Tough choices for Biden administration: Which empty words to approve ?

President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Tony Blinken (Jonathan Ernst - Reuters)

Michael F. Brown

The Electronic Intifada  /  October 29, 2021

The Biden administration isn’t going to do anything to stop Israel’s expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank.

State Department spokesman Ned Price’s mild words on Tuesday saying the US “strongly opposes” the Israeli action will have zero impact. Even if President Joe Biden himself voices concern, nothing will change.

Israel’s action will stand.

There are two consequences.

First, Israel will have won yet another political fight with American politicians who may have tepid concerns but lack the will to do anything. Many, of course, stand squarely with Israel as it further dispossesses Palestinians.

But second, Israel will have again shot an own-goal with grassroots Americans who see the anti-Palestinian racism of Israel’s actions that US politicians refuse to address.

Own-goals, however, do Palestinians scant good while their land is being taken from them. Grassroots frustration matters little next to congressional complicity.

“How high ?”

The failure to push back against illegal Israeli actions is highlighted by the words this week of retiring North Carolina Congressman David Price who said, “It wasn’t that long ago in the Democratic caucus – including the leadership of the party – when if AIPAC said jump, we’d say ‘How high?’”

He added, “A lot more members were bothered by that than cast votes that indicated that.”

Democratic lawmakers may be bothered by actions taken by Israel and leading lobby group AIPAC, but there’s no indication that meaningful counteraction will be taken on settlements or on Israel’s labeling of six Palestinian civil society organizations as “terrorist” groups, putting employees in danger of arrest and permitting the freezing of organizational funding.

There’s much evidence suggesting some don’t care at all.

Congresswoman Betty McCollum, however, is pushing back, but it’s insufficient because the climate in Washington prevents a stronger legislative response that includes sanctions.

McCollum, a Democrat from Minnesota, has worked closely over the years with Defense for Children International Palestine, one of the targeted groups. Her resolution calls for Biden and Tony Blinken, the secretary of state, to “publicly condemn this authoritarian and anti-democratic act of repression by the government of Israel.”

She’s quite right. But we’ll see how many slow-reacting Democrats will sign on to an important effort that could be much tougher if so many Democrats didn’t downplay Israeli human rights violations. Currently, there are nine cosponsors, including all of the Squad.

Unsurprisingly, the Biden administration appears keener to hear from Israeli officials about the decision than from the organizations negatively affected.

Perhaps most troubling is that the Israeli action against the six groups could be intended to protect Israeli officials from work connecting them to war crimes that is being pursued by Defense for Children International, Al-Haq and Addameer.

The other three targeted groups are the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Bisan Center for Research and Development.

The Israeli blow against the rights groups fell on 22 October and Israeli officials followed up this week with the announcement of a plan to approve construction of over 3,000 new settlement units.

Blinken reportedly called the action on settlements “unacceptable.”

That word means nothing as it has no teeth.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz even reported that Blinken told Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, that the action would cause a harsh response from the US.

That’s simply not credible.

Blinken’s words were either wrongly attributed or his notion of a harsh response is asking the State Department’s Ned Price to put a handful of hardly angry words into a sentence few will ever hear or read.

Sanctions or changes in military aid simply are not on the table.

Biden’s not going to take meaningful action because his support of Israel runs so deep – and because he’s been busy working with Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to cut progressive social policy legislation.

As Palestinian writer and lawyer Raja Shehadeh wrote in the aftermath of the decision against the rights groups: The Israeli action provides “evidence of how far Israel has gained confidence in feeling immune from the consequences of its actions, in this case interfering with civil society organizations that do tremendous work in the West Bank.”

Looming reckoning

The administration may say it supports the two-state solution, but in reality it is pushing forward a future reckoning with one of three options: apartheid, ethnic cleansing – finishing the job started in 1948 as advocated euphemistically by Rabbi Alan Sherman in the South Florida Sun Sentinel this month – or one state with equal rights for all.

Settlement activity has killed the two-state solution, unless one considers a rump state – or discontiguous Bantustans – a proper state rather than part of an apartheid outcome.

Bantustans weren’t countenanced when South Africa’s government pushed them. It remains to be seen whether Israel will have greater success.

Strikingly, Democratic Majority for Israel has tweeted not a word about the settlement activity or the action against the rights groups. Instead, the group is making daily note of the fact that Senator Rand Paul, a Republican elected to represent Kentucky, is blocking funding for Israel’s Iron Dome.

AIPAC, for its part, has also avoided tweeting on the settlements, focusing instead on promoting Israel as a militarist ethno-nationalist state getting closer to an arrangement with the United States to allow Israelis to travel to the US without visas. This would come despite frequent Israeli discrimination against Palestinian Americans traveling to Israel, the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

On Friday morning, AIPAC did push back against McCollum’s legislation, calling it “another reflexive attack on our ally Israel by some in Congress.”

Israel’s crackdown on civil society organizations is no embarrassment to the lobby group, just business as usual in limiting the rights of Palestinians. Undoubtedly, a great many members of Congress will take their lead on the subject from the freedom-denying organization.

Last year, however, McCollum rightly termed AIPAC a “hate group.” For all the congressional cowards, some members are sticking with McCollum and Palestinian rights.

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist