Just World Podcasts on Palestine

Story/Backstory, episode 1:
The longer arc of U.S.-Palestine relations

Helena Cobban, February 22, 2019

This is the first episode in our new “Story/Backstory” miniseries, which combines both the reading by JWE president Helena Cobban of her most recent 1,300-word op-ed on U.S. policies in the Middle East, with a slightly longer segment in which she reflects on some of the issues raised by the op-ed. For more details, visit the blog on our website.

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New York Jewish Voice for Peace Proud to #StandWithIlhan

Dear Rep. Engel and Rep. Lowey,

We, members of the Westchester chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, are your constituents. And we proudly #StandWithIlhan.

Many of our colleagues and allies have already robustly and eloquently called out the dishonesty, Islamophobia, and anti-Black racism evident in Democratic leaders’ swarming attack on Rep. Omar. We echo those views, and note that your actions do nothing to counter the real and growing threat of antisemitism in this country and around the world.

But we wish to address a different point that your attacks on Rep. Omar seek to suppress, namely that your fidelity to the Israel lobby is inconsistent with your responsibilities as our elected representatives in Congress.

This non-exhaustive list highlights some of our areas of concern:

  1. The most glaring recent example of your willingness to subvert the essential obligation of your office — to uphold our Constitution — is your determination to enact lobby-drafted laws that would penalize Americans for exercising their Constitutional right to free speech that criticizes Israel. There is no way to dress up this legislation as anything other than an effort to silence legitimate, Constitutionally-protected speech and debate on questions of significant importance. Shame on you both.

  2. Where the State of Israel has pursued policies that are contrary to US interests and long-held policy you have thrown your support behind Israel, as you both did, for example, in opposing the JCPOA (multilateral Iran nuclear deal); condemning the US abstention on the UN Security Council vote acknowledging the illegality of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine; and supporting relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem. These positions are incomprehensible to us; they weaken the rule of law and the cause of peace and stability in the region.

  3. For years we have watched in amazement and disgust as both of you impugn the mountains of findings of fact and conclusions of law by actual experts, documenting Israel’s extensive and systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, as well as of essential norms concerning interstate relations like the prohibition against the acquisition of territory through force — and uncritically spout dishonest and discredited lobby-drafted talking points to justify your support for those policies of oppression. We deserve representatives who are willing to countenance real facts, even if those facts challenge their long-held beliefs.

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Call NOW to stop resolution targeting Rep. Omar Ilhan

#StandWithllhan

Please consider calling or emailing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and your own Representative:

    Speaker Pelosi: 202-225-0100, press “1” to leave a message, or email form
    Rep. Mark Pocan: 202-225-2906 in DC, or email form

The vote is now scheduled for Thursday, 3/7/19.

The Democratic Party Attacks on Ilhan Omar Are a Travesty

I’m Jewish and have worked against anti-Semitism for decades. I was sitting a few feet from Omar at Busboys & Poets and I heard nothing—nothing—that smacked of anti-Semitism, overt or coded or otherwise.

Phyllis Bennis, The Nation, March 5, 2019

Ilhan OmarRepresentative Ilhan Omar at a news conference in the Capitol on January 10, 2019. (Tom Williams/AP Images)

Attacks on Congresswoman Ilhan Omar are rising. One of the first Muslim women elected, Omar is also black, an African immigrant, a former refugee from Somalia, and wears her hijab in the halls of Congress. She is under attack from the leaders of her own party for anti-Semitic statements she never made, for anti-Jewish prejudice she never expressed, for hatred of Jews she doesn’t hold. And the Democratic Party leadership is considering a resolution whose early text, at least, while not mentioning Omar by name, is clearly aimed at accusing her of precisely those things, despite the fact—ignored by the Speaker of the House and other top officials—that she never said or believed any of those words.

The most recent attacks on Representative Omar are based on her answer to a broad question about anti-Semitism during a recent town hall meeting at Busboys & Poets in Washington, DC. I was there, sitting just a few feet from Omar, asking a question during the Q&A. She never said that Jews have dual loyalty. She never expressed “prejudicial attitudes” or supported “discriminatory acts” against Jews or anyone else. And yet that is the language being proposed for a Democratic Party–sponsored resolution aimed at undermining Omar’s credibility, and likely that of Rashida Tlaib, the other Muslim woman just elected to Congress. Like Omar, Tlaib, who is Palestinian, stands forthrightly in support of Palestinian rights, against the power of the pro-Israel lobby and other lobbies that use money to influence Congress to support guns, environmental destruction, and Israeli violations of human rights—and she stands against racism and anti-Semitism.

