U.S. Congress Heavily Tilted to Israel Against Palestine
By: John Mason/Arab America Contributing Writer
Republicans in Congress vote almost as a bloc in favor of Israeli issues and that’s why people of the Arab World don’t trust the U.S. as a broker of peace. Traditionally, Congress has been strongly pro-Israel, including both Republicans and Democrats. Recently, however, Democrats, especially in the House of Representatives, have begun to show some fissures on the question of Israel and a small but growing unity on pro-Palestine issues. Such division becomes all the more important given President Trump’s plan to host an Israel-Palestine peace summit at Camp David before Israel’s elections on September 17. The “hitch” is that the representatives of the Palestinian Authority will certainly decline the invitation.
A Highly Pro-Israel U.S. Congress Contrasts with its weak Palestine Stance
It should be no surprise that the U.S. Congress is heavily pro-Israel. This has been the case for decades, though significantly more so over the few, Trump years. Against this backdrop, we see that most Americans want an even-handed stance towards Israel and Palestine. Furthermore, a large proportion of the country feels that the U.S. has funded Israel disproportionately compared to funding for Palestinians. Congresspersons are strongly pro-Israel regardless of their political affiliation, though Democrats have tended to support Palestinians, whether refugees or citizens of Israeli-occupied West Bank/Gaza. Republicans have only rarely supported the Palestinian cause.
Given that money talks, there are 28 pro-Israel Political Action Committees (PACs), while there are zero pro-Palestine PACs. An example of the power of these PACs is that one of them, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), not only supported numerous bills and resolutions favoring Israel, it has in fact drafted many of those statements. One pro-Israel PAC, called J-Street, supports certain Palestine positions, though, on large aid packages, it supports Israel.
In fairness, in a few cases where pro-Israel bills were unpopular, the congressional split tended to be along political lines, meaning that the issue was more a partisan issue, not simply one of support for Israel. One exception to such partisanship is a bill that opposed Israel’s practice of imprisoning Palestinian children, which has at this moment gained 29 cosponsors.
How does Your Congressperson Score on a Pro-Palestine Stance?
So, where does your Congressperson sit on the topic of pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian? Support for one or the other shows up in legislation, for example, on Israel’s “right to self-defense” or actions of the United Nations seeking to safeguard Palestinian rights. Other means of showing support include letters to the president, signed by legislators. To check on your Congressperson’s record on Israel and Palestine, click here.
The above website represents a detailed scoreboard on Senate and House members’ pro-Israel and Pro-Palestine scores derived from their votes on legislation. It shows that a large majority of incumbents who ran for reelection voted for pro-Israel legislation and were signatories to letters of a pro-Israel sort. In addition to votes, the scoreboard denotes that many of these same candidates took money from pro-Israel PACs.
A rough gauge of support along political party lines suggests that while Republicans overwhelmingly support a pro-Israel stance, they are very weak on a pro-Palestine score.
Conversely, Democrats are more likely to balance their pro-Israel stance with a mildly pro-Palestine stance. Together, however, the two parties are strongly pro-Israel.
The Scoreboard shows that a full 87% of Congress has voted pro-Israel 70% of the time. In the House, 63% of incumbents had pro-Israel scores of 100%, of which 74% were Republican. For the earlier-mentioned Congressional bill, “No Way to Treat a Child,” which was directed against Israel’s practice of detaining Palestinian children, and in some cases interrogating and torturing them, only drew 7% of the Congressional vote.
Congressional Bills Biased against Palestine
Examples of the overwhelming pro-Israel stance of the U.S. House of Representatives are seen in the following, recently passed bills:
- One bill, titled Expressing the Sense of the House Regarding US Efforts to Resolve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, aimed to favor a negotiated 2-state solution to the conflict. However, it was amended to remove any use of the term “occupation,” as if Palestine is not an occupied territory.
- Another bill, Opposing the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS), was aimed at minimizing the embarrassment of Israel for its occupation of Palestine. It suggested that the original movement delegitimized Israel’s “right to exist.” Opposition recently passed the full House.
