Foreign meddling

“America’s Pro-Israel Lobby,” AIPAC, has long sponsored legislation to stifle the American public’s right to discuss or protest Israel’s abuses. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement’s founder Omar Barghouti, is prohibited from entering the US, while Israel’s lobbyists have successfully sponsored legislation in roughly 30 states and in both the US House and Senate to make BDS boycotts illegal. Amazingly, these lobbyists are not required to register as foreign agents under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). At the federal level, with AIPAC’s legislation opposed by numerous civil liberties groups, AIPAC is still trying to keep their foot in the door. Senate Resolution S.Res.120 and House resolution H.Res.246 still support criminalizing boycotts of Israel.

Perhaps the only silver lining in all this is that AIPAC just made it easier to decide the fitness of Democratic candidates in the coming election. Representatives Tim Ryan and Eric Swalwell, and Senators Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Amy Klobuchar are all co-sponsors of the AIPAC-written resolution. For me, human rights, foreign policy, and free speech are all litmus test issues. These candidates apparently have no respect for any of these concerns. Other Democratic presidential candidates have had their flirtations with AIPAC as well. Only Bernie Sanders — ironically the only Jewish candidate in the bunch — has refused to attend AIPAC conventions.

In Massachusetts, half the Democratic delegation support AIPAC’s assault on free speech. No surprise from the usual Blue Dogs — Representatives Bill Keating, Joe Kennedy III, Richard Neal, and Lori Trahan — but a shock to see Senator Ed Markey joining them — by supporting the AIPAC resolution, all just displayed their contempt for both human rights for Palestinians and Americans’ right to do something about it peacefully.

Regardless of what some Republicans think, Israel is a secular nation like any other. As such, it has all the usual warts — traffic jams, corruption, poverty, and pollution. But Israel also imposes martial law and has occupied Palestinian territory for generations, closely resembling South Africa’s Apartheid system — separate courts, separate roads, the original Trumpian wall, imprisonment without charges for parents and children alike, and Israel has enacted ugly race laws that determine who is a citizen. Naturally, not everyone thinks this is such a great thing. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a non-violent protest against Israel’s policies. AIPAC, which serves as Israel’s attack dog on BDS, does not even remotely represent any  shared value with the United States. But it certainly is an effective, unregulated foreign agent for Israel.

While the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) may be the best-known of BDS opponents, there are dozens of organizations that lobby for Israeli interests, foreign, military and economic aid — including changes to American laws. There are about three dozen pro-Israel political action committees that funnel millions of dollars to politicians of both parties. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (CoP) consists of over fifty organizations that advocate on behalf of Israel, all of whom sit on AIPAC’s executive committee.

The American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF) is a branch of AIPAC that runs free junkets for congressmen to Israel to hear from Israel’s Foreign Ministry and provides funding to AIPAC. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) pushes hard-line, anti-Arab, anti-Iranian Middle Eastern policies. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) used to be a civil rights organization, but now primarily attacks critics of Israel and promotes Likudnik foreign policy. The Israel Project disseminates Israeli propaganda, while the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces (FIDF) raises funds for a foreign military [!!] and brings Israeli soldiers to the US as good-will “ambassadors.”

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) links 125 Zionist organizations to 17 umbrella groups for 4 main Jewish religious currents in the US. The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) receives much of its funding from Sheldon Adelson and has embraced the American Far Right. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) describes its mission as “advocating for Israel and the Jewish people.” The Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) — like many of the others — conflates Jewish life with Israeli interests and functions primarily as an extension of Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

The Jewish People Policy Insitute (JPPI) is dedicated to “strengthening the attachment of young American Jews to Israel.” Its board of directors includes former US Ambassadors Dennis Ross and Stuart Eizenstat, Iran hawk Elliot Abrams, and other leading lights of US Zionist organizations such as Michael Steinhardt (Birthright Israel) and Steve Hoffman (Cleveland Jewish Federation). Interestingly, JPPI is critical of far-right politics — In Israel — but grateful for the help from the American far right.

And then there are the media watchdogs, which attack journalists critical of Israel. These include: the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which at times has provided questionable translations of news from the Middle East; the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) which often targets specific news sources as “antisemitic”; the Middle East Forum (MEF); and the Haym Salomon Center, which disseminates pro-Israel spin and Islamophobic content “in order to defend Western civilization.”

