Little AIPAC

DMFI

It’s been a rough couple weeks for the lobbying group Democratic Majority for Israel.

On April 13, DMFI board member Sam Lauter said he was entertained by a racist tweet about the engagement of an IfNotNow founder. Lauter apologized and it seems his Twitter account no longer exists. “Sam is right to apologize,” tweeted the org. “He accurately labeled his comment as stupid and inappropriate. It in no way reflects the views or values of our organization.”

This assertion led to a reply from the cartoonist Eli Valley. “If you’re reckoning with your Board Members and your ‘values,’ here’s one calling for genocide,” he told the group, sending them a post from board member Archie Gottesman. “Gaza is full of monsters. Time to burn the whole place,” she wrote in 2018.

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Shortly after Valley’s tweet, Quincy Institute’s Eli Clifton shared a Facebook post from Gottesman in which she mocked refugees and “terrorist Palestinians who have no goals.” Gottesman promptly deleted her social media accounts.

DMFI’s Twitter bio says that the group “fights for progressive values.” If this was true you’d think they might oust a board member over her call for genocide, but that’s not happening. In fact, the group released a statement saying her posts don’t reflect their values but made sure to include a qualifier: “Context matters. When Archie made her two angry comments in 2018, Hamas terrorists in Gaza were literally burning thousands of acres in Israel with firebombs, threatening her family there, along with millions of others.”

The group gets defensive when you equate it with AIPAC, but it’s difficult to detect what the differences are. Both lobbying groups are currently condemning (and fundraising off) Rep. Betty McCollum’s historic new bill. As Josh Ruebner explained at the site, McCollum’s “legislation reiterates her opposition to Israel’s ill-treatment of Palestinian children and the possibility of its formal annexation of additional West Bank land, and expands her critique of Israeli occupation policies, making it the most extensive legislative effort ever introduced in Congress to end US complicity in the human rights violations endemic to Israeli military occupation.”

DMFI claims that the bill is “demagogic” and that it will put civilians at risk. They cited President Biden’s opposition to conditioning aid in their statement on the McCollum bill, which prompted a smart question from IfNotNow: the Biden administration has publicly stated that the West Bank is occupied land, does DMFI agree?

Here was their response: “Here’s what we know: 1. Historically, that land was part of a Jewish state. 2. There was never a Palestinian state on that land. 3. There should be a demilitarized Palestinian state on that land. 4. You shamefully refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist in any borders.”

This is a really long way to say, “No, we don’t think the West Bank is occupied.”

DMFI isn’t only being attacked by journalists and activists on Twitter, mainstream politicians are getting in on the action. After the Gottesman statement was unearthed Rep. Ilhan Omar tweeted, “This is the type of appalling anti-Muslim hate that Palestinians face on a daily basis. And it should have no place in our party.”

After the group attacked Senator Bernie Sanders for talking about conditioning aid at this week’s J Street conference, Rep. Mark Pocan tweeted at the group: “Your turn @DemMaj4Israel. Do you think US tax dollars should go to demolishing houses in the West Bank? Do you think essentially imprisoning people in Gaza leads to a safer Middle East or does that radicalize starving people without clean water? Asking for a nation.”

DMFI is a pretty amazing organization. They see themselves as a more liberal version of AIPAC, but their board features people who engage with racist jokes and call for Palestinians to be exterminated. They put the word “majority” in their name even though every recent poll shows that a majority of Democratic voters want Israel aid to be conditioned. They also put the word “Democratic” in their name despite this and the fact they’re even further right on the issue than the Democratic leadership. There’s no denying that they’re “for Israel”, but they were founded a couple years ago with the expressed purpose of stomping out growing pro-Palestine sympathy within the Democratic party and what do they have to show for it? Their biggest effort was spending big money to protect Eliot Engel’s seat. They failed.

“Most Democrats are strongly pro-Israel and we want to keep it that way,” DMFI president Mark Mellman, told the New York Times shortly after the group was created. “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.”

Developments like the McCollum bill show that it already has.

Why Did Ro Khanna Sign an AIPAC Letter?

McCollum’s bill was just introduced and it already has 15 cosponsors. It’s all the names you’d expect so far. The Squad and all the Squad adjacent members. So what are the chances that other progressive voices are pulled in?

The Jewish Insider reports that 330 members of congress just sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee calling for no conditions on military aid to Israel. The letter (which is led by Reps. Ted Deutch and Michael McCaul) is being promoted by AIPAC.

