American PEPs (Progressives except for Palestine) Facilitate Israeli War Crimes


The perennial foreign policy question that is Israel bubbled up for many New Yorkers recently following remarks made by the city’s new mayor, Bill De Blasio, at a meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the notoriously powerful pro-Israel lobby group.

"City Hall will always be open to AIPAC,” said Mayor De Blasio, in what he thought were private remarks. “When you need me to stand by you, in Washington or anywhere, I will answer the call, and I'll answer it happily, 'cause that's my job." 

I appreciate that the job responsibilities of New York City’s mayor are myriad and complex, but blind defense of AIPAC and pro-Israel hardliners shouldn't be among them.

That’s why I added my name—along with 57 other prominent Jewish residents of New York—on an open letter to Mayor De Blasio saying that AIPAC doesn’t speak for me.  A new petition started by Jews Say No echoes that sentiment and calls on Mayor De Blasio to reconsider his allegiances in light of the many nuances of the situation in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, it appears the Mayor De Blasio is establishing himself as a PEP: progressive except for Palestine. Many political leaders maintain a special blind spot where Israel—and especially AIPAC—is concerned.

No people is properly served by a government that willingly closes its eyes to reality—especially when that reality involves war crimes and human rights abuses. Today’s world is too big and too dangerous for the United States to barrel forward into the Middle East with a hardline stance that refuses to recognize nuance and truth. 

Comments like these from Mayor De Blasio—and similar comments from President Obama and countless other American politicians—allow Israel to continue rampant mistreatment of Palestinians with no accountability.  Violations of the Geneva Conventions, the establishment of an apartheid system, and systematic harassment of Palestinians through the region are all excused by America’s insistence on supporting Israel, right or wrong.

For example, a recent decision by the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli academic institutions was met with opposition by many college presidents, and even more ominously with a bill by the New York State Senate that would ban public institutions of learning from directing state funding to groups supporting a boycott of Israel for any reason.  The bill passed the Senate with overwhelming support, but stalled in the House because of grassroots lobbying—from education groups, legal groups, and civil liberties groups—against this clear infringement on academic integrity and first amendment rights. This type of legislation remains a threat and similar bills have been introduced on the federal level.

Such a response makes it clear that many New York politicians join Mayor De Blasio in scrambling to curry favor from big dollar contributors like AIPAC.  But it’s wrong to pledge blind support and refuse to acknowledge the failings of Israel to gain access to those coffers or secure votes.  No lobby should be powerful enough to sweep war crimes and humanitarian crises under the rug. By pledging unqualified support to Israel, our politicians are acting as far-from-innocent bystanders and facilitating war crimes.

But politicians may have the wrong idea about the actual strength of AIPAC and the pro-Israel lobby.  In addition to the fight in New York State, AIPAC is now openly opposed to the policy goals expressed by the Obama administration regarding sanctions on Iran.  This deviation from AIPAC’s stance creates room for disagreement with the hardliners and opens the door to holding Israel accountable for its treatment of Palestinians.  That’s a door that Mayor de Blasio, and other American politicians, should walk through.

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