Chicagoland Pro-Israel Political Update

Calling balls and strikes for the pro-Israel community since 2006

May 23, 2021

If you remember nothing else, remember this:

  • Democrats will not cut or condition aid to Israel, but this fact did not stop Republicans from using Israel (and Jews) as a political cudgel, falsely claiming that Democrats voted against sanctioning Hamas and replenishing Iron Dome. Nothing could be worse for the U.S.-Israel relationship than one party falsely claiming the other party does not support Israel.
  • Hamas is a terrorist organization and nothing justifies its rocket barrage against Israel. Israel had the right and the obligation to defend itself. The foregoing does not absolve Israel from wrongdoing, and it is not antisemitic or necessarily even anti-Israel to disagree with certain policies of Israel's government.
  • It is misguided to cast the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as analogous to Black Lives Matter or other conflicts with which it bears superficial similarity.
  • Being pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian are not mutually exclusive; they go hand in hand, and events of the past week confirm that we must redouble our efforts to achieve a two-state solution.
  • Read to the end for upcoming events and fun stuff.

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Pro-Israel Republicans have a choice: Do they stand with the bipartisan support for Israel that they claim to support, or do they stand with Republican members of Congress who abused congressional procedures last week to misrepresent strong Democratic support for Israel. Too many chose the second option, but our tradition teaches us that teshuva, repentance, is always possible. It is now incumbent upon Republicans in our community who claim to be pro-Israel to prove it by vocally pushing back against the false narratives they spread last week, and for pro-Israel organizations that claim to be bipartisan to publicly reject false narratives about Democrats--or stop pretending that they are bipartisan.

Democrats have not changed their position on Israel. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) is the most senior Jewish member in the House of Representatives, a longtime Congressional Progressive Caucus leader, and the House member who represents the largest and most diverse Jewish population in the country. He outlines the mainstream Democratic consensus on core principles regarding Israel and warns that "Republican efforts to turn the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a political football causes grave harm to Israelis and Palestinians alike."

But last week, that's exactly what Republicans tried to do--twice--and some people fell for it. In the last Congress, the Democratic-controlled House passed the Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act, which would have imposed sanctions on Hamas. It died in the Republican-controlled Senate and never became law. Recently, the Republican sponsor of the bill, Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), reintroduced the bill. The next step should have been committee hearings (this has become more complex given the economic relationships established by the Abraham Accords and other factors) and then a floor vote, when it would almost certainly pass.

His bill would have no effect on the current fighting, but last week, Mast saw an opportunity to play politics with Israel and asked for an immediate floor vote, which is not how the House--or any responsible legislative body--does business. For this to happen, Democrats would have had to vote against moving the previous question on an unrelated bill. Every Democrat, including many who were unaware that Mast even wanted to circumvent procedure, voted in favor of moving ahead with the bill under consideration. Mast and his friends in the right-wing media then claimed that every Democrat voted against Hamas sanctions, even though there was no such vote and even though the only reason the bill is not already law is that the Republican Senate refused to vote on it after the Democratic House passed it in the last Congress.

The Republicans pulled a similar stunt on Thursday, this time using a procedural maneuver known as motion to recommit, knowing that the majority party nearly always votes down motions to recommit because otherwise, the minority could use them endlessly to delay legislation.

In this case, despite no immediate shortage of Iron Dome batteries, Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-TX) used a procedural gambit to create the illusion Democrats abandoned Israel in its time of need by refusing to provide more Iron Dome batteries. Had Gonzales's motion to recommit passed, it would have sent the bill to fund Capitol Police back to committee, delaying it indefinitely, which is why the majority opposes motions to recommit filed by the minority. The bill in question was about funding Capitol Police, not Israel. Members who voted against the motion to recommit were voting against delaying a vote on increasing security at the Capitol.

Do you want to know how much thought Gonzales put into his stunt? Do you want to see the actual motion to recommit that Democrats voted against? Here it is, in its entirety. Not one word about Israel or Iron Dome. Had the bill gone back to committee, House rules would have prevented Gonzales from offering an amendment to include aid for Israel. This was political theater at its worst.

In fact, President Biden pledged on Thursday to replenish Israel's Iron Dome system, and Congress will approve it--following the correct process and without slowing down other important legislation.

These stories follow a predictable pattern: Republicans attempt a procedural maneuver on a hot-button issue knowing that every Democrat will vote against it (party leadership in both parties is sometimes flexible on substantive votes, but not procedural votes like these). A right-wing rag like the Washington Free Beacon "reports" what happened, center-right and right wing media pick it up, and it works because the truth is very inside baseball and hard to explain, but gullible people who have lost their critical thinking skills believe it and share it, regardless of the source and regardless of how implausible it is.

