By Benay Blend
For several weeks since the JStreet conference, various political commentators have focused on how Democratic candidates speaking at the gathering include the possibility of leveraging aid to Israel as part of their campaign platforms.
In an article aptly titled “The Democrats Finally Confront Military Aid to Israel,” Josh Ruebner noted that Bernie Sanders proposed reallocating some military aid to Israel towards sending humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. Pete Buttigieg declared that aid to Israel needs to be “compatible with US objectives and US law.”
Speaking via video, Elizabeth Warren denounced the increase in settlement construction, while elsewhere, reports Adam Kredo, Warren took a “hard-line” by saying that “everything is on the table” in terms of “imposing a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
Kredo’s coverage of Warren’s words is telling: “Warren Threatens Israel: ‘Everything is on the Table.”
Her comments most likely pose a verbal challenge to unqualified support for Israeli policies, which has been the case in the past, but beyond that, she is not straying too far from the official story. She is indeed “imposing” a solution, that of two states, a plan for which she has not apparently consulted many Palestinians.
In fact, “the two-state solution is dead,” reports Yousef Munayyer, partly because Israel has continued to build settlements, the very point that Warren takes issue within her statement. In reality, it has always been an “illusion,” Munayyer concludes, a situation which, Jeff Halper confirms, has always been the case.
As Halper explains, not only did Israel never intend to make two states a reality, it has now become “a convenient mechanism for conflict management” while Israel continues to seize the entire country in “incremental steps.” Accordingly, it seems that Warren’s line is not so hard at all, but instead follows the chimera of two states that has never been a credible solution.
If Warren’s “threat” to leverage aid to Israel is based on whether it refuses to discontinue settlement building, what about Buttigieg’s performance at the conference? To say that Israel needs to be compatible with U.S. objectives is misleading because in many ways its settler-colonial policies are quite comparable with a country that does not deal in good faith with its own Indigenous population.
As far as law, there is the Leahy Law, a provision of the Foreign Assistance Act (section 620M), a measure designed to prevent US-funded assistance from reaching specific security force units or individuals who have committed gross violations of human rights.
If Buttigieg would acknowledge that provision, rather than making vague references to leveraging aid, it could touch upon many practices that activists have long called out, such as the training of our police forces by Israeli security authorities. But then, that goes back to his assertion that Israeli practices need to be attuned to U.S. policies. In many ways, such as the militarization of the police, the two countries are already (unfortunately) quite harmonious in their treatment of dissident populations.
Buttigieg then goes on to say that “you can be committed to the U.S.-Israel alliance without being supportive of any individual choice by a right-wing government over there.” Here he separates right-wing governments from the rest of Israel, which, to be fair, is a mistake that has been made by each candidate.
In an interview with Laura Flanders, Arundhati Roy warns that Americans waste too much time making fun of Trump and/or hoping that he will be impeached. “The danger with that kind of obsession with a single person,” she explains, “is that you don’t see the system that produced him.” The same could be said for focusing only on Netanyahu or whoever finally replaces him. Left or right-wing, and now it seems that there will only be right-wing in the near future, both are Zionist, and as such do not wish to dismantle the state that will continue to oppress Palestinians no matter who controls the state.
Finally, Sanders, speaking at the JStreet conference, made waves by suggesting that if Israel wants military aid, it will have to “fundamentally change [its] relationship to the people of Gaza.” Going even farther, he proposed that part of the $3.8 billion per year that Israel receives in aid should go toward humanitarian assistance to the people who are suffering in Gaza.
It is true that there is much hardship in Gaza that could be ameliorated with aid, but that assistance without freedom of movement, without gainful employment, without the right to an education, in short, without the right to live with dignity as human beings should, amounts to at best only a band-aid on the situation.
More importantly, without forcing Israel to stop randomly bombing Gaza in order to ethnically erase an entire group of people, aid from the United States is worthless. How can people rebuild, focus on their families, and on their education if they know that can all be taken away overnight? As recently as November 5, 2019, Israeli Energy Minister and security cabinet member Yuval Steinitz announced that a “big army operation” might be necessary for the near future.
Lobbies such as the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) struck back at Sanders’ call for conditioning military aid to Israel. As Michael Brown reports, its president Morton Klein quickly took to Twitter to label Sanders an “AntiSemitic Israelophobe” who wants to transfer defense money away from Israel in order to give it to the “murderous terrorist group Hamas” in Gaza.
Nevertheless, much of the discourse around leveraging aid to Israel appears, in the opinion of Michael Arria, “largely hypothetical.” In order to put teeth into the Senator’s rhetoric, Arria suggests some actions that could be taken now. For example, there is H.R. 2407, legislation introduced by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) that would amend the Foreign Assistance Act to assure that U.S. aid would not be used to detain children not only in Israel but also any other country.
In a recent article, Ramzy Baroud called for support of McCollum’s bill, and that would certainly include introducing a companion bill in the Senate. Though McCollum has reportedly asked Senators Sanders and Warren to introduce such legislation, so far it has not happened.
What would it take to move from progressive rhetoric to concrete, responsible action? First, a heed to Baroud’s request for supporting McCollum’s bill, including pushing progressive Democrats to not only sign onto the legislation but also introduce companion legislation in the Senate.
Going farther than that, though, an effort to enlarge the stance of anti-Zionism to include what Eyad Kishawi, Max Ail and Liliana Cordova-Kaczerginski have proposed would be ideal. “Anti-Zionism is not merely criticism of current Israeli policies or even the idea of a Jewish nation-state,” they explain. “It is a rejection of an imperially-imposed, racist, settler-colonial state.”
According to this analysis, the Zionist state can be linked to its broader imperialist ventures, including providing arms to the following: apartheid South Africa, the dictatorships of the Southern cone and Central America in the 1970s and 1980s, and the fascist Bolsonaro regime in Brazil.
Last night the duly elected Presidency of Evo Morales was overthrown by a U.S.-backed coup. In a statement from Verso Books, scores of academics, activists and others declared:
“At the time of this writing, the Wiphala Indigenous flag has been lowered throughout the country by the opposition. Morales, the country’s first Indigenous president, is the standard-bearer of generations of Indigenous socialists. His removal represents the return of the old oligarchy. This is a coup against the arrival of the Indigenous peoples of Bolivia to the forefront of history.”
Evo Morales, as an Indigenous leader himself, has always stood firm with the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation. Using the above analysis that describes the Zionist project as “the spear’s-tip of empire across the Third World and against the Third World national and against Third World national and social liberation struggles,” it’s possible to place all such movements in solidarity with each other.
In this way, not only does this perspective align Palestine with these movements, thus countering the argument that it is only one small corner of the world, but it forces progressive Democrats to take a stand against imperialism, a position which if lacking negates the term “progressive” as a label for figures such as Sanders.
So far, none of the candidates have declared themselves anti-Zionist. If and when they do, it should be from a “broader internationalist and anti-colonial position,” as Kishawi, Ail, and Cordova-Kaczerginski propose, a stance that rejects all forms of imperialism, from the most recent coup in Bolivia to the settler-colonial possession of Palestine.
– Benay Blend earned her doctorate in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Her scholarly works include Douglas Vakoch and Sam Mickey, Eds. (2017), “’Neither Homeland Nor Exile are Words’: ‘Situated Knowledge’ in the Works of Palestinian and Native American Writers”. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.