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Amid the COVID Crisis, Washington Stuffs a New Goodie Bag for Israel

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S. 3176

This week the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) adopted the United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2020 (S. 3176). It’s a goodie bag for “The Only Democracy in the Middle East”: it extends authorization for the U.S. War Reserve Stockpile in Israel by five years, establishes directed energy project with Israel, throws another $10 million to finance cooperative projects between the U.S./Israel, and $18 million for U.S/Israel collaboration in energy, water, agriculture and alternative fuel technologies. It also codifies aid in a way that prevents Congress from potentially conditioning it in the future.

This is pretty ambitious stuff considering Israel already gets over $3 billion a year and millions of U.S. workers are currently unemployed. So, what did the debate look like? There wasn’t one. Here’s Lara Friedman from her (excellent) legislative newsletter:

So how did it go down? Literally the entire SFRC business meeting was consumed by contentious consideration of [George Pack’s nomination to be the CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors] — at the conclusion of which, the Chairman noted that time was running out and moved 15 bills “that have been agreed to” – including S. 3176 and its amendment – en bloc. Following some expressions of unhappiness by Menendez (D-NJ) over bills not included in the bloc, the Committee adopted the en bloc bills (with their amendments) by Voice Vote.

Josh Ruebner has a great breakdown of the bill on our site. It will now head to the Senate to be voted on.

Trump & Afghanistan

This week Trump reiterated his support for a full withdrawal from Afghanistan. This probably isn’t the worst election move, as the Forever Wars have grown increasingly unpopular among the American public. However, it’s obviously nonsense. Trump won’t give a specific date as to when he wants to do this and wouldn’t commit to doing it by next Thanksgiving. He also asserted that, “We can always go back if we want to.” What?

In 2016, a surprising amount of people reimagined Trump as some sort of antiwar populist because he said some unkind things about the Iraq War. This was also obviously nonsense. Trump has expanded Obama’s drone program, backed Saudi Arabia’s murderous war in Yemen, and imposed brutal sanctions on Iran. That’s just to just name a few of his greatest hits.

Biden has tried to hit Trump a little on foreign policy, but his main talking point has been attacking the administration from the right on China, a tactic that quickly descends into xenophobia. He said he’d restore Obama’s Cuba policy, but also tweeted that “Trump’s international failures have cleared a path for Cuba to join the UN Human Rights Council.” He thinks sanctions against that country should be maintained as a result of their relationship with Maduro’s government and he’s pledged his support for Venezuela’s (unelected) opposition leader Juan Guaidó.

Biden presumably doesn’t mention the U.S. wars in the Middle East a lot because he doesn’t have a lot to point to. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Iraq War, an issue that didn’t come up nearly as much as it should have during the Democratic debates. As for U.S. troops in the Middle East, this was him in January:

I think it’s a mistake to pull out the small number of troops that are there now to deal with ISIS. What’s happened is, now that he’s gone ahead, the president and started this whole process moving, what’s happening?

 We — ISIS is going to reconstitute itself. We’re in a position where we have to pull our forces out. Americans have to leave the entire region. And quite frankly, I think [Trump has] flat-out lied about saying that the reason he went after — the reason he made the strike was because our embassies were about to be bombed.

On Afghanistan specifically, Biden says he would get the troops out, but he doesn’t want the U.S. to actually leave. Here’s what he told the Council on Foreign Relations last July:

I would bring American combat troops in Afghanistan home during my first term. Any residual U.S. military presence in Afghanistan would be focused only on counterterrorism operations.

In addition to his public comments on Afghanistan, Trump also tweeted an opinion on the United States’s longest war. “We are acting as a police force, not the fighting force that we are, in Afghanistan,” he wrote, “After 19 years, it is time for them to police their own Country. Bring our soldiers back home but closely watch what is going on and strike with a thunder like never before, if necessary!”

Twitter is a peculiar place. It received some praise this week for slapping fact-checks on false information that the President has been tweeting about mail-in ballots. However, it’s still a platform where the most powerful person on earth can casually threaten a war crime without consequence and you can get your account suspended for telling Ted Cruz to eat shit or some such thing.

Biden & BDS….Continued

In the last issue of The Shift, we talked about Joe Biden’s “Jewish community” platform. That document declared that his administration would, “firmly reject the BDS movement, which singles out Israel – home to millions of Jews – and too often veers into antisemitism, while letting Palestinians off the hook for their choices.”

After backlash from Palestinian groups, that line was removed from the platform and replaced with a slightly modified version. It now says that the administration will, “firmly reject the BDS movement – which singles out Israel and too often veers into anti-Semitism – and fight other efforts to delegitimise Israel on the global stage.”

“That is one small phrase in an agenda that is characterized by a complete denial and ignoring of Palestinian rights,” Palestinian-American activist/comedian Amer Zahr told Middle East Eye, “Should that phrase ever have been in there? Of course not. So, the fact that they came back and deleted a few words that were particularly offensive and racist is nothing to be very excited about.”

Odds & Ends

🤖 Facebook has a new oversight board and they’ve hired the former director-general of Israel’s justice ministry as a member. Read Tamara Nassar’s post on it at The Electronic Intifada.

📰 Alex Kane interviewed congressional candidate Samelys Lopez at  +972 Magazine. Lopez is running to represent New York’s 15th district and is endorsed by JVP Action. “There are a lot of Palestinians who live in this congressional district and my community and beyond, and I see advocacy as always centering the voices of people that have been marginalized,” she told Kane.

🏫 In last week’s issue, we covered a growing controversy at George Washington University (GWU), where a BDS supporter was appointed to be an interim dean. When pro-Israel groups condemned the move, university provost Brian Blake had to put out a statement distancing the school from the BDS movement. Now Blake has sent out letter to the GWU community, assuring everyone that Dr. Ilana Feldman will not be considered for the permanent role. Phew!

🖥️ Branko Marcetic (Jacobin) and Sarah Lazare (In These Times) joined me to discuss Joe Biden’s record on Palestine and what his campaign and potential Presidency means for the politics around Palestine in the Democratic Party. You can watch it here.

Take care of one another, wash your hands, and wear a mask,

Michael