Prominent Democrats form pro-Israel group to counter skepticism on the left

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington last March. (photos: Sipa via Associated Press)
Some Democrats have suggested that the new group represents a Democratic arm of AIPAC.

By Jonathan Martin | The New York Times | Jan 28, 2019

‘My generation sees the occupation and what’s happening in Israel-Palestine as a crisis the same way we do climate change. Too many in the American Jewish establishment and the Democratic establishment have let [Israel] off the hook.’
— Simone Zimmerman, co-founder of IfNotNow

‘The idea that the Democratic Party should just support the Netanyahu government, right or wrong, is out of line with where American Jews are at and where Jewish Democrats are at.’
— Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street

Several prominent veteran Democrats, alarmed by the party’s drift from its longstanding alignment with Israel, are starting a new political group that will try to counter the rising skepticism on the left toward the Jewish state by supporting lawmakers and candidates in 2020 who stand unwaveringly with the country.

With polls showing that liberals and younger voters are increasingly less sympathetic to Israel, and a handful of vocal supporters of Palestinian rights arriving in Congress, the new group — the Democratic Majority for Israel — is planning to wage a campaign to remind elected officials about what they call the party’s shared values and interests with one of America’s strongest allies.

“Most Democrats are strongly pro-Israel and we want to keep it that way,” said Mark Mellman, the group’s president and a longtime Democratic pollster. “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.”

Continue reading “Prominent Democrats form pro-Israel group to counter skepticism on the left”

Film: Sky and Ground (Mar 1)

Please join our brothers and sisters at the Mideast Focus Ministry for their First Friday Film series.
Date: Friday, Mar 1, 2019
Time: 7:00 – 8:30 pm
Location: St. Mark’s Cathedral
Bloedel Hall
1245 10th Ave E
Seattle, WA 98102
Information: Event information here →
Tickets: Free Admission
Event Details

A compelling, ground-level immersion into the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time, Sky & Ground accompanies the Nabi clan, a large, extended Syrian-Kurdish family, as they painstakingly make their way from their home in Aleppo, bombed out by the war, to the Idomeni refugee camp on the border of Greece and Macedonia. Their goal is Berlin, where they will reunite with family members and seek asylum but first they must make the arduous and dangerous journey through Serbia, Hungary and Austria.

Continue reading “Film: Sky and Ground (Mar 1)”

Michelle Alexander is right about Israel-Palestine

Author and civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander attends the Harlem Women’s Round-Table Conversation at Row House on Apr 1, 2016, in New York City. (photo: Slaven Vlasic / Getty Images)
There is a false equivalency between criticizing Israel and being anti-Semitic.

By Marjorie Cohn | Truthout | Jan 25, 2019

[We need] to honor our deepest values in times of crisis, even when silence would better serve our personal interests or the communities and causes we hold most dear. It’s what I think about when I go over the excuses and rationalizations that have kept me largely silent on one of the great moral challenges of our time: the crisis in Israel-Palestine.
— Michelle Alexander

As a progressive Jew, I find that many of my family members and friends are still what we call “PEP” — progressive except Palestine. Amid ever-worsening injustices created by the Israeli system of apartheid and Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian lands, it is past time for this to change.

I am hopeful that the firestorm sparked by Michelle Alexander’s recent New York Times column, “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine,” will finally generate the heat necessary to force more people and groups on the left to overcome the fundamental hypocrisy of the “progressive except Palestine” approach.

I was deeply inspired by Alexander’s column and her decision to speak so honestly about the difficulty of overcoming the fear of backlash over taking a public stand against the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Striking a comparison between the risk taken by prominent critics of Israel and the risk Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took by publicly criticizing the Vietnam War, Alexander observes, “Those who speak publicly in support of the liberation of the Palestinian people still risk condemnation and backlash.”

Continue reading “Michelle Alexander is right about Israel-Palestine”

Gaza: Advanced care needed for complex gunshot wounds

An MSF surgeon at Al-Awda Hospital examines X-rays from a patient shot by the Israeli army during protests in Gaza in Jul 2018. (photo: Jacob Burns / MSF)
For the most serious cases, the necessary treatment is very difficult to obtain in the Gaza Strip, which is isolated by a blockade.

By Staff | MSF Doctors Without Borders | Jan 25, 2019

MSF has increased its capacity in the Gaza Strip, performing 302 surgeries in December 2018 and caring for about 900 wounded patients. The needs of wounded patients, however, are overwhelming both MSF and other health care actors, and much more remains to be done to ensure adequate treatment of these serious and complex injuries.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical teams in the Gaza Strip have the arduous task of treating bone injuries in patients who were shot by the Israeli military during protests. Limited resources make it impossible to provide adequate treatment in many cases, making it necessary to refer patients to hospitals outside the Gaza Strip. However, legal obstacles complicate referrals outside of the territory, and MSF was only able to make its first referral this month.

