Dems reject progressive foreign policy vision for the U.S.

Meeks Wins

Last year Joe Biden told a group of rich donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” if he was elected.

He was talking about their wealth, but his declaration could probably be applied to foreign policy. Since beating Trump, Biden has staffed his cabinet and transition team with veterans of the National Security Blob. Does the wider Democratic party have any desire to push in a different direction?

The short answer is no. Today House Democrats voted on who would become Foreign Affairs Committee chair, now that Rep. Eliot Engel has been ousted from congress. They picked New York’s Gregory Meeks over Texas’ Joaquin Castro in a 148-78 vote.

Castro wasn’t perfect, but he certainly represented a more progressive option. When it comes to Israel/Palestine, he supports conditioning aid and has said he wants to bring Palestinian voices to the table. What about Meeks? In a Zoom call hosted by the American Jewish Committee this summer he declared, “We know the extreme importance in the region to make sure that Israel has the right to defend itself — and the dollars that we give Israel to defend itself is absolute and unequivocal.”

Meeks’ most notable foreign policy experience is consistently pushing anti-worker trade deals like the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Last month, In These Times documented how his advocacy for Colombia Free Trade Agreement has connected him to right-wing paramilitary groups that have killed unionists.

Dozens of progressive groups (including Justice Democrats and the Sunrise Movement) backed Castro’s candidacy in the form of an open letter last month. “As Black, indigenous, and other communities of color face increased militarism at home, and as U.S. militarism abroad has led to disastrous endless wars, we are impressed with Rep. Castro’s transparent and engaging campaign for HFAC chair, that focuses on the root causes of militarism,” it reads. “We hope to build with Rep. Castro towards a U.S. foreign policy that centers the perspectives and solutions of communities who have experienced harm as a result of U.S. policy, and that tackles the rise in right-wing authoritarianism around the world, which disproportionately impacts women, girls, the LGBTQ+ community, and communities of color.”

If there is a lone bright spot in this story, it’s that California Rep. Brad Sherman dropped out of the race. The hawkish congressman had positioned himself as the man who would uphold Engel’s rabidly pro-Israel record. Unlike Meeks and Castro, Sherman refused to boycott Benjamin Netanyahu’s infamous 2015 to congress. Earlier this year, Sherman made a direct appeal to the Israel Lobby. “You went to bat for Eliot Engel in a huge way, and demonstrated that you understood how important that chairmanship is,” he told Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) members. “Eliot Engel was Plan A. I strongly supported him. But now I’m going to try to ask you to go with Plan B. And I won’t compare myself to my good friend Eliot Engel, except to say that when it comes to having one’s heart in the right place, Eliot and I are in the exact same place.”

Sherman withdrew his candidacy after coming in last place in the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee vote. Things could have been worse, but they’re still quite bad. This is a reoccurring post-Trump sentiment.

Pro-Israel Group Attacks Tlaib

This week DMFI attacked Rep. Rashida Tlaib for retweeting Rasha Mubarak. To commemorate the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, Mubarak had tweeted “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

The pro-Israel lobbying group asserted that Tlaib is “not just opposed to Israeli control of the West Bank — this slogan means she sees the entire State of Israel as illegitimate and wants it eliminated. That’s an immoral and reprehensible position.”

Here were some of the online responses to the DMFI tweet:

Yousef Munayyer: “In America, we pride ourselves on Freedom from ‘sea to shining sea.’ The only people afraid of freedom and equality for all people in a geography regardless of race or creed are racist Apartheid backers.”

Peter Beinart: “Rashida Tlaib supports one state where Jews and Palestinians live equally, under the same law. Why is that less moral that the current 1 state: Where millions of Palestinians lack citizenship, due process, free movement and the right to vote for the government that controls their lives?”

Gary Spedding: “It is entirely legitimate for Palestinians to seek freedom, liberation, human rights and equality in entirety of their homeland – from the river to the sea – and attacks on Palestinians for supporting a shared future of equality and human rights are fundamentally anti-Palestinian.”

Ariel Gold: “Actually, it means that she sees apartheid and state racism as immoral and reprehensible. I’m with Rashida Tlaib. From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Odds & Ends

✉️ More than 80 organizations have sent a letter to President-elect Joe Biden, asking him to end U.S. involvement in the Yemen war. “Ending U.S participation would signal to millions of Yemenis living in Yemen and thousands of Yemeni-Americans who worry about their families in Yemen that weapon sales and geopolitical chess moves are not more important than their lives and the lives of their loved ones,” it reads.

🇺🇸 Yale professor Samuel Moyn at The Guardian: “Not only the system crash of Trump’s victory in 2016 but his near-miss in 2020 mean that it is not a time for complacency. But if Biden’s presidency stands for little more than nostalgia for a lost foreign policy, it will not only miss a historic opportunity for a US reboot.”

🏛️ The Jewish Federations of North America sent the Biden transition team a memo of policy recommendations. The memo calls on Biden to “support bipartisan legislation that will formally adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism as official policy of the United States and then, through Executive Action, broadly apply it throughout the federal government.”

🇸🇴 A former Navy SEAL named Michael Goodboe recently died of injuries sustained in a terrorist attack in Mogadishu, Somalia. He was working for a CIA paramilitary unit and is the first American killed in Somalia since the infamous Black Hawk Down battle. Matthew Cole and Nick Turse have an article about the attack at The Intercept. “Goodboe’s death comes as President Donald Trump has announced his intention to remove all of the roughly 700 U.S. military personnel from Somalia before leaving office in January,” they write. “The U.S. has conducted covert and clandestine operations in Somalia for nearly two decades, and Trump’s expected order would not affect the CIA’s presence in the country.”

🇾🇪 Middle East Eye interviewed Rep. Ro Khanna. The California congressman talked about Biden potentially ending U.S. involvement in the war on Yemen. “Human rights groups and the United Nations have documented the ongoing violence in Yemen and the ongoing blockade and the potential for mass starvation and hunger, particularly young children. The Covid crisis has made things worse,” said Khanna. “I give a lot of credit to the organizers, the peace activists, the human rights groups that mobilized. And then I believe the murder of Khashoggi was a turning point.”

🇵🇸 A new report from Defense for Children International – Palestine evaluates the experiences of 108 Palestinian children who were put into solitary confinement by Israeli authorities. “Isolation of Palestinian child detainees typically follows a military arrest and transfer period, during which many children are subjected to physical violence and other forms of ill-treatment,” reads a summary of their findings. “While in isolation, child detainees are without meaningful human contact, as interactions with others are often solely with their interrogator. Meals are passed to children through a flap in the door. Children also commonly report significantly worse cell conditions compared to the cells in which they were placed during other periods of detention. The conditions in isolation cells are commonly characterized by inadequate ventilation, 24-hour lighting, no windows, unsanitary bedding and toilet facilities, and hostile architectural features such as wall protrusions.”

🇮🇱 Neera Tanden was nominated to be Office of Management and Budget director. Phil Weiss has a post on the site about her longtime support for Israel. “The issue is not likely to come up at OMB, but her story reminds us of how important Israel support is inside the Democratic Party.”

📖 In his new memoir, former President Barack Obama laments that he delivered for Israel, but was still undermined by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I’d delivered on my promise to enhance U.S.-Israel cooperation across the board. Nevertheless, the noise orchestrated by Netanyahu had the intended effect of gobbling up our time, putting us on the defensive, and reminding me that normal policy differences with an Israeli prime minister — even one who presided over a fragile coalition government — exacted a political cost that didn’t exist when I dealt with the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan, Canada, or any of our other closest allies.”

🇦🇪 This week the Senate Foreign Relations Committee met with Trump officials to learn more about its proposed $23 billion arms deal with the United Arab Emirates. We don’t know what was actually said because the meeting wasn’t public. “Just left the classified briefing on the proposed massive, unprecedented arms sale to UAE, including F-35s and Reaper drones,” tweeted Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy. “Just a mind blowing number of unsettled issues and questions the Administration couldn’t answer. Hard to overstate the danger of rushing this though.”

Stay safe out there,

Michael

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