This is a great surprise. Israel’s annexation plans have put tremendous pressure on liberal Zionist organizations to finally put their money where their mouth is, or America’s money: and punish Israel for its occupation instead of just yapping. Now 1000 alumni of J Street’s youth organization, J Street U, have told the parent organization, your methods don’t work, it’s time to sign on, and sign on strongly, to any legislation that would reduce aid to Israel if it goes ahead with annexation.
The letter parallels the letter Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and three other congresswomen have written to the Trump administration saying the U.S. should withhold military aid from Israel if it moves to annex portions of the West Bank.
Here is the letter to J Street from more than 1000 alumni (first reported by the Intercept this afternoon). It says Nothing will stop Israel from annexing except real material consequences. So quit with the damn lip service, it doesn’t work.
Time and again, J Street has organized letters of condemnation, Jewish communal pressure, and congressional measures that fall short of creating material consequences for Israel’s actions. Those efforts have not and will not impede Israel’s attempts to expand its control of the West Bank, so long as its primary means of support—American aid—is untouched.
The letter-writers say that this is an “unprecedented moment” and a “decisive test for the progressive movement.” Israeli leaders act with impunity.
Israel’s leaders are proceeding with annexation because they expect no real consequence for doing so…. Now, as they threaten to make that control [of the West Bank] permanent, most American leaders and institutions have expressed outrage, but few have indicated that moving forward will result in material consequences: a tangible erosion of American monetary support.
Israel’s leaders must understand, instead, that proceeding with annexation will come at a cost. Only when Israeli leadership feels that doing so will jeopardize a portion of its $3.8 billion in annual American assistance will it have a real reason to reconsider.
The signatories, who include public figures and Jewish professionals (“rabbis, leaders of Jewish non-profits, elected officials, staff for elected officials, journalists, community organizers, lawyers”) conclude:
We ask J Street to stand in strong support of any legislation that will reduce American assistance to Israel if it decides, once and for all, to annex the West Bank.
Time and again in recent weeks, American Zionists have pleaded with Israel not to annex because it will put wind in the sails of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. The alumni letter shows just that, inasmuch as the signatories are endorsing a form of sanctions.
Their letter arrives at the same time as the letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Pramila Jayapal, Rashida Tlaib, and Betty McCollum, now signed by 9 other congresspeople and Sen. Bernie Sanders. If Israel goes ahead with annexation, we should condition our $3.8 billion in military aid, and maybe withhold some of it, the letter says.
The rightwing Israel lobby group AIPAC, which has not had a critical word to say about annexation, is going haywire over the congressional letter, in a stream of tweets and a letter-writing campaign aimed at painting the congresspeople as operating against US interests and the two-state solution.
The Israel lobby appears to be fracturing. If J Street is under pressure from the left, AIPAC is under pressure from the center, with organizations like American Jewish Committee and ADL expressing criticism of Israel’s plans.
J Street has gotten away so far with equivocating on punishing Israel. On one hand, it has called out AIPAC for not condemning Israeli annexation. And it has said that annexation might cause some Democrats to seek to condition aid to Israel. But it has also repeatedly refused to take that position itself.
At the J Street conference last fall, its president Jeremy Ben-Ami welcomed the “conversation” among Democratic presidential candidates about conditioning foreign aid to Israel over human rights violations, but didn’t endorse such conditioning.
This is definitely in the conversation now. It’s really important. Does the United States provide anybody with money without restriction? Right, there are laws that govern how American aid can be used…. Those laws apply to Israel just like every other country in the world. So the notion that we just provide this aid, we send the dollars over, and that’s the last thing that happens, doesn’t make any sense and so it’s really good to see several of the candidates raising the question Are we going to foot the bill for annexation, right, should American dollars be going to pay for the expansion of settlements? Should it be going to the demolition of Palestinians villages.
It’s not a matter of reducing. Let me be really clear. J Street doesnt think there’s a reason to reduce the level of the aid. The question is what is it being used for, should there be restrictions on it?… We should be enforcing the laws that are on the books and have some transparency about what is going on.
The J Street U alumni are pressing Ben-Ami to take real action at last.