Treating gunshot wounds is complicated. At al-Awda hospital in Jabalia, northern Gaza, MSF surgeons operating on the shin of Yousri [name changed] who was shot in July 2018, found that the bullet had left a large gap in the bone just below his knee. They took bone from Yousri’s hip to fill the gap and help him walk again. “It will take at least two or three months for the bone to fuse, and could be longer,” said MSF surgeon Hiroko Murakami. “After that time we will see if everything is OK, and, if it is, then we can remove the external fixator and the patient can start physiotherapy. So it’s still going to take him a long time to recover.”

Continue reading “Gaza: Advanced care needed for complex gunshot wounds”

Federal judge upholds Arkansas state anti-BDS law

 Bethlehem, Jun 2015. (photo: Thomas Coex / AFP / Getty Images)
In contrast, other courts have held boycotts to be protected speech.

By Staff | i24 News | Jan 24, 2019

‘[The Times] may even call upon others to boycott Israel, write in support of such boycotts, and engage in picketing and pamphleteering to that effect. This does not mean, however, that its decision to refuse to deal, or to refrain from purchasing certain goods, is protected by the First Amendment.’
— US District Judge Brian Miller in his opinion

A US federal judge on Wednesday upheld legislation in the state of Arkansas forbidding state employees and contractors from participating in boycotts of Israel, such as the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

US District Judge Brian Miller dismissed a lawsuit brought forth by the Arkansas Times newspaper challenging the 2017 law — which requires state contractors to pledge not to boycott Israel — ruling that such a boycott is not protected by the First Amendment. The Arkansas Times is not engaged in a boycott against Israel, but filed the lawsuit after the University of Arkansas Pulaski Technical College refused to contract the paper because it declined to signed the anti-boycott pledge.

Miller wrote in his ruling that commercial boycotts, unlike actions such as writing in support of such boycotts, are not a protected form of speech and are therefore not protected by the First Amendment. . . .

Continue reading “Federal judge upholds Arkansas state anti-BDS law”

Dem presidential hopefuls vote against anti-BDS bill, as Van Hollen says it will ‘strengthen’ the peaceful BDS movement

Rep. Chris Van Hollen savors his victory at an election night party ( photo: Patrick Semansky / Associated Press )
Although no Senator has come out in support of BDS, progressive Democrats are drawing a line about repressive laws.

By Philip Weiss | Mondoweiss | Jan 30, 2019

Just about every single Senator considering a 2020 run voted no. Democrats most in tune with their base have drawn a clear red line that repressive laws targeting Palestinian rights activism in violation of he first amendment are unacceptable,
—Yousef Munayyer of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights

The Senate is once again debating boycott against Israel today, in a sign that Middle East policy is politicized as never before.

The Senate voted overwhelmingly yesterday, 76 to 22, to proceed forward on S.1, a bill sponsored by Marco Rubio — and AIPAC, the leading Israel lobby group — that encourages states to adopt measures to financially punish “entities using boycotts, divestments, or sanctions to influence Israel’s policies.”

The anti-BDS language is an unconstitutional limitation of free speech, the ACLU has said; state laws aimed at crushing BDS have already cost employment to a number of people of good faith who are opposed to Israeli policies.

The good news is that progressive Democrats drew a line in the sand, and presidential hopefuls voted against the procedural vote. Even though no Senator has come out in support of BDS, many have acknowledged the right of their constituents to counter Israeli actions. In a long speech opposing the bill, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said in its overreach, the bill will fuel the BDS movement because Americans will insist on their right to “peacefully” protest the Netanyahu government.

Continue reading “Dem presidential hopefuls vote against anti-BDS bill, as Van Hollen says it will ‘strengthen’ the peaceful BDS movement”

The hypocrisy of anti-BDS laws

A demonstrator holds a Palestinian flag during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border fence on Jan 18. (photo: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters)
America has a long and proud history of boycotts being used to advocate for human rights and social justice.

By Yousef Munayyer | The Washington Post | Jan 19, 2019

When elected officials say they oppose BDS, what they are really saying is they oppose these tactics — and would even outlaw constitutionally protected freedom of expression — only because the targets are institutions complicit in Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights. This amounts to holding Israel to a different standard and enabling its horrific policies.

As Congress returned for a new session at a moment of political crisis and government shutdown, the Senate chose an odd priority for its legislative agenda. Senate bill 1, or S1, authorizes billions in weapons to Israel and includes an unconstitutional law aiming to silence the movement for Palestinian rights.

Boycott, divestments and sanctions, or BDS, are tactics Palestinian civil society has asked people around the world to utilize to hold Israel accountable for policies that deny them human rights. While these tactics have gained traction, many US lawmakers have chosen to introduce repressive legislation targeting BDS tactics when implemented in support of Palestinian rights.

