[From the Mondoweiss files] Israel ‘made a desert bloom’ – and I helped – Kamala Harris to AIPAC

Sen. Kamala Harris with Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, November 2017 (from twitter)

Philip Weiss

Mondoweiss  /  March 10 2018

Senator Kamala Harris of California, who is viewed a progressive leader with higher political prospects, spoke to the rightwing Israel lobby group AIPAC last week. Her remarks to students were private and were not recorded, AIPAC told the Intercept’s Zaid Jilani.

The appearance is a reminder that Harris is taking the inside lane in the Democratic Party: Last year she met with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. She was notably not a signatory to the Dianne Feinstein letter urging Israel not to erase a Palestinian village in the West Bank to make way for another illegal settlement. Harris seems to have calculated that she can alienate the leftleaning base of the party in order to cultivate the elites that are the springboard to higher office.

Until Harris provides her speech (under the crushing pressure from the media–not), we can have some idea of what she said from the speech she gave less than a year ago, in 2017, to AIPAC, from the AIPAC site.

On that occasion, Senator Harris proved herself to be another ardent Israel supporter in Congress, indistinguishable from a rightwing Republican; in fact, she repeated the Israel lobby mantra that she will do all she ccan to prevent Israel from becoming a partisan issue. She also denounced the delegitimization of Israel (implicitly the boycott movement), celebrated the $38 billion US aid package to Israel, praised Israel as a democracy that shares American values, said “a state for the Jewish people is so essential,” never mentioned the occupation, said “Palestinians” only once in the context of the two-state solution, and called for taking on Iran’s support for terrorism.

And yes, Israel made the desert bloom, she said; and Kamala Harris played her part, collecting money in Jewish National Fund boxes in order to plant trees. FYI, the JNF is a discriminatory agency that provides land to Jews, and that used such tree-plantings to cover up the ruins of Palestinian villages from the Nakba, to which refugees were not permitted to return.

One AIPAC attendee reports that Harris said the same thing this year:

“As a child, I never sold Girl Scout cookies, I went around with a @JNFUSA box collecting funds to plant trees in #Israel.”

Here’s her March 2017 speech:

Good morning, AIPAC. Good morning. What an honor. Lillian [Pinkus], congratulations on your outstanding presidency, and it’s great to be with you again this year. I also want to thank AIPAC’s executive director Howard Kohr, and I’m just thrilled to see all of the students in the audience. In you I see our future.

I want to especially recognize the nearly 1,000 Californians who are here today and of course including my dear friends and AIPAC board members, Anita Friedman and Cissie Swig and Amy Friedkin. And I’m proud to say and be among the many voices represented here, the California delegation is the largest and hopefully the loudest. There you go.

So having grown up in the Bay Area, I fondly remember those Jewish national fund boxes that we would use to collect donations to plant trees for Israel. Years later when I visited Israel for the first time, I saw the fruits of that effort and the Israeli ingenuity that has truly made a desert bloom. I soaked in the sights and sounds and smells of Jerusalem. I stood in Yad Vashem, devastated by the silent testimonies of the six million Jews that were murdered in the Holocaust, and we must always remember that solemn promise, never again.

And I did what I often do when visiting a new country. I visited the highest court in the land, and as I toured Israel’s Supreme Court, I was struck by the iconic architecture which embodies Israel’s founding principles of democracy and rule of law. The design of that building left a lasting impression on me. Its straight lines which represent the immutable nature of truth while the curved walls and glass represent the fluid nature of tzedek, of justice.

And this is a concept that is personal for me because it’s that same commitment to justice for the voiceless and the vulnerable that led my parents as students to march for civil rights in the 1960s while pushing me in a stroller. And it’s why I became a prosecutor and personally prosecuted everything from low-level offenses to homicides.

It’s why I became San Francisco District Attorney and was later elected Attorney General of California where I took on transnational gangs, cyber criminals, and mortgage fraud. And that commitment to justice is why I ran to become a United States senator from the great state of California, the point being to continue that fight. And a critical piece of my agenda is the fight to defend and strengthen our national security.

As a member of the both the Senate Intelligence Committee and Homeland Security Committee, I have a front row seat to these issues, and I am proud to stand strongly with America’s allies, including Israel.

So let me be clear about what I believe. I stand with Israel because of our shared values which are so fundamental to the founding of both our nations. I believe the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable, and we can never let anyone drive a wedge between us.

Our bonds are rooted in our shared history and are strengthened by the ties between our peoples. And in the words of Shimon Peres whose loss we mourn so deeply, for Israel’s existence we need the friendship of the United States of America. And of course he knew that feeling goes both ways, and there’s no question that friendship and our partnership must be unwavering.

And I believe Israel should never be a partisan issue, and as long as I’m a United States senator I will do everything in my power to ensure broad and bipartisan support for Israel’s security and right to self-defense.

I believe that the only viable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is two states for two people living side by side in peace and security. I believe that a resolution to this conflict cannot be imposed. It must be agreed upon by the parties themselves. Peace can only come through a reconciliation of differences, and that can only happen at the negotiating table.

I believe that when any organization delegitimizes Israel, we must stand up and speak out for Israel to be treated equally. And that is why the first resolution I co-sponsored as a United States senator was to combat anti-Israel bias at the United Nations and reaffirm that the United States seeks a just, secure, and sustainable two-state solution.