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Israeli Extremists Are Making a Comeback—With the Help of US Tax Dollars

American nonprofits have funneled money to Meir Kahane’s followers, who now have a chance to enter the Knesset

Israeli ExtremistsBenzion Gopstein (left), leader of the far-right Israeli group Lehava, gathers with fellow activists in Jerusalem on December 25, 2014. (Reuters/Nir Elias)

Mairav Zonszein, The Nation, 2/26/19

As Israel’s April 9 election approaches, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has paved the way for a Jewish-supremacist party—which some are dubbing the Jewish KKK—to enter the next Israeli Knesset. He encouraged the merger of three small far-right parties, Jewish Home, National Union, and Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit in Hebrew), since each of them separately was not expected to receive enough votes to make the minimum Knesset threshold. If Netanyahu is reelected, the new far-right party, assuming it receives enough votes to make the minimum, would then help him secure a governing coalition of at least 61 seats.

All three parties are nationalist, anti-Arab, and homophobic; however, Jewish Power stands out because its platform and leaders are inspired by the violent legacy of Meir Kahane and his Kach party, which was barred from running in the Knesset in 1988 on grounds of racism, and then outlawed in 1994 on grounds of incitement to terrorism after Baruch Goldstein, who was active in Kach, murdered 29 Palestinians in Hebron exactly 25 years ago Monday. The US State Department followed suit and listed Kach and an offshoot, Kahane Chai (Kahane Lives), as a foreign terrorist group in 1997. One of Jewish Power’s leaders, Michael Ben-Ari, who served in the Knesset from 2009 to 2013, was barred from entering the United States in 2012 because of his affiliation with a “terrorist organization.”

In the 20-plus years since Kach was banned, Kahane’s disciples have found ways to continue pushing a racist, anti-Arab, and antidemocratic agenda—and to fund it. A new investigation carried out in coordination with the Democratic Bloc, an Israeli nonprofit organization founded in 2018 to research and monitor antidemocratic trends in Israel, reveals a web of interconnected groups, individuals, and websites in Israel and the United States—including several American nonprofit foundations that appear to have been founded for the purpose of funneling tax-exempt dollars to Kahanist causes, some of which are directly linked to Jewish terrorist groups. “If in the past, they relied on political mechanisms for fundraising and recruiting activists, today we are talking about a network of organizations disguised as charity groups and social causes that are raising money from the State of Israel and abroad in order to continue inciting and undermining the foundations of democracy,” said Ran Cohen, one of the founders of the Democratic Bloc.

At the center of this web is Kahane protégé and Jewish Power member Benzion Gopstein, who runs Lehava, an openly racist, anti-miscegenation gang active for at least a decade. Its mission is to “save” Jewish women from assimilation. Lehava activists are notorious for violently attacking and harassing Palestinians in the streets of Jerusalem just for being Palestinian. Three activists affiliated with Lehava were convicted of setting fire to an Arab-Jewish bilingual school in Jerusalem in 2014. The next year then–Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon tried—unsuccessfully—to get Israel’s internal-security service to designate Lehava as a terrorist group. Gopstein has been arrested several times, including on suspicion of murdering an Arab couple in 1990, but has never been convicted. He has openly called for the burning of churches and has incited violence against Palestinians. He said in 2014 of Yigal Amir, the Israeli who in 1995 assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, “Rabin left him no choice.”

The Nation

The Israel Religious Action Center has been documenting Lehava’s activities for the past seven years. In 2017, IRAC, along with several other civil-society groups, petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court alleging that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit was dragging his feet by not indicting Gopstein on various charges, including incitement to violence and terrorism. They also seek to classify Lehava as a criminal organization, which is difficult because a lot of what Gopstein says falls under free-speech protections. According to IRAC director Noa Sattath, “The thuggish activity of the Lehava militia has gone on uninterrupted in Jerusalem since 2009. The Lehava organization carries out physical violence and racial incitement against Arabs in downtown Jerusalem and around the country—with the goal of demonizing Arabs and terrorizing them. Lehava’s activity is racist, antidemocratic, immoral, and goes directly against Jewish values.”

Lehava is not a registered nonprofit in Israel, and it’s unclear how and from whom it receives its funding. A Haaretz investigation in 2011 found that Lehava activists are closely linked to a registered Israeli nonprofit, Chemla (sometimes spelled Hemla), whose mission includes helping needy families and, until 2014, supporting settler youth. Chemla, which receives significant Israeli state funds, is a key organization in this web of Kahanist cronies. Gopstein is one of the founders of Chemla, as is Rabbi Yehuda Kroizer, who also serves as head of a yeshiva in Jerusalem founded by Kahane in 1987 called the Jewish Idea (HaRaayon Hayehudi in Hebrew). The Jewish Idea Yeshiva is classified as a foreign terrorist organization by the US State and Treasury departments, listed as one of the groups affiliated with or synonymous with Kach and Kahane Chai. The list also includes several variations on that name, “Yeshiva of the Jewish Idea,” and “Friends of the Jewish Idea Yeshiva.” Continue reading

This Is How AIPAC Really Works

An AIPAC and Capitol Hill veteran explains the lobby’s tactics of reward and retribution.


M.J. Rosenberg, February 14, 2019

Senators at AIPACUS. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) (right) join hands as they take the stage to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, on March 1, 2015. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

One thing that should be said about Representative Ilhan Omar’s tweet about the power of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (more commonly known as AIPAC, or the “Israel lobby”) is that the hysterical reaction to it proved her main point: The power of AIPAC over members of Congress is literally awesome, although not in a good way. Has anyone ever seen so many members of Congress, of both parties, running to the microphones and sending out press releases to denounce one first-termer for criticizing the power of… a lobby?

Somehow, I don’t think the reaction would have been the same if she had tweeted that Congress still supports the ethanol subsidy because the American Farm Bureau and other components of the corn/ethanol lobby spend millions to keep this agribusiness bonanza going (which they do). Or that if she had opposed the ethanol subsidy, she would have been accused of hating farmers.

That’s American politics; the only difference between all the domestic lobbies that essentially buy support for their agenda is that AIPAC is working for a foreign government, a distinction but not much of a difference when the goal is to maintain a status quo that is not necessarily in the national interest.

What did Omar tweet that was so terrible, anyway? Actually it was two tweets that produced the unsettling but oh-so-telling coming together of President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in common denunciation of the first-term member of Congress. Omar’s crime: daring to suggest that campaign contributions orchestrated by AIPAC play a large part in achieving bipartisan support for anything proposed by the Israeli government and/or its lobby, AIPAC.

This is, of course, something everyone knows and which even a former president of AIPAC once admitted in a conversation that was recorded by an interlocutor. In fact, as early as 1988, 60 Minutes did a segment on how AIPAC divvies up the money. (Moreover, I, as an employee of the lobby from 1973 to 1975 and 1982 to 1986, repeatedly and personally witnessed the whole process of funding and defunding, which is anything but a secret within the organization. Additionally, I spent close to 20 years as a legislative assistant to Democratic House and Senate members and saw AIPAC’s tactics of reward and retribution from that vantage point too.)

Officially, of course, AIPAC does not engage in political fundraising; it would be illegal for it to do so, and the lobby is vehement on the point that it doesn’t. And it is true that, to my knowledge, it does not directly raise money to support or defeat candidates. But that is just a technicality. Political fundraising is a huge part of AIPAC’s operation. One of the three top positions in its massive Washington, DC, headquarters is that of political director, who runs both the Washington political operation (his annual salary is over $450,000) and deputy regional directors around the country. Here is how AIPAC describes what these officials do, as described in a “help wanted” description for a Los Angeles deputy regional political director:

  • Help track House and Senate races in the region
  • Assist with planning and executing local Congressional Club events and Congressional Club components in local events
  • Attend and assist in regional events
  • Establish and maintain contact with House and Senate campaigns to assist in the scheduling of candidate meetings and facilitate the submission of position papers
  • Solicit financial support for AIPAC’s Annual Campaign
  • Conduct candidate meetings
  • Research, track and record FEC and polling data
  • Work with colleagues to increase pro-Israel political participation in the region (Solicit Congressional Club commitments)
  • Assist with AIPAC legislative grassroots mobilizations
  • Assist with scheduling and organizing of caucuses in the regions and lobbying appointments during the AIPAC Policy Conference
  • Assist with the integration of AIPAC’s activist bases in the Jewish and Outreach communities
  • Promote participation at local and national AIPAC events including regional events and national political training conferences
  • Research, gather and deliver information requested by pro-Israel political activists
  • Other duties as assigned

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ADC Stands With Congresswoman Ilhan Omar!

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), February 12, 2019

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) unequivocally condemns all attacks and mischaracterizations against Representative Ilhan Omar for her outspoken position in support of Palestinian human rights. It is absurd that Representative Omar is being targeted for exercising her legal right to question the influence of AIPAC, one of the most influential special interest groups in the U.S. for the last twenty years.

The American people expect elected representatives to be transparent on special interest funding, and most polls show support for campaign finance reform. Representative Omar has the responsibility as a member of Congress to use her platform to question the influence that special interest groups have on U.S. policies; it is precisely why she was elected by her constituency.

Let us be clear, these attacks are not new and have absolutely nothing to do with anti-Semitism. The fictitious statements including those coming from one of the most xenophobic and racist Presidents in history, confirms that these attacks are rooted in a continued pattern and practice of vicious, bigoted, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-Black rhetoric that started before Representative Omar was elected. To falsely conflate anti-Semitism, is dangerous to the victims of true anti-Semitism, as we tragically saw in Charlottesville and at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Ohio.

ADC is equally disturbed by the growing trend in the U.S. to undermine civil liberties when it comes to engaging in Palestinian human rights work. This is best exemplified in the recent congressional efforts to punish those who peacefully exercise their First Amendment right to boycott. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) is not anti-Semitic, in fact it is against anti-Semitism and all forms of racism. Indeed, the U.S. Palestinian human rights movement condemns the very hate that it is being falsely linked to.

As, Palestinians continue to endure violations committed by Israel with impunity, Representative Omar’s questioning of the U.S. role should be applauded. Just last week, Israel shot and killed two Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip, including a 14-year-old Palestinian boy. In 2018 alone, Israel killed 57 Palestinian children. It is the duty of all members Congress to question AIPAC’s substantial influence on U.S. policies and its role to shield Israel from accountability.

We commend Representative Omar and other members of Congress that stand up for the values that this country claims to uphold, justice and dignity for all. Thank you for taking a principled position in defense of human rights and justice for all. ADC is proud to stand with you.

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Congressmen are trying to stop Rep. Rashida Tlaib from leading a delegation to the West Bank


Rashida Tlaib, elected to 13th Congressional District of Michigan, stands in front of US Capitol Building

Daily Kos, January 31, 2019

Every year, the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC sponsors an all-expense paid trip for Congressional members, seeking to bolster support for Israel. In most recent years, the Democratic trip has been led by Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (MD-5). Incoming Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (CA-32) is expected to lead the Republican delegation.

These junkets gloss over the daily, decades-long pervasive violation of Palestinian’s rights by the Israeli government. They serve as a platform for the Israeli government to present its views unchallenged. AIPAC and the Israeli government prioritize new legislators, hoping to influence their formative views.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), who is the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress announced last month that she will not participate in this one-sided propaganda trip. Instead, she plans to lead a competing delegation on a tour of the West Bank.

Well, it seems this is not sitting well with several of her colleagues, who consider it dangerously presumptuous of a Palestinian-American woman to lead a delegation to her family’s home.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., told Al-Monitor this week that he’s against a West Bank delegation.

Instead of her talking about things, she’s new here, she ought to listen and learn and open her mind and then come to some conclusions,” Engel told Al-Monitor. “If you’re going to be close-minded and have your views, no one’s going to change her views. But I would hope that once you’re elected to Congress, you would at least care to see the other side of the coin.” — www.al-monitor.com/…

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Prominent Democrats Form Pro-Israel Group to Counter Skepticism on the Left


Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington last March. (Sipa, via Associated Press)

Jonathan Martin, New York Times, Jan. 28, 2019

WASHINGTON — Several prominent veteran Democrats, alarmed by the party’s drift from its longstanding alignment with Israel, are starting a new political group that will try to counter the rising skepticism on the left toward the Jewish state by supporting lawmakers and candidates in 2020 who stand unwaveringly with the country.

With polls showing that liberals and younger voters are increasingly less sympathetic to Israel, and a handful of vocal supporters of Palestinian rights arriving in Congress, the new group — the Democratic Majority for Israel — is planning to wage a campaign to remind elected officials about what they call the party’s shared values and interests with one of America’s strongest allies.

“Most Democrats are strongly pro-Israel and we want to keep it that way,” said Mark Mellman, the group’s president and a longtime Democratic pollster. “There are a few discordant voices, but we want to make sure that what’s a very small problem doesn’t metastasize into a bigger problem.”

The group, whose board includes former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and a former Clinton administration housing secretary, Henry Cisneros, will create a political action committee later this year and may engage in Democratic primaries, Mr. Mellman said. They also are planning an “early states project” with the goal of organizing pro-Israel Democrats in the first nominating states to lobby the party’s presidential hopefuls.

For many traditional Democratic supporters of Israel, there is a deepening concern that voters in America’s two major political parties appear to be moving apart in how they view the country.

As Republican backing for Israel surges thanks to the rise of evangelicals in their coalition and President Trump’s close alignment with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an increasingly liberal Democratic Party is growing more uneasy with a country they see as an oppressor of a marginalized group, the Palestinians.

The shift on Israel reflects the larger Democratic tilt toward a brand of leftist politics that is creating tensions between the party’s old guard and an ascendant progressive wing that has been emboldened by Mr. Trump’s inflammatory politics and the perceived compromises and failures of an earlier generation of moderates.

While the overwhelming majority of congressional Democrats are strong supporters of Israel, the party’s pro-Israel wing has been jolted by election of a pair of high-profile freshman, Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against the country.

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U.S. Senate Defends Israeli Government From Boycotts

First and Bipartisan Bill in the Midst of the Shutdown


Chuck Schumer speaking at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., on March 5, 2018. (Sipa USA via AP)

Ryan Grim and Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept, January 5 2019

When each new Congress is gaveled into session, the chambers attach symbolic importance to the first piece of legislation to be considered. For that reason, it bears the lofty designation of H.R.1 in the House and S.1 in the Senate.

In the newly controlled Democratic House, H.R.1 — meant to signal the new majority’s priorities — is an anti-corruption bill that combines election and campaign finance reform, strengthening of voting rights, and matching public funds for small-dollar candidates. In the 2017 Senate, the GOP-controlled S.1 was a bill, called the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” that, among other provisions, cut various forms of corporate taxes.

But in the 2019 GOP-controlled Senate, the first bill to be considered — S.1 — is not designed to protect American workers, bolster U.S. companies, or address the various debates over border security and immigration. It’s not a bill to open the government. Instead, according to multiple sources involved in the legislative process, S.1 will be a compendium containing a handful of foreign policy-related measures, the main one of which is a provision — with Florida’s GOP Sen. Marco Rubio as a lead sponsor — to defend the Israeli government. The bill is a top legislative priority for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

In the previous Congress, that measure was known as S.170, and it gives state and local governments explicit legal authority to boycott any U.S. companies which themselves are participating in a boycott against Israel. As The Intercept reported last month, 26 states now have enacted some version of a law to punish or otherwise sanction entities that participate in or support the boycott of Israel, while similar laws are pending in at least 13 additional states. Rubio’s bill is designed to strengthen the legal basis to defend those Israel-protecting laws from constitutional challenge.

Punishment aimed at companies that choose to boycott Israel can also sweep up individual American citizens in its punitive net because individual contractors often work for state or local governments under the auspices of a sole proprietorship or some other business entity. That was the case with Texas elementary school speech pathologist Bahia Amawi, who lost her job working with autistic and speech-impaired children in Austin because she refused to promise not to boycott goods produced in Israel and/or illegal Israeli settlements.

Thus far, the two federal courts that have ruled on such bills have declared them to be unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment speech rights of American citizens. “A restriction of one’s ability to participate in collective calls to oppose Israel unquestionably burdens the protected expression of companies wishing to engage in such a boycott,” U.S. District Court Judge Diane Humetewa of Arizona wrote in her decision issuing a preliminary injunction against the law in a case brought last September by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of “an attorney who has contracted with the state for the last 12 years to provide legal services on behalf of incarcerated individuals,” but lost his contract to do so after he refused to sign an oath pledging not to boycott Israel.

A similar ruling was issued in January of last year by a Kansas federal judge, who ruled that state’s Israel oath law unconstitutional on the ground that “the Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment protects the right to participate in a boycott like the one punished by the Kansas law.” In that case, a Mennonite who was a longtime public school teacher lost her independent contract as a school curriculum developer after she followed her church’s decision to boycott goods from Israeli companies in the occupied West Bank and thus, refused to sign the oath required by Kansas law.

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