Campus organizations like Hillel used to provide a friendly place for Jewish students to come together. But, as right-wing benefactors have politicized and weaponized Jewish institutions, Hillel has now become a means of silencing Israel’s campus critics, including faculty. Hillel’s FAQ describes its mission: “Israel is at the heart of Hillel’s work. Our goal is to inspire every Jewish college student to develop a meaningful and enduring relationship to Israel and to Israelis.” Stand With Us and Israel on Campus Coalition likewise promote pro-Israel messaging on American college campuses.

In Congress itself we have the Republican Jewish Coalition — which, despite the word Jewish, does not study Torah but instead promotes pro-Israel policy. There is also the National Jewish Democratic Council, which “educates Democratic elected officials and candidates to increase support for Jewish domestic and foreign policy priorities” — as if all American Jews supported the Israeli occupation or its far right governments. American lawmakers frequently participate in all-expenses-paid economic missions to Israel courtesy of the Association of America-Israel Chambers of Commerce. Who, after all, would fault a politician for trying to drum up a little business back home?

Then there are the Christian Zionist groups — the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFC) — “be an advocate for Israel.” Christians United for Israel (CUFI) is run by Evangelical minister John Hagee, who is eagerly waiting for the Middle East to blow up to bring on the End Times. Passages “offers Christian college students with leadership potential a fresh and innovative approach to experiencing the Holy Land to make them “voices for Israel.” The Israel Allies Foundation (IAF) promotes “Judeo-Christian values” and, once again, is nothing but an unregulated foreign lobbying group.

In 2006. foreign policy scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt were commissioned by the Atlantic to write about the Israel lobby — and they covered many of the groups mentioned above. But the Atlantic refused to publish their article and it was left to the London Review of Books instead, a foreign publication, to give the essay an audience. The essay was later fleshed out in a much-maligned book that was savaged by most liberal newspapers and magazines.

A decade later the tide is turning on the acceptability of criticizing Israel’s occupation and treatment of Palestinians, Bedouins, and Druze. And some Israelis themselves are doing the same. As Americans come to terms with their own White Supremacy, many of the similarities between Israel and the United States have come into focus. After years of lying to ourselves about the meaning of words, some have refused to use “alt-Right” and instead write ‘fascist.” Journalists have begun to criticize their own timid use of “racially charged” and some opt for the more honest word “racist.”

Courageous legislators have become disgusted by the Orwellian term “detention facilities” and now simply call them what they really are — “concentration camps.” The freedom to use honest language has had a liberating effect on young Jews, who recently committed acts of civil disobedience in front of ICE facilities all over the country.

So it is long overdue that we had a long, hard look at Israel’s aggressive, unregulated “lobbying.” It’s time we confronted Israel’s relentless efforts to alter American law for its own benefit that it conducts in coordination with a sprawling network of American groups with ties to the American far right.

Let’s call it what it really is — foreign meddling.

Children deserve rights everywhere

Suddenly a few Republicans are demonstrating that they actually have souls. Franklin Graham, Laura Bush and even Melania Trump are among those who have recently spoken out against separating children from their parents at the border.

Another insidious form of child abuse has taken place for decades in Palestinian occupied territories, where Israel routinely rounds up and imprisons hundreds of children each year. I am forwarding an appeal from Jeff Klein, of Mass Peace Action, asking Congress to support the McCollum Bill, which so far has only two Massachusetts Congressional sponsors. I have written about Betty McCollum’s legislation before. Please read Jeff’s letter and then contact Congressional Reps. Richard Neal, Niki Tsongas, Joseph Kennedy III, Katherine Clark, Michael Capuano, Stephen Lynch, and Bill Keating, to let them know they need to be on the right side of this issue. They need to be better friends to children than to a government that just last month slaughtered hundreds of demonstrators.


STAND UP AGAINST THE ABUSE OF PALESTINIAN CHILDREN

Dear Activist,

When many Americans and their elected officials are protesting the mistreatment of immigrant minors at our southern border, it is time to renew our demand that Members of Congress also speak up to protect Palestinian children.

When we sent out our earlier alert on the McCollum Bill, Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act, H.R. 4391, only one member of the Massachusetts delegation, Rep. Jim McGovern CD2), had co-sponsored the resolution. Since then, CD6 Rep Seth Moulton has joined him in supporting the bill. But other members of our delegation have not yet taken a stand against the abuse of Palestinian children. This is unacceptable.

There are two things you can do.

  1. CALL YOUR MEMBER OF CONGRESS to ask that they co-sponsor the McCollum Bill.  Do it again even if you have called before. (And please thank Reps. McGovern and Moulton for their co-sponsorship.)

This is Rep. McCollum’s explanation of the bill:

“Given that the Israeli government receives billions of dollars in assistance from the United States, Congress must work to ensure that American taxpayer dollars never support the Israeli military’s detention or abuse of Palestinian children. Congresswoman McCollum’s legislation, the Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act, requires that the Secretary of State certify that American funds do not support Israel’s military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.”

