WASHINGTON – Democratic lawmakers on Thursday introduced a House bill specifying various actions Israel may not finance with U.S. taxpayer funding, while also calling for additional oversight of how aid is distributed.
The "Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act" – introduced by Representative Betty McCollum and co-sponsored by Representatives Andre Carson, Danny Davis, Marie Newman, Ilhan Omar, Bobby Rush, Raul Grijalva, Mark Pocan, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jesús "Chuy" García – specifies the detention of Palestinian minors, destruction of Palestinian property, or support for unilateral annexation, according to a letter McCollum distributed to colleagues.
According to a draft of the bill obtained by Haaretz, it says these Israeli actions "undermine efforts by the United States to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians" while omitting reference to a two-state solution to the conflict — relatively standard legislative language regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The bill requires the secretary of state and General Accounting Office to annually report and certify Israeli compliance with such measures, though does not call on conditioning U.S. assistance to Israel based on potential violations.
The legislation is unlikely to advance far, but is the latest and perhaps most significant example of growing criticism of Israeli policy within the Democratic Party.
According to Gallup's annual survey on American views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 34 percent of Americans want to see the U.S. government push Israel further on the matter. Most notably, for the first time a majority of Democrats – 53 percent – now support this approach. Furthermore, 67 percent of Democrats polled support Palestinian statehood.
"Israel is a U.S. ally and for the past twenty-five years Congress has focused on providing Israel security funding while passing resolutions supporting a two-state solution," McCollum wrote in a letter circulated to colleagues potentially interested in co-sponsoring the legislation. "During this time Israel has been strategically expanding settlements, committing flagrant violations of human rights against Palestinian children and families, and aggressively undermining any prospects for a Palestinian state. U.S. assistance intended for Israel’s security should foster peace and must never be used to violate the human rights of children, demolish the homes of Palestinian families, or to permanently annex Palestinian lands."
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McCollum, who has served since 2001, has long been one of the most vocal supporters of Palestinian rights in Congress. She has authored bills prohibiting U.S. military aid being used by Israel to detain Palestinian minors and annex territory, though these bills did not achieve much support beyond the symbolic. McCollum's latest bill, unlike previous iterations, excludes mention of the Leahy Law, which prohibits military assistance to foreign security forces that violate human rights. It instead focuses on detailing the necessary oversight and where U.S. aid should be restricted, rather than issuing stipulations or mechanisms for punishment.
Notably, her latest bill has been endorsed by J Street, which did not lend support to previous iterations of the bill. The left-wing pro-Israel organization's president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, recently told Haaretz that his organization plans to "push the envelope" and "to think about how to restrict the use of American dollars and equipment in those areas, and ensure that it isn’t working counter to American interests and values." Other progressive Jewish organizations, such as Americans for Peace Now, IfNotNow, and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice have also endorsed the latest bill.
The Minnesota congresswoman's outspoken stance has led to public spats with American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobby group, perhaps the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington, as well as opposition from other pro-Israel organizations. AIPAC slammed the latest bill as "unnecessary and redundant" while claiming it would "condition aid to Israel, undermine U.S. interests and make peace less likely." McCollum rejected the criticism, saying "AIPAC wants U.S. taxpayer dollars to Israel to be spent on abusing Palestinian human rights? Imprisoning children? Demolishing homes? Annexing Palestinian land? Apparently they do."
The Democratic Majority for Israel advocacy group also personally criticized McCollum while rejecting her legislation. "Sadly, it’s no surprise that Representative Betty McCollum, who regularly seeks to delegitimize Israel, is introducing yet another in a series of one-sided, demagogic anti-Israel bills — this one putting civilians at risk," DMFI CEO Mark Mellman said, calling the bill a "contrived effort to stir up hostility toward Israel."
Rep. Andre Carson, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, told Haaretz on Thursday: "The United States does not provide aid and support unconditionally. I’m proud to join Rep. McCollum in sponsoring this legislation again to help strengthen the oversight of U.S. aid to the Israeli government. Israeli military abuses against Palestinian children are well-documented, including in official documents in the security establishment in Israel. America must use its influence and its relationship with Israel to put a stop to these harmful actions. It is imperative that we align U.S. aid and taxpayer dollars with our values of promoting and protecting human rights globally. I urge the Biden administration to adopt a more proactive approach and to plan for engagement with both the future sitting government in Israel and the Palestinian Authority to commit to solving some of the issues in the conflict."