A coalition of progressive Democratic politicians and Jewish groups are calling for withholding US military aid to Israel in response to planned annexation of Palestinian territories by Israel.
US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is gathering legislators’ signatures on a letter urging the Trump administration to take steps to block Israel’s planned annexation.
“The United States must remain committed to a future in which all Israelis and Palestinians live with full rights, dignity, and democracy,” Ocasio-Cortez and a dozen other legislators said in the letter.
“We therefore urge you to make clear to the Israeli government that such a move is unacceptable,” they said in the letter addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Five other letters are circulating in the US Jewish community demanding accountability for the Israeli government and concrete actions by US Jewish institutions if a planned annexation goes forward.
Those letters have drawn more than 3,200 signatures, according to IfNotNow, a US Jewish group that opposes the occupation.
“It is time to stop holding America’s number one recipient of military funding – Israel – to a lower standard than we hold all other countries, exempting it from consequences when it violates our most basic values,” said Emily Mayer, political director of IfNotNow.
The influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) promptly condemned the Ocasio-Cortez letter, saying in a tweet that it threatens the US-Israel relationship.
AIPAC opposes the letter being circulated by @RepAOC—cosigned by @RepJayapal, @RepRashida & @BettyMcCollum04—which explicitly threatens the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that would damage American interests, risk the security of Israel & make a two-state solution less likely.
— AIPAC (@AIPAC) June 29, 2020
Senator Bernie Sanders and other progressives who signed the letter issued statements opposing annexation in strong terms.
“I have long believed that the United States needs to engage in an even-handed approach toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Sanders said in a statement.
“We need a resolution that ends the Israeli occupation and enables a future of security, self-determination, and prosperity for both peoples,” Sanders said.
“Conditioning US aid is one of the tools we can use to help achieve this goal,” Sanders said.
The US politicians said they would pursue legislation that would tie future US military aid – now $3.8bn a year – to human rights conditions and withhold funding for Israeli arms purchases.
Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian American, said the Netanyahu government uses aid “to formalise an apartheid system”.
US taxpayers are helping to “perpetuate and entrench human rights violations in Palestine, including limitations on freedom of movement, further expansion of illegal land theft, home demolitions, and cutting off access to critical resources like clean water,” Tlaib said.
The letters and statements reflect a widening rift between the progressive and establishment wings of the US Democratic Party over support for Israel. While critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, leading Democrats like presidential candidate Joe Biden have been reluctant to condition US military support for Israel on changes in policy.
In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz last week, more than 190 House members voiced “deep concern” about the annexation plans but stopped short of threatening to withhold US military support.
“We understand that historically, US refusal to use its leverage – as we would do with other countries – has enabled a right-wing annexationist agenda to succeed in Israeli politics in the first place,” said Zoe Goldblum, a Democratic political organiser and former student leader at J Street, a pro-Israel advocacy group.
“We want lawmakers to know that young Jews are behind them,” she said.
Support for Israel within the Democratic party has been shifting as newer politicians have come into office.
Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, known in the US Congress as “The Squad” for their progressive stances, won election in 2016 and have been sharply critical of Trump administration policies towards Israel.
“Unilateral annexation is a violation of international law, a violation of Palestinian human rights, and directly counter to American values of democracy and self-determination,” Omar said.
Last week, progressive challenger Jamal Bowman won a primary election in New York, displacing Representative Eliot Engel, a 16-term member of the House who has been a strong backer of Israel and is currently chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Bowman, who has called for justice for Palestinians, was backed by Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders.