Barring Members Of Congress From Israel-Palestine

In a sudden reversal, the Israeli government decided on Thursday to bar two members of Congress—Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN)—from

Photo tweeted by MPower Change

entering Israel. This means that they also cannot enter the West Bank, which was where they intended to spend bulk of their time in Israel-Palestine. After announcing the ban on the two congresswomen, Israel said that Tlaib could visit her family in the West Bank if she agreed “not to participate in any BDS activities.”

The decision to bar entry to the congresswomen met with widespread condemnation in the United States, including by groups that normally march in lockstep with Israel. AIPAC, for example, said they disagree with Tlaib and Omar, of course, but “We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.” The American Jewish Committee said that “AJC believes that, out of two less-than-ideal options, neither of which was risk-free, Israel did not choose wisely by reversing its original decision [to allow Tlaib and Omar in].”

These were typical reactions from the center-right of the pro-Israel community in the U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), one of the most devoted Israel supporters in Congress, typified much of the congressional response, saying “No democratic society should fear an open debate. Many strong supporters of Israel will be deeply disappointed in this decision, which the Israeli government should reverse.”

Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the House Majority Leader who just returned from leading a congressional delegation of dozens of members to Israel and who is as lock-step a pro-Israel voice as any Democrat, said, “The decision of the Israeli government to deny entry to Israel by two Members of Congress is outrageous, regardless of their itinerary or their views. This action is contrary to the statement and assurances to me by Israel’s ambassador to the United States that ‘out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any Member of Congress into Israel.’ That representation was not true.”

What was so interesting about these responses, beyond the unusual tone of rebuke for Israel, is the seemingly deliberate decision not to blame President Donald Trump. After all, Israel had made it quite clear that they intended to admit Tlaib and Omar, and then reversed its decision quickly after a tweet from Trump, which read: “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel and all Jewish people, and there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.” Read more at LobeLog

Congress Opposes Non-Violent Support For Palestinian Rights

This has not been a good week for Democrats, especially those who wish to cast their party as the progressive alternative to the Trump-McConnell regime. As the feckless party leadership continued to avoid taking any action against Donald Trump for his numerous crimes—which go well beyond the Russia questions—they managed to find time to pass a bill opposing the right of U.S. citizens to use economic leverage to press for change in Israel-Palestine.

H. Res. 246, a nameless bill which declares the House of Representatives’ opposition to the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, passed with 398 in favor and only 17 (16 Democrats and one Republican) representatives voting against it. The bill was considerably weaker than the sort of legislation the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) had hoped to pass to criminalize BDS at the federal level. Those efforts ran afoul of free speech concerns among a wide variety of Congress members.

In the end, H. Res. 246 addressed those concerns sufficiently to attract the support of comparatively moderate Jewish groups such as J Street, Ameinu, Partners for Progressive Israel, the National Council of Jewish Women, and Reconstructing Judaism. But fundamental issues remained, and if we were having a rational discussion about BDS and U.S. policy toward Israel-Palestine in general, those issues would have been more of an obstacle. Read more at LobeLog

Friedman: Facts Have to Matter, the words of Ilhan Omar

On July 17, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs convened for a markup of several bills, including a few that were directly related to the Israel-Palestine conflict. One member of the committee, Ilhan Omar (D-MN), whom you might have been hearing about for other reasons this week, spoke for a few minutes about achieving a resolution to that conflict. Her words were subsequently distorted and attacked.

Often those attacks have conflated her words with the presentation of a bill, also this week, which Omar is co-sponsoring with Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) which defends the right of people to boycott, as enshrined in the First Amendment. The bill has been prompted by a bipartisan House effort to move legislation that, while not criminalizing boycotts of Israel (an effort which was thwarted on legal grounds last year), heavily stigmatizes it. This will both have a chilling effect on free expression and lay the groundwork for more steps against boycotts in the future.

