Betty McCollum's bill won't pass. So what's the Israel lobby so afraid of?
Titled "The Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act," the legislation is endorsed by more than 70 organisations and is co-sponsored by 13 other members of the House. (Full disclosure: My organisation, ReThinking Foreign Policy is one of the supporting organisations.)
That is a remarkable level of support for a bill that would restrict Israel's use of US funds in a number of ways and require regular reporting from the State Department on Israeli compliance with the law.
McCollum's press release states that the bill "prohibits Israel from using US taxpayer dollars in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem for: the military detention, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention; to support the seizure and destruction of Palestinian property and homes in violation of international humanitarian law; or, to extend any assistance or support for Israel's unilateral annexation of Palestinian territory in violation of international humanitarian law."
This legislation is important, even though existing US law, under the Foreign Assistance and Arms Export Control Acts, should make it unnecessary. If the United States were following its own laws and procedures, aid to Israel would be reported on and would be dependent on Israel following US law.
|In fact, there is no regular reporting on the use of US aid to Israel|
AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, quickly came out in opposition to McCollum's bill. "Rep. McCollum's bill is both unnecessary and redundant. Current law already establishes reasonable conditions for aid to Israel and every other nation," the group stated.
In fact, there is no regular reporting on the use of US aid to Israel. According to Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, the bill's requirement that the Secretary of State report each year on whether or not Israel is complying with US regulations, "crosses a red line for many defenders of Israel, who oppose any official US government acknowledgement of Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights, and who would no doubt fear that such a report would strengthen future calls for conditions on aid to Israel."
Friedman also correctly notes that the bill requires nothing more than this reporting, imposing no penalties for Israeli failure to comply with the law.
While it might become the basis for future legislation that would carry penalties were it to be enshrined in US law, and despite some histrionics from pro-Israel groups, it does not restrict or limit aid to Israel in any way. It merely requires that Americans be fully aware of how US aid is used and are notified of any breaches of US law. That is hardly an onerous demand.
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Despite its limitations, AIPAC's reaction is indicative of the potential impact and the unprecedented nature of this bill. Groups as diverse as the Adalah Justice Project, al-Haq, Jewish Voice for Peace Action, CAIR, Americans for Peace Now, and even J Street are supporting it. A list that includes strongly pro-Palestinian groups along with pro-Israel groups as moderate as J Street is formidable, and reflects a growing sense among Democrats that Israel should be treated like any other country, and be accountable to US law.
Progressive Congressmembers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush, Ayanna Pressley and Bobby Rush are among the 13 initial co-sponsors of the bill. AOC's early endorsement is particularly important. Not only is she a major progressive figure in Congress, but a recent incident where she gave a bewildering response to a question about the Israeli occupation in a talk with the staunchly pro-Israel Jewish Community Relations Council of New York caused some to question where she stood on the issue.
|That this bill has 13 co-sponsors already demonstrates the growing support for Palestinian rights in the Democratic party|
In the past, milder bills offering only vague rebuke to Israel might hope to manage a few co-sponsors after some campaigning. That this one has 13 already demonstrates the growing support for Palestinian rights in the Democratic party.
McCollum has long been at the forefront of Congress in championing Palestinian rights, but this bill is a particularly bold step. "US assistance intended for Israel's security must never be used to violate the human rights of Palestinian children, demolish the homes of Palestinian families, or to permanently annex Palestinian lands," McCollum said.
"Peace can only be achieved by respecting human rights, especially the rights of children, and this includes the US taking responsibility for how taxpayer-funded aid is used by recipient countries, Israel included. Congress must stop ignoring the unjust and blatantly cruel mistreatment of Palestinian children and families living under Israeli military occupation."
Beth Miller, Senior Government Affairs Manager at Jewish Voice for Peace Action wrote in an email dispatch that, "The bill could not come at a more critical moment. The pandemic has exposed systemic injustices across the globe, intensifying the harms that come from state violence and discrimination - Israel is no exception.
|AIPAC's reaction is indicative of the potential impact and the unprecedented nature of this bill|
"During the pandemic, the Israeli government has continued to imprison Palestinian children under a military court system, putting them in grave danger of contracting Covid and separating them from their families. Horrifyingly, at a time when we are all asked to stay at home, the Israeli government has actually increased the rate at which it is demolishing Palestinian homes."
H.R. 2590 is not likely to become law. Pro-Israel Democrats, as well as Republicans in the House will likely spare no effort to ensure to prevent the bill from reaching the floor for a vote. If the bill does make it that far, it would be an enormous step toward opening the debate on US policy regarding Israel-Palestine that has been silenced and stifled for so many years, to the detriment of all.
Indeed, the support it has already gotten brings real debate on US complicity in Israel's actions a big step closer. The more support the bill gets, the bigger that step will be.
Mitchell Plitnick is a political analyst and writer. He is the former vice president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace and former director of the US Office of B'Tselem.
Follow him on Twitter: @MJPlitnick
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