Do you really think that every Democrat, even the ones our Republican friends will grudgingly admit might be wrong on everything but are at least pro-Israel, would vote to support Hamas or against funding Iron Dome in Israel's time of need? If you see crap like this on social media, speak up, and let whoever posted it know the damage they are doing to the pro-Israel community by spreading lies like these. If you need the facts, contact me--that's what I'm here for.

Republicans are using Israel (and Jews) as a cudgel to beat up Democrats. It’s not about Israel, but these Republican games are putting support for Israel at risk by ratcheting up the partisanship. While it is a lie to say Democrats voted against funding for Israel, it is a fact that Republicans voted against funding the Capitol Police. But Republicans would rather we not talk about that.

Democrats will not delay or block arms sales to Israel. Ironically, the sale that a few members of Congress want to block is the sale of precision munitions. They don't like the deaths of innocent Palestinians (no one does), so let's force Israel to use less precise munitions next time and increase Palestinian deaths? This makes no sense.

The Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) at issue are precision munitions--exactly what we want Israel to be using. Telling a strong ally in the middle of a conflict that we are blocking an arms sale under the Memorandum of Understanding we agreed to sends the wrong signals: that the U.S. is not credible, does not honor its agreements, and does not stand by its allies.

Hamas to the south and (even more so) Hezbollah to the north are armed to the teeth. What happened last week proved why Israel needs these weapons. Incidentally, Israel has a large stockpile of JDAMs and if the goal of blocking the sale is to prevent their use (but again, given the alternative, why?), then blocking the sale would have no effect right now, especially since this sale would not go through until next year.

Democrats will not block the sale. The calls for blocking the sale have come from a small group of Democrats whose views are not representative of the party. I write this newsletter in advance, and I am confident that by the time you read this, whether on Sunday or on Wednesday (when I automatically re-send to those who did not open the original send), the sale will not have been blocked. Channeling my inner Joe Namath (call me Broadway Steve), I guarantee you that the Democratic-controlled Congress will not block this sale.

I'd be worried if votes in Congress were weighted based on Twitter followers or media hits. But the last time I checked, it was still one Democrat, one vote. Democratic leadership firmly supports Israel and so do the vast majority of Democrats in Congress. The leader of the Democratic Party is President Biden, who said Friday that the Democratic Party supports Israel and there is no change in his commitment to the security of Israel.

If you're worried about trends, consider that there were 61 new Democrats elected in the 2018 blue wave, not four, and the vast majority are firmly pro-Israel. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which is mainly focused on domestic issues, is pro-Israel; it is only a small but vocal subset who are expressing sympathy for Palestinians without acknowledging Israel's legitimate right to self-defense.

We will see more criticism of Israel, but aside from a handful of members, criticism of particular Israeli policies does not imply less support for Israel's safety and security. The new paradigm, as Halie Soifer said, is that "being ‘pro-Israel’ and ‘pro-Palestinian’ are not mutually exclusive" and are not binary choices. That's the lens through which we should view what is happening in the Democratic Party, and in a similar vein, we should remember that hypocrisy is a two-way street.

Conditioning aid to Israel is not the answer. Does the U.S. have the right to dictate to foreign aid recipients how our money should be spent? Of course we do. The terms of the Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and Israel require "detailed programmatic information related to the use of all U.S. funding." Going beyond by threatening to withhold vital military assistance to an ally is not sound foreign policy. Because we have the right to condition aid for any reason does not mean we should do so. I am an American taxpayer, and I expect my elected representatives to ensure that my government protects Israel's safety and security.

Israel should not forfeit the right to security aid because we disagree with some of its policies. We don't threaten NATO or Japan or our other allies with aid cuts when we disagree (well, Trump did, but aside from him, we don't) for the same reasons we should not threaten Israel. That is not how we treat allies, and Israel is an ally with whom, as President Obama often said, we have an unbreakable bond.

If you receive an email from any organization urging you to take action or donate money to prevent Congress from cutting aid to Israel or from blocking arms sales to Israel, unsubscribe from that organization's emails. This Democratic-controlled Congress will not cut aid to Israel or block arms sales to Israel. Either these organizations know it, and they are playing you, or they don't know it, and they are committing political malpractice--or they are wittingly or unwittingly acting as Republican mouthpieces. I'm not sure which is worse. There is never a bad time to tell your members of Congress that you support Israel, and now is a good a time as any, but to suggest that aid to Israel is even remotely at risk is beyond the pale and nothing more than manipulation of our emotions.

At the same time, we need to recognize that to the extent Israel makes a two-state solution more difficult by continued settlement expansion, to the extent Israel tolerates settler violence against Palestinians, to the extent Israel evicts Palestinians from their homes, people who do not have a natural affinity for Israel will increasingly question the nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

It's not that the Democratic Party is changing; it's that over time, Israel's policies under Netanyahu have become harsher, and suddenly the frog in the pot is boiling, with few of us having noticed.

