February 23, 2024
Madison Congressional Office Visits

World BEYOND War

12-2:00 pm Sen Baldwin’s office, 30 W Mifflin Street
2:00 pm walk to Rep Pocan’s office
2:15 pm Rep Pocan’s office, 10 E Doty St, #405

Emergency National Security Supplemental Appropriation Bill

After passing the US Senate with Sen. Baldwin’s YES vote, the $95 billion gift to the weapons industry is going to the House; this is a supplement to our $886 billion dollar 2024 military budget already approved.

CodePink explains:

    “The Senate bill includes another $14.3 billion for weapons for Israel’s genocide in Gaza, $60 billion to continue the war in Ukraine (bringing that total to $170 billion) and almost $8 billion to further militarize east Asia for a confrontation with China. The bill also includes $9 billion in humanitarian aid to be split between Ukraine, Israel and Gaza; In other words; a few sips of water before the bombing resumes.

    As if that isn’t bad enough, the Senate bill also includes a prohibition against US funding for UNRWA, the lifeline for water and food to Gaza, to threaten mass starvation for over two million people. Finally, there’s a provision that allows President Biden to send unlimited weapons to Israel without the legally-required notification to Congress.”

Rep. Pocan has previously voted against this supplemental bill. We will visit his office and ask him to continue to oppose it. As for Sen. Baldwin, we’ll visit her office again to continue to condemn her votes that fund murderous policies; deaf and blind to the genocide, she continues to promote the defense industry as an economic boon for Wisconsin. What a racket! Can you join us?

RSVP if you can to warabolition@gmail.com, or just show up for any part; and to access Baldwin’s office during the time of vigil, you can call 608 217 2248.

Wisconsin Democrats’ silence on Gaza is predictable and unconscionable


A photo shows a large flag combining the red, green, white, and black of the Palestinian flag with an image of a large red fist and text reading “Free Palestine.”

After condemning the killing of Israeli civilians, Tammy Baldwin and others fail to oppose atrocities against Palestinians.

If you’re looking for Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation or other key elected officials to show any sense of perspective and conscience amid the ongoing escalation of the Israeli-Palestine conflict—to match their rightful condemnation of Hamas’ killings of Israeli citizens with proportionate, also rightful condemnation of the U.S.-backed and -enabled slaughter of Palestinians on a much greater scale and demand restraint on the part of a key U.S. ally—well, don’t hold your breath. 

Reactions from our Congressional Republicans have been as expected in their bloodthirsty xenophobia and nationalism: Tom Tiffany and Glenn Grothman making it about Islam, Bryan Steil making it about “borders,” Derrick Van Orden throwing tantrums

The contrast on the other side of the aisle is shamefully pale.

As Israel this month indiscriminately bombed Gaza and cut off its population of 2 million from electricity and humanitarian aid, and ordered the “evacuation” of 1 million people who have nowhere to go, Wisconsin’s most prominent elected Democrats said little in defense of innocent Palestinians. Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin condemned Hamas and joined a bipartisan group of legislators in casting suspicions on Iran, and joined in another statement calling on the Biden administration to send more ammo to Israel. 


But since this latest wave of violence began, Baldwin has not issued any statements acknowledging the Israeli Defense Forces’ mass murder of Palestinian children and other civilians, or the fact that Israel has blockaded Gaza. Neither have Rep. Gwen Moore, Gov. Tony Evers, or most of the Democratic Wisconsin Assembly members who supported a bipartisan resolution condemning Hamas—one that, of course, says nothing about the suffering or humanity of Palestinians. Ann Jacobs, a Democratic appointee to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, issued a wildly inappropriate call to oust Assembly Rep. Ryan Clancy, apparently because Clancy made a Facebook post comparing the death toll among Palestinians and Israelis in recent years. There is very little tolerance among Wisconsin Democrats, apparently, for wrestling with the full context of the conflict, or for merely acknowledging that Palestinians are human beings and that it is wrong to kill them en masse.

At best, we have Rep. Mark Pocan pointing out that it is impossible for more than 1 million people to “evacuate” within 24 hours, and offering some context about Gaza. Though refreshing in context, Pocan’s remarks leave room to believe that the IDF is just perhaps, in some universe, willing to exercise restraint as it pursues a legitimate military target. Look at what the IDF is actually doing. This isn’t how you fight a specific group of armed combatants. It is how you subjugate and quite possibly annihilate a massive group of human beings. To frame this as a legitimate act of defense or even an understandable reprisal is to launder the sheer horror of it. If a state with Israel’s advanced military and intelligence capabilities intended to specifically target Hamas, it would be doing so, and with much greater precision. Still, Pocan is doing better than most. The bar has passed clean through the core of the earth and out the other side. 