  1. ASK THAT THEIR OFFICES ATTEND A BRIEFING JUNE 25 on H.R. 4391 and the situation for Palestinian children after the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem.  You can use the No Way To Treat a Child campaign tool to send an email asking Members of Congress to send a representative to the briefing. If you are in contact with a relevant Congressional staffer, also please phone them directly.

Each year the Israeli military arrests and prosecutes around 700 Palestinian children. Last year alone, more than fourteen Palestinian boys and girls under the age of 18 were shot dead by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — and many more were wounded – using resources provided by our own government. We cannot allow this situation to continue.

For Massachusetts Peace Action and its New Day for Israel and Palestine organizing project.

Jeff Klein, Convener, MAPA Palestine/Israel Working Group

Please sign the letter today!

A NEW DAY is a network sponsored by Massachusetts Peace Action.

PLEASE SIGN UP for regular “A NEW DAY” Action Alerts if you have not already done so and please reach out to your contacts to have them sign up for by emailing A-NEW-DAY@masspeaceaction.org (and please note your Congressional District).

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Massachusetts Peace Action
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617-354-2169
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Thirteen Democratic Senators

I’ve written about this before and it is now closer to becoming law. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.720) is a piece of legislation promoted by a foreign nation that will violate the civil liberties of Americans. It joins recent laws in Turkey and Poland criminalizing “insults” to a nation. But it is fundamentally a form of thought control that has no place in a democracy.

S.720 is co-sponsored by 51 U.S. Senators. To their shame, thirteen are Democrats: Michael Bennet (CO); Richard Blumenthal (CT); Maria Cantwell (WA); Christopher Coons (DE); Joe Donnelly (IN); Margaret Hassan (NH); Joe Manchin (WV); Claire McCaskill (MO); Robert Menendez (NJ); Bill Nelson (FL); Gary Peters (MI); Charles Schumer (NY); and Ron Wyden (OR).

S.720 criminalizes speech and forbids political expression. The Anti-Israel Boycott Act is basically a Sedition Act in disguise which punishes any American joining a boycott to oppose the Israeli government’s occupation of Palestinians with a fine of up to $1 million or imprisonment up to 20 years.

S.720 wants to have it both ways — doing the bidding of a foreign nation (Israel) while punishing Americans from following boycotts suggested by a foreign entity (the UN and the still-stateless Palestinian people).

Whether the bill is eventually successful or not, the ACLU notes the harm it has already done:

“On its face, the bill appears to directly prohibit boycott activity that is protected under the First Amendment. Even if the bill could be interpreted more narrowly, as some of its supporters claim, its broad language could still chill protected expression by scaring people into self-censorship. Either way, the bill would impose serious First Amendment harms.”

According to S.720’s subsection (a)(1) the bill criminalizes even gathering information about companies doing business in Israel or in occupied Palestinian territories. You post an inquiry on Facebook — for example, does Sodastream manufacture its products in the West Bank? The next thing you know, you face arrest or a fine.

Besides violating the rights of Americans, S.720 is a perfect example of the sort of foreign meddling that Democrats claim to hate. S.720 is promoted by numerous pro-Israel groups like AIPAC whose single focus on promoting Israeli interests should require it to register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Even Canada is obliged to register its lobbyists but no such limitations apply to AIPAC, which literally pays American legislators to work for Israel’s interests.

Imagine if Russian lobbyists did the same — worked through a group we’ll call ARPAC — the American Russian Political Action Committee — to create legislation to criminalize sanctions against Russia and its oligarchs. Or imagine ATPAC — the American Turkish Political Action Committee — buying support to keep Americans from mentioning the Armenian Genocide or protesting Turkey’s treatment of Kurdish people.

What’s especially galling to Americans is that the Senate is telling us we can’t take political action against a foreign country knee deep in corruption — a country with a prime minister about to be indicted for criminal conspiracy. A country in which the former prime minister went to jail for bribery and influence-peddling. The Senate needs to be reminded: Israel is not our 51st state.

S.720 echoes laws in Israel which have already criminalized the BDS movement in “the Middle East’s only democracy.” The Senate bill also joins a growing list of American “gag” legislation written for agribusiness, anti-abortion zealots, and pipeline companies. The Trump administration now seems eager to join its authoritarian counterparts in China, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Poland, the Philippines, and elsewhere in policing the views of its citizens.

And thirteen Democratic senators, including Chuck Schumer, are just fine with that.