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Battle simmers over Palestinian voices in D.C., as Dems do damage control on Rabin’s heroism

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Michael Arria is on vacation this week, and Phil Weiss is filling in on trendspotting. –Ed.

For those of us seeking to change the policy towards Israel in the United States, this has been a week with a few victories and a few setbacks. A mixed bag. Like last night, when Mike Pence bragged about Trump’s moving the embassy to Jerusalem and standing by Israel, and of course Kamala Harris had no rejoinder. Joe Biden is doubling down on his love of Israel in a bid for Florida. Heck, a new ad from a pro-Israel Democratic group shows him shaking Netanyahu’s hand.

Rep. Joaquin Castro, one of three leading candidates for chair of House Foreign Affairs since Eliot Engel’s defeat in the NY primary in June, had webcasts with two Israel lobby groups, J Street and Democratic Majority For Israel, in which he said that he would bring a greater array of voices to House Foreign Affairs — including Palestinian voices, according to a report by Jewish Insider. From Castro’s J Street call:

For the long-term stability of both Israel and the Palestinians, I think the United States — especially on the congressional level — being able to hear the different voices would actually be helpful. And so I hope that we can make that happen next term.”

The other two candidates, Brad Sherman and Gregory Meeks, have also met with DMFI and J Street.

I’m easily shocked (part of the journalist’s skillset) but I find this shocking. First, it’s revolutionary that a candidate for such an important position would call for more Palestinian voices. Castro’s affirmation is a reflection of the progressive base of the party. But what a sad reflection of the status of Palestine in Washington. Remember that the Obama administration was loaded with openly-Zionist mediators, from Martin Indyk to Dennis Ross to Dan Shapiro, because Obama had to stay on good terms with the Israel lobby.

The other sad truth is that the chair of House Foreign Affairs gets chosen by the Democratic Party leadership in the end– good old machine politics– but look who gets access! Two Israel lobby groups are auditioning the candidates. I asked Jim Zogby of the Arab American Institute, a longtime player in Democratic Party politics, “Do you know of any non-Jewish org that gets this kind of access/gatekeeper role? Like, say, the Arab American Institute? Anyone else?” Zogby wrote back, “Simple answer: No.”

Some day that’s going to change. The Israel lobby won’t be the gatekeeper for high political appointments touching on Middle East policy. It is now!

Here are some other odds and ends from the week:

☀️ Florida up for grabs

The Republican Jewish Coalition is spending $3.5 million in Florida to say that Trump is the “most pro-Israel president in history,” according to Politico.

But Joe Biden isn’t taking that lying down. Democratic surrogates remind us that Joe Biden describes himself as a “Zionist.” And here is a pro-Israel ad from Democratic Majority for Israel, in which Biden is shown shaking Netanyahu’s hand, even though most Democrats have a low opinion of Netanyahu. Biden says he’s on Israel’s side… forever! “With all the change you’re hearing about there is one enduring essential principle that will not change, and that is our commitment to the peace and security of the state of Israel.”

The comment is from a 2009 speech by Biden to the Israel lobby group AIPAC, according to the Obama White House archives. Biden went on that supporting Israel is “not negotiable…. not a matter of change….something to be reinforced and made clear.  It seems almost unnecessary to state it, but I want the word to go forth in here that no one should mistake it.” Got that?

🇨🇦 Canadians say boycotting Israel is not antisemitic

A new Canadian survey shows what Michael Arria has repeatedly documented here, that ordinary voters are completely open to the idea of Israel paying a price for its human rights abuses. Independent Jewish Voices of Canada published a survey showing that overwhelmingly Canadians reject government efforts to ban criticisms of Israel’s human rights record as allegedly antisemitic. The survey polled over 1000 Canadians.

The findings suggest that any efforts by governments to stifle free speech on Israel-Palestine under the guise of fighting antisemitism would be out of step with the will of a strong majority of Canadians. Rather than indicating antisemitism, Canadians believe accusing Israel of committing human rights abuses (80%), calling for a boycott of Israel because of alleged human rights abuses (76%) and comparing Israel’s policies to South African Apartheid laws (69%) to be legitimate expression.   

The survey is a direct rejection of the Canadian government’s adoption of the definition of antisemitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) that includes criticism of Israel. “The IHRA definition threatens to restrict forms of speech that a majority of Canadians, including many Jews, evidently hold to be legitimate,” explains IJV’s National Coordinator Corey Balsam. 

Yes, again– like the South Africa analogy:

69% of Canadians agree that suggesting Israel’s restrictive movement and residency laws on Palestinians are similar to South African Apartheid laws IS NOT antisemitism.

🤯 AOC’s Rabin reversal reverberates

As you know, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez withdrew ten days ago from a memorial for Yitzhak Rabin organized by Americans for Peace that will take place online Oct. 20. The star congressperson did so after Palestinian solidarity activists pointed out Rabin’s grisly human rights record during the Nakba and the First Intifada. Her withdrawal stunned the Israel lobby, and liberal Zionists.

Americans for Peace Now has added other speakers, actor Josh Malina, labor leader Randi Weingarten and Minnesota AG Keith Ellison. The first two headliners are Jewish, Ellison is a Muslim. APN said that Ellison was not replacing AOC.

Ocasio-Cortez’s stance so rattled Democrats, that they are engaged in damage control. Several legislators including Senator Ben Cardin and Reps. Dean Phillips, Ted Deutch, Jan Schakowsky, and Jamie Raskin introduced a bipartisan resolution on October 1 honoring Rabin.