All of these people have a responsibility to do better and show some political spine. Right now, full-on fascists like Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton are salivating for destruction in Gaza. Democrats who don’t push back wholeheartedly against this sort of rhetoric are abjectly failing to do their jobs as a political opposition. They are standing back and sanctioning genocide. Baldwin’s statement on Tuesday that “Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas’s horrific terrorist attacks, but more innocent people cannot pay the price,” is too little, too late, especially coming from someone who has actively enabled the IDF.

I think most Americans have a suspicion of rigid ideologies and strident, absolutist posturing. That can be healthy, until it devolves into utter fecklessness, an unwillingness to commit to specific outcomes, an absence of any coherent framework that holds when the going gets tough. What we end up with is not pragmatism freed of blinders, but a shell game. If you’re not careful, your politics become the sum of the evils you are willing to ignore and the excuses you are willing to make. 

Let’s review some ground truths

The political conversation around Israel in the U.S. is so distorted and so selective that at times you’ve got to pull back and reiterate some very basic things. 

We as Americans are responsible for the choices we make, and for the effects of those choices. They are, in fact, choices, not inevitabilities. We make them in the presence of alternative choices. We enact them from a position of almost incomprehensible advantage and leverage. To spend billions upon billions of dollars arming the State of Israel is a choice. To back up Israel’s impunity, counseling only the most minimal restraint, is a choice, even when Hamas commits atrocities of its own.

One does not plop an entire new state down, from scratch, without killing and displacing other people on a massive scale. When we talk about violence in the context of Israel, it is profoundly dishonest to pretend that the State of Israel was founded without devastating violence, or maintained without devastating violence. Further escalation and aggression will also endanger Israeli citizens, not all of whom are on board with the authoritarian zealotry that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu represents. In fact, some of the Israelis who have suffered grievously this month have spoken out against the IDF killing innocent people in their names.

Israel is a heavily armed, highly sophisticated state. It is not a fragile, endangered waif on the world stage. It boasts a sizable defense industry of its own, and a thriving cybersecurity industry. Companies based in Israel provide spyware tools like Pegasus to the surveillance states and despots of the world. Israel can and does commit violence of a frequency and scale that far outstrips anything Hamas has ever done or ever could. 

Israel is bombing civilian targets, including hospitals and residential buildings. We know this because the IDF is announcing its intention to do so ahead of time, as if evacuating someone’s home before destroying it makes it somehow humane, as if it is remotely possible to evacuate an entire hospital on short notice. It is impossible to drop bombs on a densely populated area without killing civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure, further immiserating those who survive.

The State of Israel does not treat Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank as citizens with equal rights. Arab citizens who have equal rights in a legal sense still face discrimination and structural disadvantages.

Netanyahu’s government is extreme, bigoted, and belligerent even by the standards of right-wing Israeli politics. He has stocked his cabinet with extremely antagonistic hard-liners like National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. Netanyahu has faced multiple corruption charges and has attempted to gut the authority of Israel’s judiciary, provoking large-scale protests. Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi announced a plan on Sunday to enact wartime censorship against the public and the press. The bombs are falling on journalists, too. When American politicians offer pieties about standing with Israel as a fellow democracy, keep in mind that Israel is doing about as well as we are on that front.

It’s a warped debate, but it can change

The fundamental dynamic of Israel-U.S. relations is that Republicans want to give far-right Israeli leaders like Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir 100 percent of what they want, while most Democrats only want to give them, say, 90 to 99 percent of what they want. American politicians and commentators tend to treat that gap as a vast chasm: If Democrats basically uphold the same policy choices that allow Israel to act with impunity, but caution Israel not to overdo it on human-rights abuses, they open themselves up to bad-faith charges of betrayal and anti-Semitism. 

To her credit, Baldwin has opposed Israeli annexation of West Bank settlements, and called for an investigation after the IDF killed Palestinian-American Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May 2022. Baldwin also joined Gwen Moore in calling for an investigation into the January 2022 death of Omar Assad, a Palestinian-American who spent much of his life in Milwaukee. Baldwin has opposed the  Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel but has stopped short of supporting blatantly unconstitutional anti-BDS legislation at the federal level. (At the state level, Wisconsin does have an anti-BDS law on the books, aimed at state agencies and contractors.) Like a lot of folks condemning violence against Israel, Baldwin also doesn’t much approve of non-violent protest against Israel. It’s a mixed bag, but the context makes her current silence on Palestine especially dispiriting.