It's tempting to see the conflict in the Middle East through the lens of color. Palestinians look brown and many Jewish Israelis, at least the ones we see on TV, can pass for white, even though about 70% of Israeli Jews are of Middle Eastern or North African descent and are as "brown" as Palestinians. More important, it was not too long ago that those Jews were oppressed to the same, if not a greater, extent than Palestinians are oppressed now.

What is going on in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza is not the U.S. in Vietnam, it's not the French in Algeria, it's not South Africa, and it's not the American south, no matter how tempting or easy it might be to draw superficial analogies.

Black Lives Matter is about one set of citizens--Black Americans--fighting for equal rights in their own country. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is about two nations, both of whom claim the same land. We must stand up for justice, and in this case, we must stand up for justice for Jews and Palestinians, both of whom have claims to all of the land and neither of whom are going anywhere.

But only Israel has Iron Dome! I have yet to hear anyone who says Israel should not retaliate against over 4,000 missile attacks specify how many Israelis have to die before Israel can respond. If someone was lobbing missiles at your neighborhood several times a night, forcing you to wake your children and run to the basement, how would you feel if your government did not strike back and said, "well, you weren't killed, so we'll let the rockets keep coming because we don't want to risk inadvertently killing civilians that the enemy is hiding behind. But maybe we'll reconsider if you do get killed." Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) laid out the challenges and the proper response.

Michael Koplow points out that "it’s not particularly credible to argue that Hamas shot rockets because it is really defending the Temple Mount or preventing evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, and neither is it particularly credible to argue that Israeli actions in Jerusalem have not provided Hamas with the most convenient excuse possible."

One can (and should) acknowledge that Israel has committed wrongs in its treatment of the Palestinians, one can (and should) be shocked and saddened by the death of even one innocent Palestinian, let alone hundreds, while simultaneously condemning Hamas for its terrorism and acknowledging the legitimacy of Israel's response. Hamas fires rockets indiscriminately at Israelis. Israel tries to bomb with precision, but there are limits to precision and Hamas bears responsibility for loss of innocent life.

Israel cannot unilaterally achieve a two-state solution, which remains the best path toward dignity and freedom for Jews and Palestinians. A two-state solution requires Israeli and Palestinian leadership politically capable of telling their own people that no matter how legitimate they think their national to claim to all of the land is, no matter how heartbreaking their own personal stories or the stories of their parents and grandparents might be, no matter how much they have innocently suffered at the hands of the other, they will have to give up the reality of realizing the whole of their dreams to realize some of their dreams, and that means giving up some land forever--land of their nation or land that they consider their own--and accepting the permanent reality of the other, not biding their time. I don't see either side ready to do that. Yet.

But while Israel cannot be faulted for Palestinian intransigence, it can be faulted for taking unilateral steps that push a two-state solution further out of reach, and the fault will be Israel's, not those in America who believe their eyes. The challenge for us will be to accept the binary that Halie spoke of and live in the new paradigm: We can express sympathy for Palestinians and, I would add, criticize Israel, while still supporting the U.S. commitment to Israel's safety and security.

ICYMI. Why Israel lost this war (a bit long, but a vitally important Israeli perspective that all of us need to understand).

Tweets of the Week. Halie Soifer and Mig Greengard.

Twitter Threads of the Week. Anshel Pfeffer, Danny Seidemann, and Yossi Schwartz.

Video Clip of the Week. Tom Aharon (Israel's John Oliver).

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The Fine Print: This newsletter usually runs on Sunday mornings. If you receive it as an ICYMI on Wednesday it's because you didn't open the one sent on Sunday. Unless stated otherwise, my views do not necessarily reflect the views of any candidates or organizations that I support or am associated with. I reserve the right to change my mind as I learn more. Intelligent, well-informed people may disagree with me; read opposing views and decide for yourself. A link to an article doesn't mean that I agree with everything its author has ever said or that I even agree with everything in the article; it means that the article supports or elaborates on the point I was making. I take pride in accurately reporting the facts on which I base my opinions. Tell me if you spot any inaccuracies, typos, or other mistakes so that I can correct them in the next newsletter (and give you credit if you want it). Advertisements reflect the views of the advertisers, not necessarily of me, and advertisers are solely responsible for the content of their advertisements. I read, value, and encourage replies to my newsletters, but I don't always have time to acknowledge replies or to engage in one-on-one discussion. Don't expect a reply if your message is uncivil or if it's clear from your message that you haven't read the newsletter or clicked on the relevant links. © 2021 Steve Sheffey. All rights reserved.