Democratic Majority for Israel seizes on the resolution to attack AOC.

We applaud the many Democrats who are choosing to honor former Israeli Prime Minister & peace-maker Yitzhak Rabin, despite one MoC‘s decision to dishonor him

Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street takes a nuanced stance on the AOC withdrawal. He is careful to praise AOC as an inspiration “for many progressive Jewish Americans like me in particular,” and says Rabin had a mixed record, but says AOC should have used the memorial as an opportunity to speak of the “complexity of leadership and of history” and the “heroic changes people make.” She made a “mistake,” he says.

Michael Koplow of the centrist Israel lobby group, the Israel Policy Forum, is vituperative. He accuses AOC of “Scraping the bottom of the progressive barrel” and says she has a responsibility to help peaceniks hold on in Israel. “One of the most prominent figureheads of American progressive politics” stepped into Israeli politics, but her gesture “effectively takes those in Israel who are still working toward peace in a way that respects both Israeli and Palestinian nationalism and throws them under the bus.”

But Israel is overwhelmingly rightwing, and discriminatory, its basic law states that only Jews have the right of self-determination in the land. AOC surely finds its political culture distasteful. It seems to me Koplow’s real concern is that Palestinian voices will gain status inside the American discourse due to AOC’s stance.

🗞️ Beinart goes to the Times

The New York Times hired Peter Beinart, who came out in July for one democratic state in Israel and Palestine, as a new op-ed columnist. Beinart has made quite an evolution over the years; he once spoke at AIPAC events but has lately acknowledged the tide in opinion: “one equal state is not only the preference of young Palestinians. It is the preference of young Americans, too.” This is evidence of the shift in the U.S. discussion, at a newspaper that has given endless space to justifications of the killings of Palestinian protesters. Though as JVP points out, in the last ten years, only 2.8 percent of the Times op-eds about Palestinian issues are written by Palestinians.

🤫 Cornell Architecture chair panders to Israel supporters during pro-Palestine lecture

Another shocker. Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, a Brown professor of comparative literature, was giving an on-line lecture at Cornell’s School of Architecture on October 5 entitled “Palestine is There, Where it Has Always Been” when her presentations were overlaid by a statement from the chair of the school saying that in future “other points of view” will be featured.

From the Funambulist:

Azoulay… argued with great rigor and precision how the very notion of the “desert” in the context of Palestine had been used as one of the main component of the Zionist narrative of the inexistence of Palestinian people in Palestine, and of the implementation of an Eurocentric idea of progress by the Israeli state in its endeavor to “make the desert bloom.”

Then the surprise. “[A] few minutes after Aïsha had begun her talk, a message was posted by the person in charge of the technical side of the session on a clear demand from the Chair of the department of architecture, Andrea Lee Simitch:

“We are aware that these topics are sensitive and have multiple view points and would like to assure all participants that the department is looking forward to organizing a future lecture that presents other view points than those that are offered here today and in subsequent talks.”

The good news is that a reported 750+ signatories have objected to the intervention, signing a statement that the action was reminiscent of rightwing attacks, and “outrageous” and “coward”ly.

🚀 Michael Oren-watch

Former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren five years ago sought to legitimize a “rigged” election in Azerbaijan, the country of which Israel is the top arms supplier. Evan Gottesman at Israel Policy Forum on the geopolitical game here:

Azerbaijan’s experience offers a lesson to despots in Abu Dhabi [UAE], Manama [Bahrain], and beyond, which is that ties with Israel can deliver a public relations coup with impressionable Western, and especially American, audiences.

🦠 Media voices say Trump’s illness represented opportunity for… Iran

A few mainstream reporters sought to use Trump’s COVID hospitalization to lecture about Iran being emboldened as a malevolent force in the Middle East. On MSNBC Andrea Mitchell warned of “bad actors” taking advantage of the president’s illness, and then cited Iran in Yemen. As if the United States doesn’t bear some responsibility for the genocide in Yemen.

While at NPR, Mary Louise Kelly suggested that Iran was spying on Walter Reed hospital to learn the truth about Trump’s condition, in a respectful interview of former CIA boss John Brennan. Kelly:

Iran would be interested in this. And understanding this is hard to talk about in an unclassified setting, what type things are they looking at? Are they targeting Walter Reed, for example, where the president has been hospitalized over the weekend?

🐻 California governor does a solid for the Israel lobby.

Democratic California Gov Gavin Newsom rejected an ethnic studies curriculum in California last week in part over Israel-critical language. Jewish News of Northern California says a number of pro-Israel Jewish groups pressured the governor, even though Democrats in both houses had unanimously approved the curriculum.

Newsom had actually supported similar curriculum earlier but been “under pitched pressure” from pro-Israel groups over portions of the curriculum, later removed, favorable to the BDS campaign– boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting Israel.

So Newsom bucks not just the progressive street, but the Democratic caucus. Somehow I think this is going to be a trend. And Joe Biden will model this conduct, alas.

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https://jewishcurrents.org/the-myth-of-rabin-the-peacemaker/ “The Myth of Rabin the Peacemaker” Jewish Currents, Sept. 27/20 EXCERPTS: “ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ was right to cancel her participation in an event honoring Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. After news broke that the Congresswoman was scheduled to speak at a memorial organized by Americans for Peace Now in late October, Palestinians and their allies shared historical archives and family stories on social media to explain why Rabin, who was assassinated by an Israeli right-wing extremist 25 years… Read more »