One might argue that it’s politically practical for someone like Baldwin to take a hawkish stance as she heads into another reelection campaign, that you need to do some saber-rattling to get a “purple-state” electorate to take you seriously. It is also hard to see the pragmatism of continually electing people who aren’t interested in changing our approach to the conflict. A politician unwilling to take risks and advocate for a much-needed shift in perspective is really not so useful after all. Such is the drab, defeated state of the Democratic Party.

No amount of hawkish statements or actual votes in support of Israel will ultimately shield Democrats like Baldwin from Republican narratives about them being weak or anti-Israel or soft on Iran or any other thing. Republicans are always willing to be more extreme, and they go with whatever narrative they feel advantages them politically, because they can, because they answer only to a cultish base that dwells entirely in a realm of delusion. Baldwin could join the IDF and personally shoot up a Palestinian hospital. It wouldn’t stop Republicans from calling her “anti-Israel,” any more than Joe Biden’s support for Israel will stop Republicans from leveling the same accusation against him. You cannot beat the right at warlike chest-beating, ever.  

By the way, these kinds of accusations didn’t stop Baldwin from beating Tommy Thompson in 2012. There is also evidence that Democratic voters are growing more sympathetic toward Palestinians and more critical of Israel’s government. There is more open debate about military aid to Israel, too. Sticking up for Palestine might not be as politically risky as it used to be. Even if it were, there’s no excuse for turning a blind eye as our ally kills and brutalizes the people it has trapped in Gaza, using weapons we paid for. It’s on us Americans—especially in pivotal states like Wisconsin—to reject the lethal cowardice of our politicians.

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Editor-in-chief and publisher Scott Gordon has covered music and the arts in Madison since 2006 for publications including The A.V. Club, Dane101, and Isthmus, and has also covered policy, environmental issues, and public health for WisContext. He co-founded Tone Madison in 2014.

Rep. Pocan on Israeli demolition in Masafer Yatta

Mark Pocan: US should condemn this action

Why US lawmakers should witness the Israeli occupation firsthand

A visit by Reps. Jamaal Bowman and Mark Pocan to my Palestinian village affirmed the value of politicians learning about Israel’s policies on the ground.

Palestinians protest the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin to the heritage site of ancient Susya, in Yatta, near the West Bank city of Hebron, March 14, 2021. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Nasser Nawajah, +972 Magazine, December 8, 2021

When U.S. Congressman Andy Levin visited my village of Susiya in 2019, he witnessed a live illustration of the unjust reality that Palestinians in the occupied West Bank experience daily.

As we stood at the entrance of the village, looking toward the illegal Israeli settlement of the same name that has turned Susiya’s ancient ruins into an archeological park, Mekorot, Israel’s water utility company, was busy laying down pipes. The water, of course, would not be accessible to us or the other Palestinian communities in the area; it is meant to serve the outposts and settlements on the hilltops that surround us.

The congressman saw firsthand how water, a basic service which should be guaranteed as a human right, is in fact a precious commodity here in the South Hebron Hills. Do you know how much a cubic meter of water costs in your neighborhood? In Susiya, it costs NIS 35, approximately $11. For Israeli Jews — including those who live just hundreds of meters from us in the Israeli Susiya — the average price is just NIS 7, about $2.

Currently, most of our water cisterns are located in a “security buffer zone” that we cannot access. We are thus forced to buy water at five times the price, while Israelis living in settlements enjoy the same privileges as if they were living in the heart of Tel Aviv.

Last month, U.S. Congressmen Jamaal Bowman and Mark Pocan, together with their colleagues, visited Susiya and witnessed these injustices, too. I stood with them in our playground, which on the previous Shabbat had been invaded by settlers who were escorted and protected by the Israeli army.

For us Palestinians, such settler violence is commonplace. It would be easy to condemn these attacks as the actions of a few radicals on the fringes of Israeli society, but it is clear that the Israeli government benefits from their violence. Why else would it expect soldiers to accompany and protect them while they terrorize our communities on a near-daily basis?

My village is one of close to 30 communities in the South Hebron Hills that are unrecognized by Israeli authorities. The daily hardships and indignities that derive from this condition are part of the Israeli government’s policy of clearing Area C in the West Bank, which is under full Israeli military control, of its Palestinian populations. The government hopes to push us into urban enclaves that are surrounded and fragmented by Israeli settlements. This is the same policy that has led to my community being displaced five times since the occupation began in 1967.

