Pennsylvania Lawmakers Outraged over Billboards Criticizing Israel
BY: Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer
Two billboards in South Central Pennsylvania off Highway 83 that criticize American support for Israel are upsetting Pennsylvania lawmakers who are asking for the billboards to be removed.
The first billboard, scheduled for December 21 through January 21, stated: “$10 million a day to Israel? Our Money Is Needed in America / Get the Facts at StopTheBlankCheck.org * Paid for by IfAmericansKnew.org.”
The websites mentioned by the billboard are aimed at informing Americans of the over $3 billion per year Israel receives in aid (comprising 53% of America’s foreign military financing) from the U.S. government. Currently, 83 U.S. Senators, and Israel, want this amount to increase, provoking criticism from citizens concerned that too much tax dollars are going to one country, or that their tax dollars are contributing to the illegal occupation of Palestinians.
The second billboard, scheduled for March 28 through April 28, stated: “Help Liberty Veterans attacked by Israel,” and directed viewers to the website HonorLibertyVets.org.
This billboard calls attention to the 1967 incident where the naval vessel USS Liberty was attacked by Israeli military, killing 34 Americans and injuring 174. Victims and crew of USS Liberty, as well as their affected families, are seeking a full investigation into the attack, which is standard practice and required by law.
The group, “If Americans Only Knew,” received a letter signed by fourteen Pennsylvania state legislators outraged by the billboards. The legislators wrote that the “accusation” of sending $3.65 billion to Israel every year is “false” and “was meant for the sole purpose of damaging the strong relationship we have with Israel.” The lawmakers call the $3.65 billion an “investment,” while repeatedly using strong language to bash the organization, such as deceptive, biased, misinformed, and reprehensible.
In the same letter, the state representatives said the group’s efforts were deliberate attempts to misinform the public about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, wherein Americans are targets of Palestinian terrorism. The representatives praised the U.S.-Israel trading and cultural relationships, claiming Israel is an essential ally and “anti-Israel sentiment” does not tell the whole story of conflict in the Middle East.
This response from the Pennsylvania lawmakers is not surprising with the recent increase in states passing laws prohibiting government officials and agencies from working with people and companies supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Regardless of one’s opinion on the group “If Americans Only Knew,” it is their right to practice free speech by putting what they wish to express on billboards. It is not the place of state or federal lawmakers to prohibit free speech, and yet there is a rise in anti-BDS legislation by state lawmakers who are actually paid by pro-Israel lobbyists to pass these bills that suppress free speech and blacklist boycotters and critics of Israel.
“If Americans Only Knew” did not put these billboards up as part of the BDS campaign, though. The group genuinely concerns itself with how American tax dollars are spent and want to help victims of the USS Liberty attack.
Alison Weir, a leader of “If Americans Only Knew,” responded to the letter with a letter of her own. In it she states: “Our billboard is about the US handout to Israel, not trade, so I’m trying to figure out what your point is.”
Weir goes on to quote several analysts, who have written about U.S. aid to Israel, and conclude that this policy is detrimental to the U.S. economy, job growth, and companies.
In regard to the second billboard about USS Liberty, Wier said: “Four of the young sailors killed were from Pennsylvania, and eight who survived the attack currently reside in Pennsylvania… I am astonished to learn of your opposition to helping and honoring American combat veterans who have been treated badly by the media and others, and blocked from receiving the treatment they are owed.”
It is astonishing indeed that the USS Liberty issue has not been resolved, seeing as it was a major air and sea assault, one of the biggest since World War II. Weir continues in her letter by offering counterpoints to each of the lawmakers’ accusations of inaccuracy about the billboards. Her letter can be read here.
Ironically, the strongly worded letter from the Pennsylvania lawmakers ends with this statement: “The conversation of concerning international diplomacy is the purview of the federal government and states should not interfere.”
If it is the duty of the federal government, and not the states, to interfere with U.S.-Israel relationship, then why are these state legislators concerning themselves with these billboards? The billboards were addressed to American passersby in order to offer resources on information regarding their tax dollars – a right all Americans are afforded, but may not receive from mainstream media.
As Weir says, Pennsylvanians should be involved in the policies of the federal government because “it is the right of every American to learn the facts on American policies, and it is our duty to object when we feel policies are wrong.”
By continuing to shield Americans from the facts about aid to Israel, they will continue to be complacent with policies that are harmful to them and Palestinians. It is not wrong to be critical of Israel, or any other country. The job of elected officials is to represent the views of their constituents, not bully their voters into following a certain agenda.
The Pennsylvania legislators’ letter: