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The End of Engel

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Jamaal Bowman at his campaign launch event, June 2019
(Photo: Twitter/@JamaalBowmanNY)

It’s hard to overstate how incredible the apparent defeat of hawkish Democrat Eliot Engel is. The New York congressman was first elected to the House back in 1988, when likely winner Jamaal Bowman was just 12 years old.

Upon entering congress, Engel sponsored a resolution declaring Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and he hasn’t wavered from that commitment since. He has defended the Israeli government’s worst atrocities and thinks the United States should veto any United Nations resolution critical of the country. For the last two years, Engel has chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee. In 2018, he said that he sat down with AIPAC to discuss every piece of legislation that emerges from the committee. “I think it’s very, very important. In the past 30 years I have attended 31 consecutive AIPAC conferences in March, I haven’t missed one,” he explained.” He also recently told Jewish Insider that, “Conditioning aid for Israel is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.”

Beyond Israel, the 16-term lawmaker got no better. He supported Clinton’s bombing of Kosovo (even pushing for ground troops), backed the 2013 coup in Egypt, opposed the Obama administration’s Iran Nuclear Deal, voted for the Iraq War, and helped stop legislation that would have banned cluster bomb sales to Saudi Arabia.

Bowman’s campaign website lays out a much different policy vision. He calls for reductions to the Pentagon budget, an end to support for Saudi Arabia’s brutal war in Yemen, and conditioning military aid to Israel over its human rights abuses.

Predictably, Engel’s campaign was flooded with money from the defense industry and pro-Israel lobbying groups. Democratic Majority for Israel (a group created specifically to stomp out growing sympathy for Palestinians within the Democratic party) spent almost $2 million in attack ads on Bowman.

At our site, Josh Ruebner wrote about what a blow Engel’s probable loss is to the Israel lobby:

For many years, Engel appeared to be a prime candidate to become the poster boy demonstrating the converse vulnerability of the Israel lobby. The lumbering dinosaur had become badly out-of-touch with the changing political sensibilities and demographic evolution of his district. This disconnectedness was perfectly encapsulated by his recent callous hot mic admission that he only wanted to speak at a Black Lives Matter rally because he had a primary challenger. 

If Bowman espoused standard AIPAC talking points, then his victory over Engel would not have been such a crushing defeat for the Israel lobby, but rather merely an inconvenient loss of a key player. 

Green Light for Annexation?

Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway says that the administration will make a “big announcement” on annexation this week. This declaration comes shortly after 116 of the 198 GOP House members signed a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu effectively backing any annexation policy. The letter also praises Trump’s Middle East plan because it is “based on the critical premise that Israel should never be forced to compromise its security” and takes aim at Democrats who oppose annexation. “We are aware of and deeply concerned by threats being expressed by some to retaliate against Israel as it makes decisions to ensure defensible borders. It is shortsighted to threaten relations with Israel, a longtime friend and critical ally that shares our democratic values,” it reads.

As we’ve covered many times on the site and in this newsletter, the Democratic opposition to annexation is completely toothless. If relations with Israel had actually been threatened in any way (as the GOP falsely implies) then maybe Netanyahu would actually take Dem concerns seriously. However, this is certainly not the case. A Democratic letter from last month speculated the annexation could damage the U.S/Israel relationship, but any such suggestion was quickly scrubbed from the text after its authors realized that very few lawmakers would be prepared to sign such a letter.

The current Democratic letter making its way around the House is signed by over 100 representatives, but it’s so mild that even Steny Hoyer and Nita Lowey have added their signatures.

Earlier this week 7 GOP Senators (including Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton) sent Trump a letter calling on him to approve Israel’s annexation plan.

Odds & Ends

🇵🇸 This week Israeli soldiers murdered 27-year-old Ahmed Erekat at a checkpoint in the West Bank. He was the cousin of Palestinian American legal scholar Noura Erakat. She told Democracy Now:

We understand the circumstances to be what people know. Ahmed was on his way, from Abu Dis to Bethlehem, to pick up his sister from a hair salon for her wedding. Her mom was there with her. You know, on the way to the hair salon, he passed through a checkpoint separating Bethlehem from Abu Dis through a known roadway, back roadway, a dangerous one known as Wadi Nar, or Valley of Fire. There is a steep decline between this checkpoint on the road. And what we understand is that Ahmed lost control of his car or was confused while he was in his car. That was all it took to have a knee-jerk reaction, for the car to jerk a little bit and immediately to cause the soldiers to open fire on him multiple times.

🇺🇸 68 groups (including US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Adalah Justice Project, MPower Change, Friends of Sabeel North America, Jewish Voice for Peace Action, and Democratic Socialists of America Palestine Working Group) have called on congress to invest in justice from the United States to Palestine:

We, the undersigned organizations committed to shaping policy towards justice for all people, call on Congress to take concrete steps to hold Israel accountable for its stated plans to formally annex the West Bank, as well as for its ongoing military occupation, displacement, and oppression of the Palestinian people, by ending US military funding to Israel. Further, we call on you to stop the flow of federal dollars to local police. These demands stem from our united commitment to divest from militarism and instead invest in community needs, like education, housing, and healthcare for all, in order to create safety and justice for all.

✝️ Arianna Skibell has a great piece at Jewish Currents on the growing number of Israel critics within the evangelical movement: “While there are few exclusively evangelical groups dedicated to fighting the occupation, pockets of dissenters are now finding a voice, often through partnerships with other denominations and religious groups. Indeed, the LifeWay Research survey found that while support for Israel among older evangelicals sits at around 80%, among evangelicals age 18 to 34, that number drops to around 58%, mirroring similar shifts among millennial Jews.”

Take care of another and wear a mask if you’re protesting,

Michael

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