Last month, the progressive Jewish group IfNotNow officially became a tax-exempt organization legally permitted to lobby politicians. Since then, IfNotNow activists have been confronting Democratic candidates on the campaign trail and asking them about the occupation of Palestine.
Elizabeth Warren: On July 8, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was questioned by a pair of activists at a town hall event in New Hampshire. University of Michigan student Becca Lubow told her, ““Hi, we’re American Jews, we really love the way you are fighting corruption. We’d really love it if you’d also pushed the Israeli government to end occupation.”
“Yes. So I’m there!,” Warren responded. Her campaign has released no further details on how she plans to end the occupation.
Pete Buttigieg: On July 12, the South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg was also approached in New Hampshire. “All my life, politicians have talked about a two-state solution for Israel, but don’t address the ongoing military occupation,” Erin Sandler told him, “Yes or no, are you willing to condemn the occupation?” Buttigieg responded:
The occupation has to end. (Applause) And again, the militarization..even people from, you know, even associated with the Israeli right have to confront..like Sharon [former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon] towards the end of his life recognized that this state of affairs is unsustainable. The pathway to peace has to include Israelis and Palestinians living side by side with self determination. And that is the right answer for our own security interest in a stable Middle East as well as for an Israeli future that is Jewish and democratic. And for the future of the Palestinian people. There is, I think, frankly a healthier discussion happening among the American Jewish community today than there has been in some time and frankly a healthier discussion in the American Jewish community than there is in the American Congress right now. What we are starting to see is the awareness in the same way that you can be pro-America without that meaning you’ve got to support our president, you can care about Israel’s future and believe in the U.S. relationship and alliance with Israel without being on board with right-wing policies by the Netanyahu government which is now walking away from peace in a way that I think will harm the Israeli people, the Palestinian people, and in the long run the American people. So, I believe as the most important ally that Israel has, we need to do what you do when you have a friend who’s doing something you think is harmful. Put your arm around your friend and try to guide them into a better place. (Applause)
“The Occupation has to end” — @PeteButtigieg
An important step for both Mayor Pete & the Democratic party. It’s clear that this is the baseline position for 2020 candidates on Israel: acknowledge Israel’s military Occupation as the reality on the ground and call for it to end. pic.twitter.com/h8hqs8dOtn
— IfNotNow🔥 (@IfNotNowOrg) July 12, 2019
Joe Biden: That same day former Vice President Joe Biden was asked about the occupation by IfNotNow fellow Elias Newman:
Newman: Hi Joe, my name is Elias.
Biden: Elias, I don’t care what your name is. I don’t have time to answer an essay question. Walk out here with me.
Newman: Ok, I’ll be short. I’ll be short. Okay, so Joe I’m an American Jew who is very concerned about what Netanyahu’s government is doing to Palestinians currently.
Biden: There’s no answer but a two-state solution.
Newman: I’m wondering if you think the occupation is a human rights crisis and if you’ll pressure Israel when you’re president.
Biden: The answer is, I think the settlements are unnecessary, number one….So, here’s the deal…the only answer is a two-state solution, number one. Number two, the Palestinians have to step up to be prepared to stop the hate. So, it’s a two-way street.
Newman: Do you believe that occupation is a human rights crisis, Joe?
Biden: I think occupation is a real problem, a significant problem.
Newman: Will you pressure Israel to end the occupation?
Biden: The answer is…you know anything about my record?
Newman: Of course.
Biden: You know I have.
.@JoeBiden just said 'The Occupation is a real problem' and we're happy to hear it: this is a baseline position every 2020 candidate needs to take. But when we asked @JoeBiden if he'd pressure Israel to end the Occupation, he deflected to his record. pic.twitter.com/1AIQ7Ubl3g
— IfNotNow🔥 (@IfNotNowOrg) July 13, 2019
The next day Biden was confronted by IfNotNow activist Sarah Kate Feferman, who asked him about more specifics regarding what he’d do to pressure Israel and pointed out that his previously cited record on the issue left a lot to be desired.
“We spoke out against their occupation in our administration,” responded Biden, “but they are an ally. They are an ally and the fact of the matter is, they’re entitled to have Jewish state in the Middle East that’s free and secure. They are responding, they are over-responding to what’s happened.”
Beto O’Rourke: This past weekend, former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke was also asked about the occupation by an IfNotNow activist named Aviva and asked if he’d commit to putting direct pressure on the Israeli government to stop it. O’Rourke gave a fairly lengthy answer in which he highlighted the need for a two-solution, but didn’t actually mention the occupation once. “I will make sure that we vigorously pursue that two-state solution, get there,” he said at one point, “But I just want to acknowledge that I understand the challenges we have with leadership on both sides right now.”
When pressed for specific details on how he’d pressure Israel on the issue, O’Rourke responded:
Yeah, I think the tough, but honest answer and one that hopefully includes some humility that’s been missing from U.S. foreign policy is that we cannot impose that solution on anyone. We can do our best. We can assist both sides in whatever way that we can make the difference. But ultimately that’s going to have to be a decision of the Israeli and the Palestinian people, which we will support to the nth degree in whatever way that we can facilitate it or help to make it happen but understand that we cannot impose or force that to happen. I will do that. So I just want to be honest with you. I don’t know that any one person can make that happen. But we’ll do everything we can to be helpful so that it could happen.
The only candidate questioned who seemingly didn’t indicate that the occupation is a problem worth pressuring the Israeli government over was New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. When asked if the occupation was a human rights crisis by Becca Lubow, Booker replied, “You’re not going to get me to address that question as you want and I know that that’s the question you’ve been asking every presidential candidate, but I’m working on this issue probably more than any other foreign policy issue.” When pressed on the subject further, Booker told Lubow: “If that’s your issue, I would understand if you want to support someone else.”
Yesterday, we asked @CoryBooker “Do you believe the Occupation is a human rights crisis for Palestinians?” He got visibly frustrated.
He admits: “If that's your issue I would understand if you want to support somebody else”
— IfNotNow🔥 (@IfNotNowOrg) July 14, 2019
Warren, Buttigieg, Biden, and O’Rourke all indicated that the occupation was a problem that had to be stopped, yet none of them provided any examples regarding how they’d go about pressuring the Israeli government to do that. Beyond the lack of specifics, there’s additional cause for concern due to a subject they were recently all asked about.
Thanks to the website Axios we now know that none of the Democratic presidential candidates will confirm that they will move the U.S. Embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv. When Trump moved the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2017, the act was condemned by Democrats and praised the Netanyahu government that they frequently criticize. However, not one of them said they’d move it back.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders refused to comment on the issue. Warren, California Senator Kamala Harris, and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Buttigieg told Axios, “I don’t know that we’d gain much by moving it to Tel Aviv” last month and O’Rourke’s campaign directed the site to previous comments he had made on the issue: “The decision to move it was unnecessarily provocative but now that it has been made, I don’t know if there’s a lot of sense in reversing it.”
Biden, Booker, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar all gave more detailed answers, but none them proposed moving the embassy’s location.