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Battle for The Gavel

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A HFAC Fight?

Jamaal Bowman’s historic victory in New York’s 16th district won’t just oust a longtime incumbent, it will also leave the House Foreign Affairs Committee without a chair.

Eliot Engel has had that position since the Dems took over the House in 2018, but who will take it after the hawkish Democrat’s looming loss? California Rep. Brad Sherman would be next in line for the gavel. Good luck finding a sizable difference between him and Engel on Israel. Like Engel, Sherman opposed the Obama administration’s Iran Deal and voted for the Iraq War. On his website, he refers to Israel’s annual $3.8 billion as “our best investment in America’s security.” Last year, Sherman went on PBS and compared the BDS movement to the Nazis. “The international leaders of the BDS movement are trying — not try to get Israel to change this or that policy, but to try to remove every Jew from the Middle East. Just as Hitler wanted a Jewish-free Europe, this BDS group wants a Jewish-free Middle East,” he said.

Needless to say, it didn’t seem like there were big changes on the horizon atop the committee. However, now the Washington Post reports that Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro will make a run at the seat, a move that showcases the developing battle over the future of foreign policy with the Democratic party.

Castro actually mentioned Palestine when explaining his decision to the Post. “Our foreign affairs committee needs to catch up with where Democrats are in terms of foreign policy. Over the years, there have been top many voices excluded; I think too often Palestinian voices have been excluded,” he told the paper.

This week dozens of groups (including Jewish Voice for Peace Action, IfNotNow, and the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights) sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Majority Whip James Clyburn, expressing their desire for the vacancy to be filled by someone with a progressive foreign policy vision. The letter contains a set of demands and there’s one that addresses the Israel/Palestine conflict:

The United States should work to build a future in which all Palestinians and Israelis live under full equality by upholding a foreign policy that centers human rights and dignity for all people. We call on the next HFAC chair to use a combination of pressure and incentives, including leveraging the annual $3.8 billion in U.S. military funding to Israel, to get all parties to come to an agreement that upholds U.N. Security Council Resolutions and international law, including non-exhaustively: ending Israel’s military
occupation; disbanding Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; ending the Israeli military blockade of Gaza; and ending all attacks on civilians, be they Israeli or Palestinian.

A Letter Opposing a Letter

You’ll recall that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and a number of other progressive lawmakers sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a letter last month, threatening to condition military aid to Israel if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moved forward with his plan to annex portions of the West Bank.

This move predictably prompted a number of hysterical reactions from pro-Israel groups and denunciations from hawkish politicians. Some Republican House members were apparently so upset that they sent Pompeo their own pro-annexation letter.

“Israel has a legal obligation under international statute to administer the territory and protect the population. Under international law, until peace is achieved and terrorism ended, Israel has every right to retain control of Judea and Samaria,” it declares.

The Representatives who signed: Perry, Harris, DesJarlais. Wright, Hice, Gosar, Weber, Fulcher, Duncan, Budd, Riggleman, and Biggs.

Collins Challenger

As expected, Sara Gideon sailed to an easy victory in Maine’s Democratic Senate primary. Gideon (who is currently the state’s Democratic Speaker of the house) will take on Republican incumbent Susan Collins this November. Democrats are hoping that Collins will finally face a political reckoning for voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, despite multiple allegations of sexual assault against the Justice.

It’s hard to have high hopes for Gideon when it comes to Palestine. She’s endorsed by Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), a lobbying group aligned with AIPAC that was created to stomp out growing pro-Palestine sentiment within the Democratic party. DMFI just spent almost $2 million (unsuccessfully) trying to get Eliot Engel reelected in New York. This week, the group’s president, Mark Mellman, compared congress members who highlight the rights of Palestinians to white supremacists in the Republican party. “Both parties have elements in them that are less than congenial as far as the Amerian Jewish community is concerned…,” he said during a webinar.

