive. Back in March, several Dem presidentials did not go to the AIPAC policy conference, and Vice President Mike Pence then accused Democrats of boycotting AIPAC. Not now!
The vote was reminiscent of AIPAC’s famous claim that it could get 70 Senate signatures on a napkin inside of 24 hours.
Here is Stephanie Schriock of Emily’s List explaining how AIPAC uses financial leverage to set foreign policy stances for aspiring politicians:
I worked for [congressional] candidates in the 90’s as their finance director…. and you thought about where you are going to go to raise the money that you needed to raise to win a race. And you went to labor, you went to the choice community, and you went to the Jewish community. But before you went to the Jewish community, you had a conversation with the lead AIPAC person in your state and they made it clear that you needed a paper on Israel. And so you called all of your friends who already had a paper on Israel – that was designed by AIPAC – and we made that your paper.
This was before there was a campaign manager, or a policy director or a field director because you got to raise money before you do all of that. I have written more Israel papers that you can imagine. I’m from Montana. I barely knew where Israel was until I looked at a map, and the poor campaign manager would come in, or the policy director, and I’d be like, ‘Here is your paper on Israel. This is our policy.’ We’ve sent it all over the country because this is how we raise money.
The American Jewish Committee also trumpeted the resolution last night, saying BDS is anti-Semitic.
Today, in a resounding show of support for Israel, 398 members of the House overwhelmingly-and on a bipartisan basis-opposed the antisemitic global BDS campaign. Over 3/4 of members from each party co-sponsored the resolution
The liberal Zionist group J Street also supported the anti-BDS resolution, plainly out of the same desire AIPAC has, to keep support for Israel bipartisan (as well as J Street’s need to stay in step with the Jewish donor class of 60 and 70 year olds steeped in Zionism). J Street claims the resolution doesn’t call BDS anti-semitic.
But the resolution cites anti-Semitism as a cause for action– “cooperation between Israel and the United States is of great importance, especially in the context of rising anti-Semitism” — and uses language that echoes new codes on what constitutes anti-semitic speech:
Whereas the BDS Movement does not recognize, and many of its supporters explicitly deny, the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination…
The liberal Zionist group Americans for Peace Now also suggests that House critics of Israel are anti-Semitic. They “deny they’re anti-Semitic,” but “judging by statements made by Congresswomen Omar and [Rashida] Tlaib, they seem seriously ignorant about Israel and Judaism.”
Today the New York Times went out of its way to say that everything Ilhan Omar has said in a critical manner about the Israel lobby is antisemitic.
Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Omar have been the target of intense criticism for statements about Israel and Israel’s supporters that many have regarded as anti-Semitic tropes, including insinuations that Jews have dual loyalty to the United States and Israel. Ms. Omar drew the condemnation of House Democratic leaders, and was forced to apologize after invoking an ancient trope about Jews and money by suggesting that American support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins” — a reference to $100 bills.
The claim of “ancient trope” is bad faith. Everyone knows that money plays a central role in support for the Israel lobby. And the Times doesn’t even allow Omar to defend herself. It’s been 13 years since Walt and Mearsheimer published the Israel lobby paper, and the mainstream discourse on this issue has actually gone backwards. It’s antisemitic to talk about the Israel lobby.
And AIPAC’s Brandt says, support for Israel is support for America:
This vote put House members on the record in recognizing that the BDS campaign is anti-Israel, anti-peace and harmful to American interests. The resolution also affirms that direct negotiations are the only way to achieve an enduring peace… Not only does it oppose the isolation of Israel, it calls for greater investment in Israel. Supporting further US Israel cooperation will help solve critical 21st century challenges.
While Jewish Voice for Peace denounced the resolution’s hideous timing. It passed the very day that Israel was destroying Palestinian houses in Jerusalem so as to cement the Jewish majority in that city. Stefanie Fox of JVP said:
Meanwhile, instead of condemning this huge violation of international law, 398 Members of Congress put all their energy into condemning people like you and me who use our right to boycott to bring pressure for justice in Israel/Palestine.