“Congress is committed to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge and its ability to defend itself, by itself, against persistent threats,” reads the letter. “Our aid to Israel is a vital and cost-effective expenditure which advances important U.S. national security interests in a highly challenging region. For decades, Presidents of both parties have understood the strategic importance of providing Israel with security assistance.”

The letter features signatures from multiple progressive lawmakers: Rep. Mondaire Jones, Rep. Andy Levin, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Rep. Alan Lowenthal, and Rep. Ro Khanna.

Khanna has become a symbol of progressive foreign policy for good reason. He led the fight to restrict Trump’s war powers and has pushed for an end to the war on Yemen. However, we’re confronted with another “Except for Palestine” situation. He cosponsored 2019’s anti-BDS resolution. He was also a cosponsor of Betty McCollum’s original child detention bill back in 2017, but didn’t sign on to the newer (stronger) version. He criticized AOC for dropping out that Yitzhak Rabin event. “I think of Israel, at its best, as a fountain for human innovation, for civilizational progress, for contributing to the world of arts and literature and philosophy,” he said earlier this year.

What politicians actually believe isn’t especially important, but one wonders whether Khanna’s heart is actually in any of this stuff. In March 2020, he sent a letter to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo opposing home demolitions in Jerusalem and calling for an investigation into whether Israel had violated the Arms Export Control Act. McCollum’s new bill actually addresses this issue directly. Khanna also circulated Nathan Thrall’s monumental “A Day in the Life of Abed Salama” among congressional colleagues earlier this month.

It will be interesting to see where lawmakers like Khanna end up landing on these issues in coming months. The contours of these debates are being resized rather rapidly and having it both ways doesn’t seem politically sustainable.

Odds & Ends

🚀 Loay Elbasyouni is part of the team behind NASA’s “historic” Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. He’s a Palestinian who grew up in Gaza.

🇮🇱 NYC mayoral candidate Dianne Morales referred to Israel as an “apartheid state” last December, Forward reports.

🇺🇸 Former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale died this week. He was 93. Here’s an excerpt from Ron Kampeas obituary in The Times of Israel:

In 1981, already eyeing the 1984 election, Mondale broke with Carter — and with Reagan, the incumbent president — on selling advanced spy aircraft to Saudi Arabia. Both Carter and Reagan favored the deal, and it was a major contention point with AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby. Mondale went so far as to lobby his former Senate colleagues to oppose the deal.

Mondale’s 1984 campaign to retake the White House from Reagan brought in major Jewish support in the form of both donors and endorsements. Support for Israel and progressive causes did not appear to be in tension in that era, as they can be today. Roger Altman, a fundraiser for Mondale in the race, told The New York Times that his candidate was a natural for New York “because he has supported issues that are important here, domestic issues, urban policy and foreign policy issues, like Israel.”

🗳️ Palestinian professor Iymen Chehade claims that he was promised a job with Illinois Congresswoman Marie Newman, but was denied the position over his views on Israel. According to Chehade, he stayed out of the congressional race in exchange for the job. The district has a large number of Palestinians.

Newman’s campaign denies the allegations. “Marie Newman clearly communicated to Mr. Chehade well before her election to Congress that he would not be employed by her office,” a spokesperson for Newman’s campaign told us. “This decision was based upon interactions that Mr. Chehade had with Ms. Newman and others after their initial employment discussions. While these reasons have been communicated to Mr. Chehade, we are deeply disappointed by his continued fallacious accusations.  We believe that this is a frivolous lawsuit and, frankly, a waste of time.  We look forward to the matter being addressed in court and, until then, we will not be commenting further.”

Newman is a cosponsor of Rep. Betty McCollum’s new bill.

🇵🇸 From the Invest in Justice Coalition: “COVID-19 did not invent systematic injustice, but it has exposed and sharpened injustices already there. Israel’s refusal to vaccinate Palestinians is but the latest, cruel and inhuman chapter of its decades-long practice of colonialism, ethnic cleansing, military occupation and, of course, apartheid against the Palestinian people.”

🙏 As a subscriber to The Shift, you know that Mondoweiss is one of the few news organizations that cover the struggle for Palestinian rights in a U.S. context. That’s important because without a change in U.S. policy, Israel will continue to act with impunity. Only a strong, sustained grassroots movement will bring about meaningful change in Washington. By publishing news and opinion ignored by mainstream media, Mondoweiss fuels the movement for justice in Palestine and Israel. This is a great time to start or increase your support for Mondoweiss. Your donation today will be tripled

Stay safe out there,

Michael

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