1. Update
  2. Middle East & Iran

In for the Long Haul on Israel-Palestine

By Diana Ohlbaum, July 29, 2019

In a month filled with foreign policy lobbying successes – on ending the war with Iraq, preventing war with Iran, halting U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, blocking funds for dangerous new nuclear weapons, and addressing climate change, among other areas – Israel-Palestine stands out as a conspicuous exception.

A string of legislative setbacks demonstrates just how much work remains to be done to change the nature of the public discourse and the direction of U.S. policy in the region.

First, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and then the full House of Representatives, adopted a bill, H.R. 1837, that would allow unlimited quantities of U.S. weapons to flow to Israel, while exempting these weapons from all the rules and restrictions on their use that are in place for every other country receiving U.S. assistance. The bill was passed both times by voice vote, with minimal debate. We will continue our work to prevent these unprecedented waivers from being enacted.

Our first task is to convince our leaders to see that of God in every person – Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims, Christians and Jews alike – and to recognize that all Creation has worth and dignity.

The Foreign Affairs Committee and the full House also adopted a nonbinding measure, H.Res. 246, which condemns U.S. citizens for participating in the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. While FCNL does not take a position for or against BDS, we do support the right of all Americans to express their disapproval of a foreign government’s policies by using economic boycotts and similar tools. Despite FCNL’s lobbying efforts, only 17 representatives voted against the resolution on the House floor.

And a measure that FCNL supported—H.Res. 326, a resolution expressing support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – was watered down and stripped of all references to “occupation.” Even then, it passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee with a few audible “no” votes, and was not moved to the House floor along with the other bills.

Addressing the anti-BDS resolution, Rep. Gwen Moore (WI-04) said on the House floor: “Rather than attacking the First Amendment right of Americans to criticize the policies of our own government or our allies, how about pushing our own administration to actually say the words “two-state solution,” which it refuses to do, or to actually act as if it’s interested in pursuing that longstanding goal that this Congress and past administrations have reaffirmed is the best option for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians? I am concerned that resolutions such as this one serve no real purpose, certainly not to those of us interested in working as honest brokers to bring this decades-long history of simmering tensions, outright war, and hostility to an end, permanently.”

Perhaps the only bright spot is that H.R. 2407, a bill to promote human rights for Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation, was introduced by Rep. Betty McCollum (MN-04) at the end of April and now has 21 cosponsors. In addition to providing funding for treatment and support of Palestinian children who have suffered abuse at the hands of the Israeli military, the bill prohibits U.S. support for the military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of children—anywhere—in violation of international humanitarian law.

As Peter Beinart explains in an exceptionally thoughtful new piece, U.S. political leaders who propose conditioning aid to Israel are quickly labeled as “anti-Israel” – and all too often, “anti-Semitic”. These attempts to divide and demonize those who advocate a different approach weigh heavily upon us, as Quakers and seekers of peace. They remind us that we have a long and difficult journey ahead of us, and that we must redouble our efforts to open the hearts and change the minds of policymakers in Washington. We must not shift the burden for seeking justice onto our Muslim brothers and sisters, including Congresswomen Ilhan Omar (MN-05) and Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), who have borne the brunt of so much viciousness and hate. Our first task is to convince our leaders to see that of God in every person – Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims, Christians and Jews alike – and to recognize that all Creation has worth and dignity.

Diana Ohlbaum

  • Senior Strategist and Legislative Director for Foreign Policy

Diana Ohlbaum directs FCNL’s foreign policy lobbying team and leads an effort to replace the current U.S. foreign policy paradigm of military domination and national superiority with a more ethical and effective one based on cooperation and mutual respect.