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At J Street event, progressive Democrats seek conditions on US aid to Israel, others push back

By Dmitriy Shapiro

(JNS) Speaking at the virtual J Street national conference on Monday, former Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) indicated that they were willing to place conditions on the aid Congress has promised Israel.

“I strongly believe that we must also be willing to bring real pressure to bear, including restricting U.S. aid, in response to moves by either side that undermine the chances for peace,” Sanders said in his virtual speech. “The truth is that the United States gives an enormous amount of military aid to Israel. It also provides some humanitarian and economic aid to the Palestinians. It is totally appropriate for the United States to say what that aid may and may not be used for. 

“In terms of aid to Israel, in my view, the American people do not want to see that money being used to support policies that violate human rights and treat the Palestinian people as second-class human beings.”

Warren called for restricting military aid to Israel if the aid is being used in a way that prevents the parties from moving towards a two-state solution, which she said included being used in the West Bank.

“If we’re serious about arresting settlement expansion and helping move the parties towards a two-state solution, then it would be irresponsible not to consider all of the tools we have at our disposal,” she said.

“By continuing to provide military aid without restriction, we provide no incentive for Israel to adjust course,” she said. “The United States cannot stand for security, human rights, and dignity, and at the same moment turn a blind eye to the suffering of Palestinians under Israeli occupation.”

Halie Soifer, CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, drew a distinction between the opinions of Sanders and Warren with the rest of the Democratic Party, including others who spoke at the conference.

“The Democratic Party Platform, adopted unanimously in 2020, made clear that Democrats strongly support the 10-year, $38 billion Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel finalized by [former] President [Barack] Obama and then-Vice President [Joe] Biden in 2016,” Soifer wrote in an email. “That is JDCA’s position, and it’s the position of the Biden White House.”

She added that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also spoke at J Street’s two-day conference. Soifer said they “expressed support for the ironclad partnership between the two countries which epitomizes how Democrats view the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, where she serves as vice chair of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, said in an emailed statement that putting conditions on aid to Israel would threaten security and U.S. interests in the region.

“Israel is America’s most vital ally in the Middle East. The aid we provide, roughly $3.8 billion each year, is an investment in the national security of both our countries and serves as a strong deterrent in the region,” wrote Luria. “Israel’s continued stability and economic strength were critical in securing the historic Abraham Accords, which normalized relations with Israel and several Middle Eastern countries. Conditioning aid to Israel would be a grave mistake and would threaten security and U.S. interests in this volatile region.”

In J Street address, Abbas urges repeal of laws that impede US-Palestinian ties

By Dmitriy Shapiro

(JNS) Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas spoke on Sunday, April 18, about strengthening ties with the United States during a pre-recorded video address at JStreet’s  virtual annual national conference.

Abbas said that ties between the P.A. and the United States were severed during former President Donald Trump’s administration after recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017 and the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem six months later, in May 2018, followed by the cutting off of aid to the Palestinians.

Abbas asked for the organization’s assistance to “repeal all laws that block the road toward enhancing Palestinian-U.S. relations.”

The most important sticking point, according to Abbas, was the inclusion of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and its affiliates in the 1987 Anti-Terrorism Act, deeming them terrorist groups.

He said the designation was no longer relevant as the PLO was recognized by Israel as a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in the 1993 Oslo Accords. He also promised to remove obstacles on the Palestinian side but was not specific about which ones.

The P.A. has long been criticized for incentivizing terrorism by paying stipends to families of Palestinians imprisoned or killed while committing terrorist acts against Israelis. The Taylor Force Act makes it illegal for the U.S. to provide aid, with some humanitarian exceptions, to the Palestinian Authority if they continue to provide these terror stipends.

Abbas reaffirmed his support for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict based on pre-1967 borders, with eastern Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.

This capital, he said, would be “an open city for all believers and followers of the three monotheistic religions.”

“Only then will the states of Palestine and Israel be able to prosper and live side by side in peace and security,” he added.

Abbas’s message was reiterated by J Street in a tweet sent that day.

The platform given to Abbas during the conference was criticized by Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks in an email to donors on April 19, calling Abbas a Holocaust denier and funder of terrorism.

“This wasn’t a huge surprise, as we have always known that J Street is anti-Israel,” Brooks said in the email. “What was also unsurprising was the number of participating Democrats who refused to call Abbas out for his extremism and his incitement of violence towards Israeli and American Jews.”

Brooks noted that prominent Democrats, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), spoke at the online conference. Jewish Democratic Council of America CEO Halie Soifer also attended.

“Recently, [U.S.] President [Joe] Biden caved to Abbas and resumed aid to the Palestinian Authority, freeing up more funds for Abbas to spend on terrorism. So it wasn’t surprising to see so many Democrats choosing to share a stage with Abbas,” wrote Brooks.

J Street has also recently indicated support for a newly introduced bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, which if passed would condition U.S. aid to Israel on ensuring that no tax dollars contribute to alleged civil-rights and human-rights abuses against Palestinians.

The bill titled “Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act,” was introduced by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (R-Minn.) on April 15.

AIPAC expressed opposition to the bill, calling it “unnecessary and redundant,” as fiscal aid for Israel already can only be used for legitimate self-defense and internal security purposes.

Main Photo: U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren during her presidential campaign in 2019. (David Garcia/Shutterstock)

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