Senators reward Jewish settlers

Michael F. Brown

The Electronic Intifada  /  June 29, 2023

How did Ted Cruz respond to days of Jewish settlers rampaging through the West Bank ?

The senator from Texas angrily slammed the Biden administration via Twitter and press release on 25 June for having “instated a boycott” – earlier in the month – “against scientific and technological cooperation with Jews living in Judea and Samaria.”

Cruz took a similar position in 2021 on what he termed “anti-Semitic country-of-origin labels” and in 2020 co-signed a letter to President Donald Trump “urging the administration to change US customs policy and guidelines to allow Israeli goods produced in Judea and Samaria to be labeled ‘Made in Israel.’”

Asharq News, a day prior to Cruz’s communications, had reported the news that the Biden administration was reversing a decision taken by the Trump administration and stopping scientific cooperation with Israeli institutions in the occupied West Bank.

A proponent of  settler-colonialism, Cruz employs the term “Judea and Samaria” to describe the occupied West Bank where Israel is building Jewish settlements in violation of international law and practicing apartheid – as it is in Israel – with one set of laws for settlers and harsher laws for Palestinians.

Cruz’s outrage at the Biden administration, which has done precious little to protect Palestinians from Israeli human rights abuses and the combined settler and government moves against their land, and much to finance Israel, suggests he finds the dual system of law Israel operates in discriminatory fashion to be acceptable.

In his Sunday press release, Cruz claims, “Joe Biden and Biden administration officials are pathologically obsessed with undermining Israel. Since day one of their administration they have launched campaigns against our Israeli allies that are granular, whole of government, and done in secret.”

This is absurd.

The Biden administration has been treading very carefully where Israel is concerned and even now is pushing to include the country in the US Visa Waiver Program, notwithstanding serious ongoing discrimination by Israel against Palestinian Americans, some of whom are Cruz’s own constituents. US military aid to Israel has continued even as the Israeli military has killed Palestinian Americans Omar Assad and Shireen Abu Akleh and hundreds of Palestinians since Biden took office.

Cruz contends that “this new boycott of Israeli Jews,” as he misleadingly puts it, is another example of how the Biden team is “pathologically obsessed with undermining Israel.”

He adds, “The State Department is telling the entire US government not to cooperate with Jews in Judea and Samaria.”

This is profoundly irresponsible language of the sort that is now expected of Cruz who thinks the “single coolest moment” he’s had as a senator may have been smoking cigars with the apartheid-backing Benjamin Netanyahu in the Israeli prime minister’s office.

To say this minimal step by the Biden administration constitutes discrimination against Jews is to misread the situation – quite possibly intentionally – and pretend the administration wouldn’t take this measure if Boers had settled the West Bank rather than South Africa. Of course it would have taken action and quite possibly before its third year in office.

Former US ambassador to Israel David Friedman was among those most upset. During his years as ambassador, Friedman led the Trump administration’s effort to normalize Jewish settlement activity and apartheid in the West Bank.

Anthony D’Esposito, a Republican congressman from New York state, made a similar comment about the changing scientific arrangement for “Israeli-Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria” before referring to the occupied West Bank as “territory recovered by Israel during the 1967 war.”

That formula writes Palestinians and their rights out of the equation.

Senator Bill Hagerty of Tennessee jumped on the “Judea and Samaria” bandwagon Tuesday.

Senator Marsha Blackburn, a fellow Tennessean, dispensed with the “Judea and Samaria” terminology and simply referred to the area as part of Israel.

She’s obviously for annexation, but what are her thoughts on “one person, one vote”? Her silence on the subject suggests she doesn’t harbor concerns about Israeli apartheid – not a good look for a senator from a state not long removed from Jim Crow discrimination.

Their words reward Israel and its settlers for violating international law.

Palestinian American travelers

The rejoinders from Cruz, D’Esposito, Hagerty and Blackburn bookended the congressional response at the outset of the settlers’ rampage.

Days earlier, on 21 June, 65 members of the US Senate sent a letter to Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas urging them to “include Israel in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and to encourage both the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security to prioritize finalizing Israel’s accession this year.”