Furthermore, we are subjected to a discriminatory planning system that was designed by Israel to prevent the development of Palestinian presence in Area C. Because of this, every home and structure in my village has a demolition order. The threat of the army arriving early in the morning and razing our entire village is a permanent feature of our lives.

Faced with this reality, it is not the Israeli legal system that we look to for protection. While we have indeed taken our struggle to remain in our village to the courts, we do not expect to find justice there; after all, the judge presiding over our case is a West Bank settler who lives in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. For Palestinians, this is not a High Court of Justice, but a High Court of Racism.

Solidarity demonstration in the village of Susiya, located in the South Hebron hills , June 22, 2012. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills)

Solidarity demonstration in the village of Susiya, located in the South Hebron hills , June 22, 2012. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills)

At this present moment, the main factor protecting Susiya from erasure is international political pressure. When my grandfather was expelled from our ancestral village of Qaryatayn during the Nakba in 1948, and when my father was expelled from Susiya in 1986, there was no one listening when they told their stories. I, like many other Palestinians today, now have a voice with an audience to hear me. I will not let Israel turn my children into refugees in their own land.

This is why we were so encouraged when Congressmen Bowman and Pocan and their colleagues visited our village. Speaking to them affirmed the value and necessity of international lawmakers and activists to witness the occupation on the ground, and for them to speak out and promote legislation that will hold Israel’s actions accountable. We are grateful for their support in our ongoing struggle to remain on our land.

We hope that other political representatives will follow their lead in the coming months and years, and invite anyone who is able to visit Susiya and witness what is taking place here in the occupied territories.

Israel relies on the silence and ignorance of the international community and the Jewish-Israeli public to enable this injustice. And so, it is vital to ensure that those in power know our story. We need more members of Congress and other politicians visiting Area C and acting to prevent another round of expulsions. They must show Israel that its actions against Palestinians, against villages like mine, have consequences.

Nasser Nawaja is a resident of the Palestinian village Susiya, and a community organizer and field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.

#StandWithThe6 and Call Out Biden

Register for & share the Wednesday Power Half-Hour #StandWithThe6 Call-In to Call Out Biden

Join us for the Power Half-Hour #StandWithThe6 Call-In to Call Out Biden. Join us for 30 minutes on Wednesday, November 3, 2pm ET / 1pm CT / 12pm MT / 11am PT to be part of a wave of people power flooding the White House’s reactivated comments line (202-456-1111) to #StandWithThe6. We’ll take action together and also hear analysis to shape our grassroots advocacy strategy in this moment, in order to advance an end to U.S. military funding to Israel, uplifting effective human rights advocacy work that Israel is working so hard to silence.

Drive Emails for H.Res. 751 #StandWithThe6 Resolution

Just a reminder that we have an email action tool and accompanying social media toolkit for the letter launch. 300 organizations have signed and individual signers are still welcome!

9 progressives joined as original cosponsors on H.Res.751 – Condemning the repressive designation by the Government of Israel of six prominent Palestinian human rights and civil society groups as terrorist organizations. Rep. Holmes Norton has since joined. We’re disturbed by silence from high profile ‘Progressive Except Palestine’ Representatives who claim to care about human rights.

House overwhelmingly approves Iron Dome funding in 420-9 vote

Mark Pocan (D-WI), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), all of whom have been critical of Israel, voted ‘Yes’



This week House progressives were able to temporarily hold up an additional $1 billion to Israel that had been tacked onto the short-term government spending bill to replenish the country’s Iron Dome system.

The victory ended up being short-lived, as Iron Dome spending was split into a separate vote by pro-Israel Dems and passed easily in the House. The final vote was 420-9 with 2 present.

The funding’s removal had sparked widespread congressional backlash on both sides of the aisle. The vote seemed to catch progressive House members in disarray, as some of lawmakers associated with the funding’s initial removal ended up voting for the legislation.

The No votes belonged to Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Andre Carson (D-IN), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) , Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-IL), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), and Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO).

Not among the No votes: NY Congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez voted present; while Mark Pocan (D-WI), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), all of whom have been critical of Israel, voted Yes.

The Israeli Prime Minister thanked the House shortly after the vote:

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, this evening: “Thank you, members of the US House of Representatives, Democrats and Republicans alike, for the overwhelming support for Israel and for the commitment to its security.

The Biden administration has repeatedly said that they support replenishing Iron Dome. Israel currently receives $3.8 billion in military aid from the U.S. every year.

Senator Kamala Harris visits an Iron Dome missile defense battery in Israel, November 2017. (Photo: Office of Kamala Harris)
Senator Kamala Harris visits an Iron Dome missile defense battery in Israel, November 2017. (Photo: Office of Kamala Harris)

“We cannot only be talking about Israelis’ need for safety at a time when Palestinians are living under a violent apartheid system and our dying from what Human Rights Watch have said are war crimes,” said Rep. Tlaib in a speech on the House floor. “We should also be talking about the Palestinian need for security from Israeli attacks. We must be consistent in our commitment to human life.”

Tlaib also said that Israel precipitated the Gaza conflict of last May when it attacked worshipers at Al Aqsa mosque.

The Israeli government is an apartheid regime. Not my words, the words of Human Rights Watch and Israel’s own human rights watch organization B’Tselem.

Ted Deutch of Florida rose to deny the charge. “I cannot allow a colleague… to label the Jewish Democratic state of Israel an apartheid state. I reject it.” He said such characterizations are “consistent with those who advocate for the dismantling of the one Jewish state in the world.. When there’s no place on the map for one Jewish state, that’s antisemitism.”

Brad Schneider of Illinois signalled the overwhelming support for the measure and promoted Israel:

America’s commitment to Iron Dome is rock solid. Today’s vote will make that clear—in spite of some on both sides of the aisle who seek to make Israel and our unyielding support of the U.S. Israel relationship a wedge issue. There are so many reasons for hope in the region. Israel has a new government with the broadest imaginable governing coalition including Arab parties. Israelis and Palestinians are talking to each other again.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries voted for the extra $1 billion for Israel and also voted on behalf of Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) in favor. Screenshot from CSPAN Sept. 23, 2021

The young Jewish group IfNotNow responded angrily to Deutch’s speech:

This is a perfect example of anti-Palestinian racism in American politics. How dare Rep. Deutch tell a Palestinian woman what she is and isn’t allowed to call the oppression and dispossession that Palestinians have endured through Israeli policies. It’s apartheid.

Writes Jehad Abusalim of AFSC of the deliberations:

The level of dehumanization of Palestinians, of Gaza, by Democrats and Republicans alike, and the amount of misinformation and misrepresentation of reality is just mind-boggling. They talk about Gaza as if Gaza was this superpower that could eliminate a nuclear state with state-of-the-art military and surveillance technology. There’s no mention of how Gaza ended up in the place where it is today. Palestinians are constantly deprived of context. Gaza is treated as this mysterious place, full of darkness and violence, where terrorism reigns. There’s no mention of how the modern-day Gaza Strip was created in 1948 due to the Nakba. There was no mention of how 2.2 million Palestinians are trapped in a “Strip” of land because the majority of them were expelled by Israel in 1948. Palestinians in Gaza come from 50 towns and villages Israel destroyed in 1948.

There are at least two sides to every story

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Rep. Mark Pocan: Iron Dome should avert need for Israeli retaliatory strikes

Pocan, a leading figure among Israel critics in the House, organized a series of floor speeches criticizing Israel

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI)

Marc Rod, Jewish Insider, May 20, 2021

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), a left-wing Democrat who has frequently been vocally critical of Israel, argued on Wednesday that Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system should remove the need for it to launch its own strikes in response to terrorist rocket attacks, as it largely prevents rockets from striking Israel.

“I’ve always supported the Iron Dome. Because the idea is when a missile comes in, if you take it out, no one’s been killed on either side, and there’s de-escalation,” Pocan, who organized an hour of speeches on the House floor criticizing Israel last week, told reporters. “If you use it for that purpose, then you still send 20 times the number of missiles back, that’s not the intention.”

The Israeli Defense Forces have said that more than 4,000 rockets have been fired at Israel since this conflict began, most of which have been intercepted by the Iron Dome. Israel has carried out hundreds of retaliatory strikes on Hamas targets. 

When pressed on the fact that the Iron Dome does not deal with the sources of the rocket attacks, Pocan did not address the issue directly, responding that “they should be de-escalating by doing a cease-fire.”

“You can’t justify taking out media buildings, roads to hospitals, scores of children. This is not what this is about,” Pocan claimed. The Israeli military has accused Hamas of using “human shields” — hiding military equipment, facilities and personnel in civilian locations, including an office building which housed The Associated Press and other international media organizations.

As part of the 2016 memorandum of understanding between the U.S. and Israel regarding military aid, the U.S. provides $500 million per year to support missile defense efforts in Israel, including Iron Dome. Pocan and some fellow House Democrats have pushed to place additional conditions on this aid.