Omar, Lewis, and Tlaib quite correctly understand that not only does this put an obstacle in the path of non-violent action to oppose Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights but can lead to the stifling of organized economic action on any political matter, domestic or international. They have, therefore, not brought a bill that addresses BDS, Israel, or Palestine, but rather protects the right to boycott, one of the few effective tools grassroots movements have for impacting political realities. Continue reading

Rapper Talib Kweli Barred From Music Fest Over BDS

Bowing to a new law in Germany, the Open Source Festival in Dusseldorf rescinded its invitation to Brooklyn-born rapper Talib Kweli. In May 2019, the German government passed a law stating that the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel (BDS) until it met the basic national demands of the Palestinian people was anti-Semitic. As a result, Kweli, who is a long-time advocate for the Palestinian cause, could not perform at a music festival using public funds, as this one does.

When it comes to BDS, Germany won’t tolerate “don’t ask, don’t tell” either. I have no idea whether Kweli would have said a word about the Palestinians at his show, and neither do the show’s organizers. Some of Kweli’s songs mention his support for the Palestinians and opposition to Israeli policies, but it’s hardly a primary theme of his. It’s just one piece among many of his stances for social justice. He did not start this; the festival producers asked him as a litmus test for his entry.

That’s how far anti-BDS legislation goes in its quest to stifle speech that might illuminate the Palestinian case. Read more at LobeLog

The Palestine Problem

“Israel is outraged over the legislation against it in the Dail which is indicative of hypocrisy and anti-Semitism.” That was the statement from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the lower house of the Irish parliament advanced a bill in late January that would make it illegal for anyone in Ireland to buy goods or services from Israel’s settlements in the West Bank.

No one should underestimate Israel’s genuine anger at this bill and at the widespread support it has in Ireland. Any hint of economic pressure to end its 51-year old occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip provokes a strong, visceral reaction from the Likud premier. At the same time, the Israeli government carefully orchestrates its reaction to the threat of economic action to ensure that it never has to face it.

Netanyahu understands the Irish bill will fail. The government opposes it, if for no other reason than the fact that it contravenes European Union laws requiring all member states to uphold the unitary nature of the single market. But he also understands the real meaning behind the bill and its success: the people of Ireland want to see Israel face the consequences of its disregard of international humanitarian law, and its abandonment of even the pretence of negotiating a two-state solution, in the hope that those consequences will make Israel change course. Read more at The Battleground

Q&A With Rebecca Vilkomerson

Rebecca Vilkomerson has been a member of Jewish Voice for Peace since 2001 and the group’s Executive Director since 2009. She lived with her family in Israel from 2006-2009. In 2010 she rebecca-vilkomersonwas named one of the 50 most influential Jewish American leaders by the Forward, and was named one of “14 Women to Watch” in 2014.

FMEP: Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) has, in some ways, been a lightning rod for the global movement for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel (BDS). Many people can’t reconcile the idea of a Jewish organization advocating a boycott of Israel. Obviously, this is especially true for those who see BDS as unfairly anti-Israel, even anti-Semitic. As the Executive Director of JVP, how do you respond to those charges? And, perhaps a parallel question, what would you say are the major differences between the public perception of the BDS movement and its reality?

Rebecca Vilkomerson: Read more at Facts On The Ground, the Foundation For Middle East Peace’s blog. 

Understanding EU Labeling Regulations

Recently, the European Union implemented a procedure for enforcing existing regulations requiring the labeling of some goods produced in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Israel has vociferously objected to any labeling of products from its settlements, and this has prompted concern in Congress, including a bi-partisan letter written by Senators Cruz and Gillibrand protesting the requirement.

The Obama administration has made it clear that it does not object to the EU’s decision. “We do not believe that labeling the origin of products is equivalent to a boycott,” State DepartmentIsraeli settlement winespokesman Mark Toner said in response to a question. “And as you know, we do not consider settlements to be part of Israel. We do not view labeling the origin of products as being from the settlements as a boycott of Israel.” Read more at Facts on the Ground, FMEP’s blog.