These so-called “anti-BDS” laws, adopted at both the state and federal level, have caused great controversy. Opposition to such bills has overwhelmingly come from Democrats on the grounds that economic protest is protected under the First Amendment right to free speech; Republicans have almost entirely supported these laws as a caucus. But the debate over the “Combating BDS Act,” recently packaged into S1, led to a revealing exchange. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who sponsored the act, claimed some Senate Democrats secretly support BDS. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) quickly shot back that such a claim was untrue.

Both are wrong. Continue reading “The hypocrisy of anti-BDS laws”

Film: Soufra (Friday)

Please join our brothers and sisters at the Mideast Focus Ministry for their First Friday Film series. There will be a light reception prepared by local Syrian refugees beginning at 6:15 pm.
Date: Friday, Feb 1, 2019
Time: 7:00 – 8:30 pm
Location: St. Mark’s Cathedral
Bloedel Hall
1245 10th Ave E
Seattle, WA 98102
Information: Event information here →
Tickets: Free Admission
Event Details

Soufra follows the unlikely and wildly inspirational story of intrepid social entrepreneur, Mariam Shaar — a generational refugee who has spent her entire life in the Burj El Barajneh refugee camp just south of Beirut, Lebanon. The film follows Mariam as she sets out against all odds to change her fate by launching a successful catering company, “Soufra,” and then expand it into a food truck business with a diverse team of fellow refugee woman who now share this camp as their home.

Together, they heal the wounds of war through the unifying power of food while taking their future into their own hands through an unrelenting belief in Mariam, and in each other. In the process, Mariam is breaking barriers, pulling together Syrian, Iraqi, Palestinian and Lebanese women to work side by side and form beautiful friendships while running this thriving business. Continue reading “Film: Soufra (Friday)”

Israel plans to close UNRWA schools in occupied East Jerusalem

Palestinian schoolchildren at a school run by UNRWA in the Shuafat refugee camp in occupied East Jerusalem. (photo: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
The United Nations refugee agency for Palestinians said Israeli authorities did not inform the group of a plan to shut down UNRWA-run schools in occupied East Jerusalem.

By Staff | Al Jazeera | Jan 20, 2019

‘UNRWA’s existence in Jerusalem is not a gift from Israel. There are bilateral agreements binding on Israel to respect the agency’s installations, jurisdiction and immunity in Jerusalem. In addition, Israel is a party to the 1946 Refugee Convention, and such attempts are in violation of this Convention.’
— Sami Meshasha, spokesperson for UNRWA

Israeli media reported that the state’s National Security Council will revoke permits allowing UNRWA schools to operate starting next school year. The schools will be replaced by schools run by the Jerusalem municipality, supported by Israel’s education ministry.

UNRWA runs seven schools in two refugee camps in occupied East Jerusalem, serving a total of 3,000 students.

The Israeli plan is the latest blow to the agency, after the United States’s decision last year to halt its funding.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee, said the Israeli decision is “a direct insult to the international community and disregard for its laws and decisions and institutions.” . . .

Continue reading “Israel plans to close UNRWA schools in occupied East Jerusalem”

The 2019 Women’s March: privileging victimhood and the power of class

The first Women’s March in Washington DC, January 21, 2017. (Photo: Getty Images)
While the Women’s March of 2017 was an expression of unity across many issues, the 2019 Women’s March has struggled with accusations of anti-Semitism.

By Alice Rothchild | Mondoweiss |  Jan 22, 2019

 It has become clearer and clearer to many Jewish activists and their allies that if we are working for equal rights for all, if we are condemning racism, anti-semitism and Islamophobia, if we are working to create safe societies for women, if we are working against gun violence, then Zionism becomes increasingly problematic.

Over the weekend I rallied and marched in one of Seattle’s two women’s marches, with speeches from indigenous and immigrant communities, the Washington Poor People’s Campaign, Dreamers, and religious figures. We chanted to end the school to prison pipeline and the building of an expensive youth jail, to fund education, healthcare, housing, gun control, and to end the government shutdown. We gave our support to transpeople and Native Peoples especially Missing and Murdered Indigenous women, to saving our environment, to welcoming immigrants, and fighting racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, homophobia, and “toxic masculinity.” The day celebrated inclusivity and cross-sectional political organizing led by “womxn” and marginalized communities. “Women are the Wall and Trump will Pay!”

The Women’s March in 2017, following the inauguration of the most sexist, racist, and dangerous president in the U.S., was the largest single day demonstration in our history. Despite all the expressions of unity, two years and many marches and outrages later, much has been written about this 2019 Women’s March and the angry schisms around accusations of anti-Semitism. This has resulted in the loss of endorsements, the organizing of competing marches, and an enormous amount of public handwringing, along with calls for the resignations of the leadership and the weakening of the movement. At the same time, Jewish women have been exhorted to march in unity with the original Women’s March and the organizers talk about establishing a “platform on which truly progressive candidates can run and win in 2020.”

Continue reading “The 2019 Women’s March: privileging victimhood and the power of class”