The senators hope that if Israel hits certain benchmarks this summer, particularly with Palestinian American travelers, that the apartheid state can join the select program and some 450,000 annual Israeli travelers will no longer have to secure a visa to travel to the US. Visitors would then be able to make 90-day tourist and business visits without a visa.

Palestinians fear that fulfillment of those benchmarks will be a temporary phenomenon and Palestinian American and Muslim American travelers will quickly face discrimination once again. There are profound doubts that “snapback” provisions would actually be applied to Israel.

The letter overlapped with Palestinian Americans huddling in relatives’ homes as settlers – with Israeli soldiers complicit – put Palestinian property to the torch.

The letter’s timing was shameless. Approval of the VWP by the 30 September deadline would have practical implications for Palestinian American travelers whose concerns about Israeli discrimination when they travel to the region are being downplayed by US senators in their haste to get Israel into the program.

These senators merely acknowledge that “there are still outstanding issues that must be addressed before Israel’s participation in the program can be finalized, and we urge both sides to continue working toward addressing these issues – including the reciprocal treatment of US citizens – to ensure Israel’s compliance with all program requirements before the deadline of September 30, 2023.”

Jim Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, finds the push “baffling because both the Departments of State (DOS) and Homeland Security (DHS) know that Israel doesn’t meet one of the essential conditions for entry into the program.”

He adds, “Any country seeking admission into the VWP must guarantee full reciprocity, that is ‘equal treatment and freedom of travel for all US citizens regardless of national origin, religion, or ethnicity.’ Israel has continually failed to meet that standard by blatantly discriminating against Arab Americans at its border.”

Zogby also notes of a planned trial period to begin in July that “as described by some US and Israeli officials, the trial only applies to the roughly 70,000 Palestinian Americans who currently possess Palestinian IDs. This excludes the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Americans who either do not have Palestinian documents or do not want them, only wishing to travel on their US passport. And of those with Palestinian IDs, the trial only appears to require Israel to admit an undefined ‘critical mass’ of those who apply.”

Congressman Jonathan Jackson of Illinois and 18 other members of the US House of Representatives sent a 26 June letter of their own to Blinken and Mayorkas on the VWP. They raise concerns about “Israel’s continuous discrimination and mistreatment of Arab Americans, including Palestinian Americans, and others espousing support for Palestinian human rights.”

In a press release, Jackson noted, “I am joined by my 18 colleagues from across the nation in strongly supporting Israel’s candidacy for the Visa Waiver Program.”

Referring to the color of the US passport, he added, “Our standard is that ‘blue is blue.’ This principle signifies equal treatment and freedom of travel for all US citizens regardless of national origin, religion or ethnicity.”

Protecting US citizens, including Palestinian Americans, is an important principle. But Jackson’s wording also makes clear that he’s willing to reward Israel if it doesn’t discriminate against traveling Palestinian Americans even if it continues to practice apartheid against Palestinians under its control.

More on Ritchie Torres

On 24 June, I noted that Congressman Ritchie Torres of New York had tweeted his concern about four Jewish settlers killed last week by Palestinian gunmen, but that he had said nothing about rampaging settlers attacking Palestinians and Palestinian Americans in the days that followed.

A few hours after that article was published, Torres retweeted the Israeli army’s declared opposition to the settlers’ actions. Torres apparently thought that retweeting the Israeli military’s language would make clear that army’s morality and his own.

It doesn’t.

Amjad Iraqi, senior editor with +972 Magazine, tweeted in response to the Israeli army: “These are crocodile tears from the same authorities that provide Israeli [Jewish] settlers with the housing, funding, weapons, training, protection and confidence to terrorize Palestinians at will.”

He added, “Foreign governments shouldn’t be welcoming this statement. They should be calling BS.”

Torres, however, is not seeing through the army’s empty words.

Despite all the evidence of the Israeli military standing aside and even abetting settlers – now and in February – he regards as compelling the army’s statement.

Torres didn’t falter in his belief even after Netanyahu called for an investigation into whether the army used excessive force against Jewish settlers – not Palestinians.

Torres sees what he wants to see.

His disregard of anti-Palestinian discrimination and Israeli apartheid speaks poorly for the direction of the Democratic Party. As ever, the Republicans are even worse.

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist