Just 9 votes — but ‘bitter’ House debate is an advance for progressive stance on Israel

Progressives lost a vote on Israel in the House yesterday, overwhelmingly, by 420-9. But what is being lost in the discussion of the Iron Dome vote is that eight progressive Democrats voted against the additional military funding for Israel, and two others voted present, even after pro-Israel forces cast the aid as a purely “defensive” arms program, against “terrorism.”

Those ten Democrats represent a solid beachhead of opposition inside Congress to the special relationship between the U.S. and the apartheid “Jewish state.” In the past, it was typically one vote, say, Cynthia McKinney or Paul Findley or Charles Percy, and the Israel lobby could zero in on the outlier. Now it’s too late: Pro-Palestinian human rights forces are not going away.

The sooner the American public is exposed to this debate, the better. Because polling shows that people want a more evenhanded policy.

That debate is beginning to happen. The New York Times today has a long news article that takes the vote as seriously as we do, saying it exposes “bitter divisions among Democrats over U.S. policy toward one of its closest allies.” The Times also published a truly vicious opinion piece by Bret Stephens, the most rightwing of the several pro-Israel columnists at the paper, calling those who opposed the funding antisemites and urging the Democratic Party to purge them. This is the second time in the last week that Stephens has boiled over at progressives and presumed to speak for the Democrats, and is an indication of just how concerned the Israel lobby is about the fissures in the Democratic Party.

The news article in the Times, by Catie Edmondson, underscores the fact that there is a strong faction inside the Democratic Party that supports Palestinian human rights, and they are not afraid to challenge the party establishment.

Edmondson quotes Rashida Tlaib’s speech, in which she states that Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of war crimes.

Edmondson also quotes Ilhan Omar positively:

[P]rogressive critics offered harsh words about Israel’s conduct and argued that strong backing for the nation in Congress should come to an end. Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, said the United States should no longer continue to provide Israel with funding “without addressing the underlying issue of the occupation.

“This is not about one country,” she said. “If human rights are truly to guide our foreign policy, we need to act like it everywhere. Otherwise, our words ring hollow.

On the downside, the article quotes Rep. Ted Deutch’s angry attack on Rashida Tlaib as a supposed antisemite for calling Israel an apartheid state, and fails to inform readers that two leading human rights groups, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem, leveled the apartheid charge against Israel earlier this year in separate reports — a point that Tlaib made in her speech to Congress.

What’s more, Times editors evidently removed a revealing reference to the Israel lobby from the article after the first version prompted an onslaught from pro-Israel forces. Fox News reports that the original said the following:

“Minutes before the vote closed, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez tearfully huddled with her allies before switching her vote to ‘present.’ The tableau underscored how wrenching the vote was for even outspoken progressives, who have been caught between their principles and the still powerful pro-Israel voices in their party, such as influential lobbyists and rabbis.”

That is a factual statement of the pressures on politicians. But the lobby quickly struck back on social media, Fox said. Joel Petlin of the Forward charged that juxtaposing “powerful lobbyists” to “principles” is “sick framing.” Sara Yael Hirschhorn called the Times original analysis “offensive if not outright antisemitic “in the eyes of most Jews.” And Lahav Harkov of the Jerusalem Post labeled it, “open antisemitism.”

The Times caved in immediately and hollowed out the paragraph. Now it reads:

“The tableau underscored how wrenching the vote was for even outspoken progressives, who have been caught between their principles and the still powerful pro-Israel voices in their party.”

David Friedman and Ted Deutch at the new US embassy in Jerusalem.
Trump ambassador David Friedman and Democratic Rep Ted Deutch at the new US embassy in Jerusalem in 2018.

O.K., but consider another datapoint in the article: the disturbing fact that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer reached out to the Israeli Foreign Minister earlier this week to assure him that the Iron Dome funding would pass, that it was only being delayed by a “technical” glitch. Hoyer knows that the Foreign Minister has a close following among U.S. Jews, and pro-Israel forces are a significant factor in Democratic Party campaign contributions. Times readers are apparently not ready to learn about the power of pro-Israel donors. Instead, Edmondson dissembles, and contends that Republicans are playing up the Democratic divisions in an effort “to peel away Jewish voters from the Democratic Party” — when donors are the real game.

Real debate: At MEI, Khaled Elgindy dispatches the claim that Iron Dome is a “defensive” weapon that saves Palestinian lives. In fact, it appears to protract Israeli bombing campaigns and allow Israel to kick the Palestine political can down the road.

A strong case can be made that by minimizing Israeli casualties and economic disruption, Iron Dome essentially provides Israel a “cushion” that enables it to keep on bombing until its leaders are satisfied they’ve achieved their military objectives..

[I]t is more likely to have cost Palestinian lives by deepening an already vastly asymmetrical conflict and extending Israel’s ability to defer a political settlement indefinitely.

Adam Johnson also exposes the absurdity of the defensive weapon claim on twitter:

Obviously selling “defensive” systems is an implicit endorsement of a country’s offensive war making! What would happen if Biden gave defensive systems to Iran or Russia or Hezbollah?? We wouldn’t be doing this fake thing where we act like it’s not an endorsement of offensive war

Finally, there’s the Bret Stephens column that smears those who sought to stop the additional billion to Israel as antisemites and urges the Democratic Party to take action against them.

It would behoove Democrats in the honorable majority to start treating their Israel-hating members not as parliamentary nuisances or social media embarrassments but as the ill-intended bigots they well and truly are.

Donald Johnson says that Bret Stephens and Ted Deutch (who called Rashida Tlaib an antisemite on the House floor in the Times) are modern Bull Connor figures.

These moral equivalents of Bull Connor get to prance around like they have the high ground and demand that others denounce the people who see Palestinians as human beings.

We have to get to the point where being supportive of apartheid and of massacres of civilians is seen as shameful.  We aren’t there yet. We are still playing defense.  Being critical of apartheid is seen as antisemitic.   

IfNotNow does some of that work here. It denounces Ted Deutch’s speech as anti-Palestinian racism. When will the Times publish IfNotNow, Khaled Elgindy, Donald Johnson, and Adam Johnson?

So where are the Palestinian voices in mainstream media?

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