Like Pocan, other proponents in Congress of conditioning aid to Israel have also expressed support for the Iron Dome specifically amid the latest conflict, while criticizing Israel more broadly.

“Israel is an ally of the United States and Congress supports Israel by providing military aid. And I vote for that aid package. The Iron Dome missile defense system that’s stopping Hamas rockets is funded out of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee which I chair and I support funding for Iron Dome and it will be in the bill that I write this year,” Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) said in a speech last Thursday in which she accused Israel of violating Palestinian human rights.

Pocan is supporting a resolution from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) which seeks to block a $735 million sale of guided bomb equipment to Israel, calling this sale a “pressure point” that the U.S. can use to push Israel toward a cease-fire with Hamas. Some Republicans sought on Wednesday to tie the efforts to block this sale to the Iron Dome, even though the arms sale does not appear to be related to the missile defense system.

“[President] Joe Biden and [Vice President] Kamala Harris out to have the courage to stand up to the crazy left and instead of giving into their demand that we cut off essential weapons needed to defend Israel and protect Israel from terrorism, we ought to be replenishing today the munitions needed for Iron Dome,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

How a West Bank Trip Turned This Congressman Into One of Israel’s Strongest Critics

Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan tells Haaretz why he welcomes a new Israeli government, even one led by a right-winger like Naftali Bennett who has renounced the two-state solution

Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan. Andy Manis / AP

Ben Samuels, Haaretz, Jun. 7, 2021

WASHINGTON – How does a lawmaker go from surface-level familiarity with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to being one of the most vocal proponents of Palestinian rights in the history of Congress?

It starts with Humpty Dumpty.

Rep. Mark Pocan had visited Israel on congressional trips since entering office in 2013, where he spent a bit of time in the West Bank. But it was always through an Israeli lens. After learning more about the conflict from the pro-Israel left-wing J Street organization, the progressive Wisconsin Democrat went again in 2016 on the first-ever congressional trip to Palestine organized by the Humpty Dumpty Institute.

Despite being organized by an NGO that Pocan jokingly admits has “one of the worst names in Washington,” it provided him with a first opportunity to see the land from a Palestinian perspective.

“Having a chance to see things from that perspective opened my eyes about what was going on, and the barriers in getting to a two-state solution that I have advocated for,” he tells Haaretz. “Seeing and talking to people in Palestine firsthand and walking through all the different issues really mattered a lot.”

Pocan, 56, and colleagues Reps. Hank Johnson and Dan Kildee were slated to visit Gaza, only to be verbally denied access 24 hours prior to their visit. They attempted to go anyway, demanding the denial in writing.

“In Wisconsin, we’re common-sense people. When someone says ‘No you can’t go in that room,’ I think there’s something going on and I should check out that room,” Pocan explains. “That was a giant red flag for me.”

He rejects any Israeli justification based on security grounds. “I don’t need anyone telling me they’ve got some faux concern for my security; I’m an adult and I can take care of myself,” he says, recalling a past incident where he was detained for five days by FARC guerrillas while backpacking through the Darién Gap in Colombia. “I woke up to machine-gun fire with paramilitaries on the river and guerrillas on the land,” he recounts.

For Pocan, it’s “imperative” that he can see and talk to people like those in Gaza firsthand. “It’s long overdue,” he says, noting that then-Rep. Keith Ellison was the last member of Congress to visit Gaza, in 2009.

“We know all the statistics: 2 million people; 98 percent of the water’s undrinkable; overt majority of people are on food assistance; people can’t get in or out – calling it an open-air prison is apt,” Pocan says.

Palestinian rights is far from the first human-rights cause Pocan has dedicated his attention to in recent years. “I’m wired to believe we have to support human rights across the board for everyone – and that doesn’t exclude any countries or regions,” he says. “This is just an expansion of what I’ve worked on for decades.”

When he first got into county government 30 years ago, his then-colleague and now U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin helped form a sister-city relationship between his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, and Apartadó, Colombia. He also visited Arcatao, El Salvador (another Madison sister city), several times and was also one of the more outspoken advocates in Congress for ending the war in Yemen.

Since his failed attempt to enter Gaza, however, the former Congressional Progressive Caucus chairman has fashioned himself into both a leading voice for Palestinian rights and critic of Israeli behavior, whether through bills, resolutions, letters or public posture.

“I have tremendous respect for Mark Pocan. He came to Congress not being known as someone particularly engaged on Israel-Palestine. Instead of taking the path of least resistance and just going along, he is blazing a progressive trail,” says Americans for Peace Now President and CEO Hadar Susskind.

J Street Vice President of Communications Logan Bayroff echoes those sentiments, saying that Pocan “has become a true leader in pushing back against the injustices of occupation, recognizing how harmful the status quo is for both Palestinians and Israelis. He’s among the growing number of Democrats making clear that rhetorical support for peace just isn’t enough – U.S. foreign policy needs to confront de facto annexation and hold both sides accountable for their actions.”

A workman recycling salvaged construction materials in Gaza City last weekend, following the flare-up between Israel and Hamas. MAHMUD HAMS – AFP

Overwhelming support

Pocan admits the journey has been “a bit lonely” since the 2016 Gaza incident, but he has recently found himself surrounded by a new cohort of lawmakers placing a premium on human rights.

“The Black Lives Matter movement in the United States clearly has made people be more focused on human rights and outward discrimination – both here and abroad,” Pocan says. “Many of the newer members of Congress, especially, have been very vocal on this. They’ve come out of these movements and we’ve got a greater presence of folks working on these issues.”

Pocan also credits social media for allowing people to see events firsthand, including testimonies from Gazans. “We received over 1,000 emails from constituents supporting what I was doing,” in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “and about 165 on the other side – so about a seven-to-one ratio. And the same was true of phone calls, though there are far more emails,” he notes.

The lawmaker has been a central figure in every notable development on this front during this session of Congress. Prior to last month’s flare-up between Israel and Hamas, he co-led a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the U.S. to push Israel to better facilitate COVID-19 vaccinations for the Palestinians. He also co-sponsored Rep. Betty McCollum’s bill specifying various actions Israel may not finance with U.S. taxpayer money, while also calling for additional oversight of how that military aid is distributed.

More recently, he co-led an unprecedently harsh letter concerning Israel’s pending evictions of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, organized a remarkable special-order hour on the House floor that cast a spotlight on the Democratic Party’s opposing factions on Israel-Palestine, and co-sponsored a joint resolution of disapproval concerning a $735-million arms sale to Israel.

He did not, however, sense he was part of a real-time paradigm shift.

“I was simply advocating for what I believe: that the only beneficiaries from the Gaza war were Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas. Now I’m questioning whether Netanyahu calculated correctly given what may be happening with the formation of a new government,” he says.

Pocan doubles down. “Look at what really led to the Gaza war: The [Israeli police] attack on the [Al-Aqsa] mosque during Ramadan, the situation with people losing their housing in East Jerusalem. Then start going even farther back: illegal settlements making it harder and harder to get to a two-state solution with land swaps, because even more people will be displaced,” he says.

“Go back years and even decades, and you start to really see – especially in the last eight-and-a-half years – what’s happening isn’t working and getting us any closer to peace. In fact, just the opposite.”

Rep. Mark Pocan speaking at a rally in support of Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential bid last year. Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

He is similarly critical of Hamas. “They purport to support the people of Gaza, but I don’t know how you support the people of Gaza when you have the hunger and the lack of clean water and the other situations you have there. It was unfortunate because I truly believe the vast, vast majority of people in both Israel and Palestine want peace.”

‘A different lens’

Pocan believes it is self-evident that support for Palestinians among members of Congress is growing, both in word and deed: “By not only joining letters but being very vocal on the floor of Congress, it helps to give a voice to more members to be able to express similar concerns that they previously had not expressed them,” he says.

He has shared “offline conversations” with at least one colleague whom he considers a close friend and who has traditionally been a pro-Israel advocate. “They understand what my goal is, we just approach it from different ways,” Pocan says. “At the end of the day, all of our efforts are to get to peace in the region and a two-state solution.

“Some of us who aren’t Jewish or Muslim, or particularly religious, can perhaps look at this with a different lens and see a situation where the current conditions are not at all pointing toward a path to peace, and you have to do something different,” he adds.

Pocan, however, rejects “overly simplistic statements” of a supposed Democratic Party divided over Israel, calling these attempts to make the matter black and white. He adds that he “completely agrees” with much of the Biden administration’s approach.

“I was on a call with the State Department about the region several days ago with a few other members of Congress. The administration said themselves that they’ve had conversations with Israel discouraging any unilateral unprovoked actions because that would be a potential problem with the cease-fire and moving toward peace,” he says.

The Wisconsin congressman says his real goal, along with fellow Democrats, is having the U.S. take a more active peacemaking role in the region: “We didn’t see that happening during the last four years, and we want to get back to that point where the United States can help to be a force for good.”

He does acknowledge, however, that he is “perhaps a bit more provocative in putting out some of these ideas that I truly believe, but maybe haven’t been discussed before, to try to show what some of the other consequences or paths to getting to peace are.