Earlier this month, Jewish Telegraphic Agency published a piece by Ron Kampeas about how Gideon was building a seemingly solid base of Jewish support in the state. Here’s how described her potential impact when it comes to the subject:

Gideon won’t offend anyone in the Democratic mainstream when it comes to Israel. Her statement on Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank condemns the prospect, but does not threaten any repercussions — even as Democrats increasingly are prone to say out loud that Israel could pay a price in how assistance is delivered if it goes ahead with annexation.

Kampeas points out that, as House speaker, Gideon worked to pass a resolution to officially recognize the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism. Under that definition, which was developed in 2016, certain criticisms of Israel can be considered antisemitic. This includes applying “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” or “applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

Odds & Ends

🖊️ In May, we reported on the state legislatures of Missouri and Oklahoma passing anti-BDS bill amid the COVID crisis. As expected, Missouri Governor Mike Parson signed their bill into law this week.

Here’s what Palestine Legal Senior Staff Attorney Meera Shah told me in May: “In the midst of a global pandemic, it is dismaying that state lawmakers in Missouri and Oklahoma have prioritized passing bills that punish those who boycott for justice. Year after year, activists in these states successfully fought back against anti-boycott bills. This year, while legislative sessions were truncated due to COVID-19, and people sheltering in place were unable to fight back, lawmakers made the time to pass bills aiming to silence constitutionally protected speech in support of Palestinian rights. These laws will be challenged.”

🇮🇱 The Democratic National Committee is preparing to release the party platform. This from Jewish Insider‘s (excellent) daily newsletter:

An individual with knowledge of the internal process told JI that while the committee discussed including a reference to “occupation” — a proposal from J Street — the panel drafted language that more closely mirrors the views expressed by the Biden campaign in recent weeks: a commitment to the two-state solution, concern regarding Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank, support for the U.S. commitment to the 10-year MOU signed between the Obama administration and Israel in 2016, and opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. 

Phil Weiss has a piece at the site this week on comments made by (the previously mentioned) DMFI president Mark Mellman. Mellman says that DMFI has been involved in drafting the platform. “It is possible that people will try and amend that platform both at the drafting committee level and then down the road in a couple of weeks at the platform committee and potentially even at the convention… I think those attempts are not likely to succeed. But we are certainly alert to those attempts and we’ll be fighting back against any attempt to amend the platform in an anti-Israel way,” he said.

☎️ I am having a difficult time processing the fact that this is real but, in response to Bari Weiss’s resignation, the Zionist Organization of America has apparently set up a hotline where journalists can report any anti-Israel bias they encounter. “ZOA condemns the hostile antisemitic work environment now on full and public display at The New York Times. Bari Weiss’s decision to resign from her position as a writer and editor at the Times highlights the problems of journalists who call out antisemitism on the right and the left, and stand up for Israel,” the group declares.

🗳️ No surprises here, but Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has endorsed Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar’s reelection campaign. “On a personal note I have to say what I think many of you already know, that Ilhan has been subjected to more vile and racist attacks than any other member of the congress and she has responded with incredible dignity and pride, that should make the people of her state and her district extraordinarily proud of her.”

Omar’s opponent, Antone Melton-Meaux, raised $3.2 million between April and the end of June. “It’s a dramatic surge for Melton-Meaux, who reported raising nearly $400,000 between December and the end of March. The influx of money came, in part, from some conservative donors and pro-Israel groups like nonpartisan NORPAC, which held a virtual fundraiser for Melton-Meaux in May. According to data from ActBlue, an online fundraising tool, a number of individual donors outside of the district contributed the maximum amount allowed in May,” writes Briana Bierschbach at the Star Tribune.

💻 This week, Haymarket Books hosted a webinar with activist Nada Elia, Electronic Intifada editor Ali Abunimah, and Mondoweiss senior editor Phil Weiss on “The End of Zionism.” You can watch the video at our website.

Take care of one another and stay safe,

Michael