Middle East Eye / February 16, 2022
US House Speaker’s visit and comments slammed by pro-Palestine activists as a ‘horrifying betrayal of human rights’.
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday called Israel’s creation the “greatest political achievement of the 20th century”, in a speech to the Israeli parliament.
Leading a delegation of seven Democrats, including Ro Khanna, Adam Schiff and Barbara Lee, Pelosi told Israeli lawmakers that Washington’s support for Israel remained “ironclad”, as she warned against the threat of a nuclear Iran.
“I am very proud that America is Israel’s oldest ally,” she told the Israeli Knesset. “The US remains ironclad, I keep using that word, in our support of Israel’s security and its regional stability.”
Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy, who greeted Pelosi, said Israel was grateful for her uncompromising struggle for its security. He thanked her in particular for passing funding for the Iron Dome missile system.
“For many years, you have defended our right to protect our citizens, and you have stood by us even in the most difficult of times, as we saw just recently during the last operation in Gaza,” Levy said.
“The passage of the law to fund the replenishment of the Iron Dome system will forever be associated with you, and always as one of the greatest displays of support by the American people and by the United States House of Representatives for the State of Israel. The State of Israel could not have asked for a better friend.”
In her address to the Israeli parliament, Pelosi – who once lauded the 2015 nuclear deal as a diplomatic masterpiece – said the Biden administration was concerned about the same nuclear threat from Iran as Israel.
“We are together in the fight against terrorism posed by Iran, both in the region and also its nuclear development.
“The nuclear threat of Iran is a global one… Israel’s proximity to Iran is of concern to all of us.”
The 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was signed by Iran, the US, UK, Russia, France, China and Germany and offered direly needed international sanctions relief to Tehran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.
Former US President Donald Trump, however, left the deal in 2018 and reimposed wide-ranging sanctions on the country. Iran continued to remain under compliance for months until it began to reduce some of its commitments in 2019.
Earlier this month, the Biden administration restored sanctions waivers for Iran to allow Russian, Chinese and European companies to carry out non-proliferation work at Iranian nuclear sites, an apparent indicator of an imminent return to the deal.
‘Horrifying betrayal of human rights’
Pelosi’s visit comes after days of unrest in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where supporters gathered outside the home of the Salem family, who are facing imminent expulsion.
At least 31 people were injured in Sheikh Jarrah, including medics and a journalist, after Israeli forces used stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets to disperse Palestinian crowds, according to local media. Skunk water vehicles and mounted police were also deployed. At least 12 Palestinians were arrested.
Ahmad Abuznaid, the executive director at the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), slammed the timing of Pelosi’s visit, calling it a “betrayal” of human rights.
“While Palestinians are actively enduring over 70 years of continuous ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Israeli state, these members of Congress signed up for front row seats to the Sheikh Jarrah expulsions in East Jerusalem,” Abuznaid told Middle East Eye.
“It’s a truly horrifying betrayal of human rights and justice for US lawmakers to prioritise both these delegations and the continued funding of ethnic cleansing and apartheid.”
Pelosi’s visit also comes just a few weeks after Amnesty International released a report stating that Israel’s “cruel policies of segregation, dispossession and exclusion across all territories under its control clearly amount to apartheid”.
Sunjeev Bery, the executive director at Freedom Forward – a US-based human rights group – told MEE that Pelosi’s trip was an “attempt to change the headlines” following Amnesty’s damning report.
“While more and more members of the US Congress are questioning US support for Israeli apartheid, Democratic Party leaders are still working hard to retain the support of pro-Israel donors and networks in the US,” he said. Bery added that it was especially disappointing to see congressional leaders such as Lee and Khanna participate in the trip.
“By doing so, Lee and Khanna are enabling a political culture of impunity in which Israeli policymakers continue to strengthen Israeli apartheid while basking in the glow of US politicians’ adulation.”
Pelosi’s remarks were also met with anger from the progressive Jewish organisation Jewish Voice for Peace, who said that “while Speaker Pelosi promises the leaders of Israel’s apartheid regime billions of US taxpayer dollars, Israeli forces in Jerusalem are violently attacking Palestinians and trying to drive them from their homes to ‘Judaize’ the city”.
“It’s shameful. Every single member of Congress on this delegation is participating in the whitewashing of the Israeli government’s crimes,” the organisation told MEE.
Last year, a poll published by the University of Maryland found that only 8.1 percent of US Democrats blamed the Palestinians for Israel’s offensive on the blockaded Gaza Strip in May, highlighting the growing partisan divide over perceptions of the conflict in American politics.
Zainab Iqbal is a New York-based journalist. She writes about race and identity, Islamophobia and issues facing Muslims in the US.