“The approach of the Biden administration, especially with the State Department, is diplomacy through direct conversations and perhaps not in public, and that’s something Joe Biden very strongly believes in. Both of our roles help,” he says. “The more I put pressure on the administration, the more likely they are to have private conversations, putting pressure to get peace in the region. We’re taking different roles in what I really believe is a common effort.”

A Palestinian man walking past the site of a building being demolished in Gaza City last weekend, following the latest Israeli-Hamas flare-up last month. MAHMUD HAMS – AFP

Deescalation tool

Pocan is hopeful that a new Israeli coalition government could adopt a different approach in the best interests of both Israelis and Palestinians, but welcomes any change in government at this point (“Many of the problems that have occurred are because of Benjamin Netanyahu putting Benjamin Netanyahu first and foremost”) – even one led by Naftali Bennett, a right-wing proponent of annexation.

“I’m open to seeing what the next results are. I understand how interesting a coalition and how diverse this is, even by U.S. standards. What I do know is that almost to a person that I talked to, whether it be in Israel or Palestine, they want peace. Having new leadership can maybe move that forward,” he says.

A member of the House Appropriations Committee, Pocan could not provide a specific answer on whether he would support the reported Israeli request of $1 billion in emergency aid. He does, however, advocate for some restrictions on dollars while supporting the Iron Dome missile defense tool explicitly as a tool of deescalation.

“If a missile is coming in and you take it out, no one should be killed on either side. But then I watched the response to the Gaza war from Israel where dozens of [Palestinian] children were killed, 100,000 people were displaced, media buildings and roads to hospitals were taken out. That no longer seems like a tool of deescalation to me,” he says.

“Reasonable restrictions ensuring we’re advocating with U.S. dollars for peace is important – I don’t want anyone to die in Israel or Palestine. Iron Dome should operate as a deescalation tool, but if it doesn’t, that’s where some of us are starting to ask questions,” he adds.

Pocan is unsure when he will next visit the region, but he is certain of one thing: “I’m going to get into Gaza somehow.”

Possible House Committee Hold on Arms Sale to Israel

Emergency Aid Appeal

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First of all, thanks to those who turned out for yesterday’s banner drop and today’s demonstration at the Capitol covered by Channel 27 News. Demonstrations were held all over the world yesterday and today, even in France where they were prohibited by the Macron government at the last minute.

As I write this, live media coverage out of Gaza by Arabic channels is showing the constant bombardment of Gaza that takes place every night. As you may have heard, Israel destroyed yet another high rise building in Gaza, this time the one that also houses many press agencies including AP. Here is a video of the building owner pleading for just 10 extra minutes.

This was preceded by the destruction of 17 media offices and the wounding of 3 journalists in Gaza. Clearly Israel does not want anyone to know what is really going on.

Israel also destroyed a house in Shati (Beach) Camp and killed 10 members of one family.

And there were many injuries as Palestinians protested across the West Bank. Yesterday, 11 were killed by Israel.

The U.S. media is barely reporting and certainly not showing the extent of the damage and casualties. If you want know the reality including pictures please go to Al Jazeera English and Middle East Eye.

Also, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza issues daily reports documenting in excruciating detail the damage, deaths and injuries, including what is happening in the West Bank and to Israel’s Palestinian population.

And for direct, personal experiences and perspectives on life in Gaza be sure to regularly check out We Are Not Numbers.


Emergency Relief: At this time the Middle East Children’s Alliance recommends donations to the Paliroots Food Project.

Action: Four Things Recommended by MRSCP: (from our Op-Ed of today in The Capital Times)

  1. Demand that the Biden administration denounce Israel’s illegal expulsions of Palestinians and the demolition of their homes & property. Ask Senator Tammy Baldwin to follow the lead of Rep. Mark Pocan and others in Congress and do the same.
  2. Listen to and share the voices of Palestinians. Post those stories and photos on social media; Use #SaveSheikhJarrah and #SaveSilwan in all your social media posts.
  3. Support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it lives up to its obligations under international law.
  4. Urge your representatives to support HR 2590, the Palestinian Children and Families Act, which is the first legislation of its kind to have the U.S. taxpayer stop paying for Israel’s arrest, torture, and imprisonment of Palestinian children, its demolition and destruction of Palestinian homes and communities, and the further annexation of Palestinian land. (Pocan is a co-sponsor, so thank him.)
  5. As always, thanks for your support, and remember the people of Palestine, especially Gaza.

    Barb O.