And as someone who’s personally prosecuted hate crime, I also believe that we cannot stand by while anti-Semitism, hate crime, and bigotry are on the rise, whether that’s a swastika on a Jewish family and children’s services bus in San Francisco or the burning of a mosque in Tampa. That’s why I am pleased to announce for the first time here at AIPAC that I’m introducing a Senate resolution that condemns targeting of Jews as well as any form of religious bias, racism, misogyny, or other hateful acts targeting minorities across the United States.

And let’s be candid. Many, including those in this hall, have been directly impacted by the outrageous incidents targeting the Jewish community. This violence and hate is alarming and simply unacceptable. No one should have to worry about their children’s safety when they drop them off at the JCC.

No one should have to be afraid to put a menorah in their front window or on their front lawn. And no one should ever have to fear that the grave of a loved one might be desecrated because of their faith. So my resolution calls on law enforcement to expedite investigations of hate crime and hold perpetrators accountable.

My resolution calls on law enforcement to fully report hate crime statistics, and my resolution calls on the administration to support victims and fund security at places of worship and other institutions that have been targeted, of any faith. And as I fight to promote human rights and security, Israel and the Jewish community will always be a priority for me.

And that is why as senator I am particularly focused on three areas where I believe the United States and Israel can expand our cooperation and where California plays an important and central role. And the three are defense, cybersecurity, and water security.

So let’s think about it. First, defense. In the midst of uncertainty and turmoil, America’s support for Israel’s security must be rock solid. And as Iran continues to launch ballistic missiles while it arms and funds its terrorist proxy Hezbollah, we must stand with Israel. As Hamas maintains its control of Gaza and fires rockets across Israel’s southern border, we must stand with Israel. And as ISIS and civil war in Syria destabilize the region, displacing millions and threatening shared security interest, we must support all those affected by ongoing violence and terror, and we must stand with Israel.

Our defense relationship is critical to both nations, which is why I support the United States’ commitment to provide Israel with $38 billion in military assistance over the next decade. It is why I support full funding for Israel, including for the Arrow, David’s Sling, and the Iron Dome missile defense systems which save lives. And that’s why I am fully committing to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge.

At the same time the United States must never permit Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. The Iran nuclear deal must be vigorously enforced through robust monitoring, inspection, and verification. And if Iran cheats, there’s no question. Iran must be held accountable. And so as Iran inserts itself in Syria, including through the deployment of advanced military equipment and missiles that threaten Israel, we must not tolerate Iran fanning the flames of instability and violence in the region.

In addition, Russia’s explicit support for these actions is a direct threat to American interest, and it makes Israel less secure. So I say the Trump administration must be crystal-clear with Putin. Russia must stop its support of Iran. This is a threat to the United States, and it is a threat to Israel.

A second area where I believe we can expand our cooperation is cybersecurity and technology. As cyberattacks expose the vulnerabilities of our most essential systems and infrastructure, the United States and Israel must strengthen our innovation and technological capacities and our defenses together. Israel has more scientists and startups per capita than any other country in the world, and I’m proud that California, building on the 2014 commitments made by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Governor Brown, has facilitated many of these technological partnerships and investments.

Today Tel Aviv and Silicon Valley are inextricably linked, ensuring that our two countries remain on the cutting edge. And when I met with Prime Minister Netanyahu last month, I was proud to discuss California’s cyber advancements and the way we can expand those joint efforts.

And the third area of growing cooperation is water security. So as any Californian in this hall can tell you, water is the lifeblood of our economies and our communities, and because of California’s history of droughts, we know we cannot take water for granted. In this regard we could not have a better example than Israel. Yes, Israel is a nation that is 60 percent desert, yet so water-secure that it exports water to its neighbors. And Israel has been a great partner to California in this area.

Take, for example, Carlsbad, California where an Israeli company built a desalination plant which provides 50 million gallons of water to 400,000 Californians every day. So while the United States and Israel are geographically separated by water, we can also be bound by water. And I’m eager to champion these three partnerships in the senate now and in the future and to ensure that California plays a key role in the relationship between the United States and Israel.

So in conclusion, AIPAC, we all know these are difficult times. I stand here clear eyed about the dangers of division in our country and in our world, understanding why a state for the Jewish people is so essential. And I also stand here as someone with a lifelong commitment to justice, a lifelong faith in the power of democratic values and the innate oneness and goodness of human beings. And I believe that it’s the common ground that unites so many of us, values like faith, family, respect, and empathy that will see us through.

Just look, for example, at the response when Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia were so horribly, horribly vandalized. Muslim activists quickly raised money to restore the headstones with one organizer posting on social media, “I want to ask all Muslims to reach out to your Jewish brothers and sisters and stand together against this bigotry.”

Common ground. Look at the words of Elie Wiesel, who I knew personally and loved, when he said, “The opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference.”

Common ground. Look at Israel’s Supreme Court, that beautiful place I visited, upon which sits a Tunisian judge alongside an Israel-Arab Christian and a Brooklyn-born Israeli, all presided over by a female chief justice—common ground.

Or look at my own life where a daughter of a South Asian mother and a Jamaican father concluded her own interfaith wedding with her husband breaking a glass and everyone yelling mazel tov.

So that’s who we are, and if we embrace those values that have always made the United States and Israel great, then I believe our two nations will continue to move forward together for years and years to come. I thank you, AIPAC.

Thank you.

Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006