- The Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act was also passed. It provides sanctions “…for any foreign individual, agency, or government that provides support to Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or any affiliated or successor groups.” Sanctions include denial of Export-Import Bank services, ending US financial or military support, and freezing assets in US jurisdiction. The full House voted on July 23 to adopt the bill.
- The US-Israel Cooperation Enhancement and Regional Security Act authorized $38 billion in US security assistance to Israel over a decade. That bill also passed the full House on July 23.
And, the one bill partially favorable to the Arab and Muslim-majority states:
- Expressing Support for Addressing the Arab-Israeli Conflict in a Concurrent Track with the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process. This was a resolution that “… applauds Arab and Muslim-majority states for improving bilateral ties with Israel despite the persistence of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Reference to the “Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process” seems premature, given the lack of any recent progress in the U.S. attempts to broker a peace.
Democratic Divide over Israel Widens
The Washington Post reported that this past Tuesday, “the House overwhelmingly passed a measure condemning efforts to boycott and economically isolate Israel over its policies toward Palestinians, an explosive global issue that exposed fissures inside the Democratic ranks.” The vote came following several months focused on two Muslim House freshmen, Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich), who purportedly made anti-Semitic comments in public. It was in response to the BDS movement, noted earlier, which calls on the international community to curtail investments in Israel and to spurn the Israeli government. The BDS also aimed at gaining more rights for Palestinians living in the occupied territories. Critics of BDS suggested that the movement would “fundamentally undermine Israel’s status as a Jewish homeland.”
The BDS resolution has been a critical issue for Democratic reps for months. Some Democrats are afraid of inflaming the Israel-Palestine issue, since Republicans had manipulated the issue to beat on Democrats, especially against Tlaib and Omar. Furthermore, Post reporter, Mike DeBonis noted that some Democrats wish to see President Trump’s unfaltering support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu challenged, especially Netanyahu’s increased use of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories as a policy tool in the “peace” process.
Complicating the political process is the role of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which last week passed the resolution to block the BDS. However, in amending the resolution to support both Israelis and some Arab states, the chairman of that committee, Democratic chair of that committee, Engel, is blocking it because it calls the two-state solution to the Arab-Israel the only path to peace.
As House Democratic majority leader, Steny Hoyer noted, he hoped to retain the two-state solution language as part of the original resolution. The concern is that if there are no negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians that reflect a two-state arrangement, then Israel risks its own survival as both a democratic and Jewish state. In a one-state solution, Muslim Arabs would come to outnumber Israeli Jews, thus creating a demographic, religious and ethnic catastrophe.
These political waves point to problems for normally “steady-as-she-goes” Democratic support for Israel, according to Roll Call reporter, Rachel Oswald. This is especially the case given U.S. coming midterm elections, which could shift the power balance in Congress, which might then alter the relationship between longtime allies, the U.S. and Israel.
Further exacerbating the widening breach between Democrats who provide unwavering support for Israel and those who don’t is the latter’s condemnation of Trump’s funding cuts to the UN agency that serves Palestinian refugees. This support includes such basics as food, shelter, water and sanitation and education to 1.5 million refugees who live in camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and in nearby Arab states.
Trump’s idea of an Israel-Palestine peace summit at Camp David before the September 17 Israeli elections without the Palestinians in attendance about says it all. Whether Democrats in Congress go along with this farcical idea is to be seen. The growing divide among Democrats on their pro-Israeli vs. pro-Palestine bias begins to speak to this most challenging problem.
(References: Kathryn Shihadah, If America Knew, January 2017, November 2018; Monddoweiss—News and Opinion About Israel & the United States, 2019; Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, July 23, 2109; “Party voices in favor of Palestinian rights,” Arab American Institute, Election Central 2020, August 2019; Rachel Oswald, “Divide over Israel widens in Democratic Party,” Roll Call, July 2018.)
John Mason, an anthropologist specializing in Arab culture and its diverse populations, is the author of recently-published LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle
East, 2017, New Academia Publishing.