AIPAC Tells Lawmakers What’s Acceptable Criticism on Annexation

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This is the latest edition of The Shift — Mondoweiss’s newsletter covering the battle over Palestine in the U.S politics. This newsletter is published every Thursday.

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AIPAC Tells Lawmakers It’s Okay to Criticize Annexation

If you’re a U.S. politician who opposes annexation, but has been waiting for permission from the biggest pro-Israel lobby group to actually criticize it, I have some good news for you: This week AIPAC announced that such comments were fine to make, assuming they don’t go too far.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported that AIPAC is providing lawmakers with this guidance over Zoom meetings and phone calls. The parameters are pretty obvious: you can say annexation is bad, but you can’t actually suggest conditioning military aid or holding Israel accountable in any way. “So far, the group has remained publicly silent about annexation,” writes Ron Kampeas, “But in private, AIPAC is telling lawmakers that as long as they don’t push to limit the United States’ aid to Israel, they can criticize the annexation plan without risking tensions or a clash with the lobby group.”

AIPAC has been dealing with a PR problem in recent years and this move should probably be understood in that context. A majority of Democratic voters support conditioning aid to Israel, more and more lawmakers skip their annual conference now, and Netanyahu’s close relationship with Trump has further eroded Israel’s brand.

I’m reminded of the comments (potential VP nominee) Amy Klobuchar made during her endorsement interview with the New York Times. Klobuchar lamented that the actions of the GOP had greatly diminished support for Israel. A Democrat could provide the country with a new, alluring veneer: “One of the things that I see as this really high-stakes opportunity for a new president is to bring in American support again in a big way for Israel. And you do that by stopping these Mitch McConnell divisive votes, making it a wedge issue, trying to play politics instead of looking at what the challenges are ahead. I think that we need to emphasize Israel’s historic support for women’s rights, working on climate change, all of these things that have been lost because of Trump’s continual effort to use this as a partisan pawn.”

Here’s Arab-American Institute founder James Zogby assessing the AIPAC news on Twitter: “It’s actually interesting, because it means that AIPAC can see the writing on the wall. They’re basically cutting their loses & running for cover. Opinion is shifting in the US & their propaganda efforts to make Israel into good & Palestinians into bad have run out of steam.”

Engel on the Ropes?

Rep. Eliot Engel, one of Israel’s favorite Democrats, is now “scrambling” to fend off the progressive primary challenge of Jamaal Bowman in New York’s 16th district. Engel’s defense has not exactly been impressive. In last week’s issue, we mentioned that he had been caught on a hot mic at a BLM rally saying he only wanted to give a speech there because he had a primary coming up. Now Bowman has been endorsed by Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Engel has responded to this development in a measured and careful way: he’s declared that AOC is a dictator.

Engel was never going to have any notable progressives back him, but surely he can count on support from Chuck Schumer, a consistent symbol of hawkishness and centrism who has backed him in previous races. The Engel team cited a Schumer endorsement on its website, but then Schumer told reporters that wasn’t true. “I haven’t endorsed in that race,” he said, “I’m busy with Senate races.” The endorsement has been removed from Engel’s site. Oops.

During a video debate last night, Engel said he hadn’t seen Bowman in the district and wondered where he has been. “The reason you never see me is because you’re not here,” Bowman told him, “You live in Maryland. I’m here. I’m principal of a school in your district and you not seeing me says more about your absence than my absence.”

As we said last week, Bowman isn’t exactly Edward Said, but he’s aligned with the majority of Democratic voters when it comes to conditioning aid to Israel and it seems he’d back Rep. Betty McCollum’s historic bill on Palestinian children. Here’s what he told Jacobin last year:

As Netanyahu calls for expanding settlements and annexing the West Bank, we should seriously consider placing conditions on the billions of dollars of military aid our government provides him in order to make sure that the rights and dignity of both the Israeli and Palestinian people are respected. I just don’t understand why American taxpayers are subsidizing the detention of Palestinian children while Democrats are criticizing child detention at the Mexican border. The principles of the Leahy Law should be upheld.

We’ll find out what voters think of all this on June 23.

Odds & Ends

⚖️ +972 Magazine editor Natasha Roth-Rowland has an excellent piece at Jewish Currents on the legal war against campus Palestine solidarity. “University administrations who want to reduce risks to the university might start to make adjustments—they might be less inclined to hire Palestinian scholars, or to admit Palestinian students, because they don’t want the headache,” Rutgers professor Noura Erakat told her.

🇮🇷 The right-wing Washington Free Beacon has reportedly obtained a copy of a GOP legislative package that would push even stricter sanctions on Iran: “[Rep. Mike] Johnson (R., La.) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R., S.C.), head of the RSC’s foreign affairs and national security task force, told the Free Beacon that their proposal is more than a conservative wish list. Some Democrats could support many of the priorities, including foreign policy leaders such as Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), Rep. Ted Deutch (D., Fla.), and Rep. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.)—all of whom have expressed concerns about the Iran nuclear deal and Tehran’s regional ambitions.”

💻 Palestine Legal has compiled a bunch of webinars from the week that are worth checking out.

🇵🇸 The Palestinian government have responded to the Trump administration’s “peace plan” with a counter-proposal. “The Americans keep wanting us to comment on their plan but this counter-offer is a genuine peace initiative that is based on international law,” said Abbas senior advisor Majdi Khalidi.

👮 Here’s a 2019 Popular Science article on what to do if you get tear gassed.

Take care of one another and make sure you wear a mask while protesting,


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RSC: Republican Study Committee, for those who haven’t memorized abbreviations of all the political bodies in Washington.

Are we surprised that once again AIPAC is calling the shots and cracking the whip in the US for Israel? It seems only the US (Trump/Jared/Pompeo/Adelson initiative) is supporting this outrageous and arrogant attempt by Israel to steal and annex more land. Zionist greed knows no limits.   So far the UN, EU, Germany, and France, have warned the criminals to not go ahead with crime. The question is, will the occupier go ahead anyway,… Read more »   “Over 100 international law experts sign letter against West Bank annexation” “In document addressed to “Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders, signatories say extending sovereignty is ‘flagrant violation of bedrock rules.’” By Stuart Winer and TOI staff, June 11/20By Stuart Winer and TOI staff   EXCERPT: “Over 100 experts and scholars of international law from around the world have called on Israel to not annex parts of the West Bank, which Prime Minister Benjamin… Read more »