|On Sunday the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office announced that the country would turn a number of illegal outposts in the occupied West Bank into settlements.
The subject dominated the next day’s State Department briefing. “Israel’s decision on settlements and outposts runs directly contrary to those objectives,” Ned Price told reporters, reiterating the public position of the Biden administration.
Price was asked multiple times whether or not the Biden administration was prepared to do anything to impede Israel’s plans beyond the customary condemnations. His answer was “No,” but he used many words to get there.
Here’s a telling exchange with the AP’s Matt Lee:
MR PRICE: So Matt, when we were there, before we were there, after we were there, last week, again today, our message on this has been clear and consistent. We oppose any unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions. We’ve run through – you probably know our litany by heart at this point. And certainly among the steps that are unilateral, that have the potential to exacerbate tensions, is settlement activity and the legalization of outposts. It is no surprise to our Israeli partners precisely where we stand on this. It’s no surprise because we’ve made this very clear in private in very direct terms; but it is also no surprise because we consistently make this clear in public. This administration has been clear and consistent on that front. We did not want to leave any room for ambiguity whatsoever.
QUESTION: Well, then, what’s your takeaway from the fact that they went ahead and did it anyway?
MR PRICE: Yeah. So look, Matt –
QUESTION: What are you going to do about it?
MR PRICE: So Israel, of course, is going to make its own sovereign decisions. We have made our opinion, our very strong opinion on this, very clear…
Later Al Quds’ Said Arikat asked Price if the administration views the continued theft of Palestinian land as a war crime. The UN Human Rights Council says they are, but this kind of inquiry is too ridiculous for the U.S. government to take seriously. “I’m not even going to entertain that question,” Price responded before pivoting to the standard two-state solution platitudes.
Reuters’ Simon Lewis had a few followup questions.
“Is there a credibility issue here for Palestinians if you’re asking them to – you’re asking them to do things in this meeting and you’re coming after meeting Israeli officials and days later this ends up happening. So what are Palestinians who you’re trying to rebuild this relationship with, what are they supposed to take from that?”
Price once again referenced the administration’s public criticisms (“Israeli partners know where we stand, our Palestinian partners also know where we stand.”) before returning to the two-state solution. “We are trying to mitigate the damage and we’re trying to preserve the viability of that vision…”
What about the U.S. security coordinator Lt. Gen. Michael Fenzel’s plan for Palestinian forces to regain some control over Jenin and Nablus? It seems like no progress has been made there, right? Price said that the administration was not abandoning hope on that. Of course Israel’s decision to steal more land is a setback but the U.S. has a “commitment to engage with the parties, to work with the parties, to support the parties as they seek to de-escalate tensions, to end this cycle of violence” etc.
Lewis’ final question was the most direct. “At the risk of being – of being repetitive there, there is no consequence in terms of you’re not – you’re not looking at various U.S. aid to Israel, for example, a country so openly defying the Secretary of State in this way? Would you consider any consequences beyond deeply troubled and intensive discussions?”
Price launched into a quick history of the U.S./Israel relationship while trying to answer:
So I’ll make a couple points. One, Israel is a partner of the United States. It is among the closest partners we have. It is not only shared interests, but it is the shared values that have long been at the core of the relationship between our two countries since 1948 when President Truman recognized the state of Israel I think eight minutes after Israel declared itself independent.
Part of that relationship is a rock-solid commitment to Israel’s security. There is no question that Israel faces threats to its own security. We have seen examples of that, just horrific examples of that in recent days alone. At the same time – and this goes back to what I was saying about the shared values being at the core of our relationship – we have, the United States, over the course of 70-plus years now, has supported a two-state solution as the only viable means by which to preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state and a democracy. So we’re going to continue to support that. We are going to continue to stand by Israel’s side when it comes to the security threats that it faces, even as we use our voice and we coordinate with other parties and partners in the region to oppose these sorts of steps that actually undermine the prospect for that very two-state solution.
In other words, no. They’re not considering any consequences beyond deeply troubled and intensive discussions. In Axios Barak Ravid reports that the administration had heated talks with Israeli officials about settlement expansion and that it is weighing “further steps.” However, Biden’s team is very transparent about the fact they will never cut or condition military aid to the country. Public expressions of consternation obviously pale in comparison to $3.8 billion.
We only see words from the Biden administration on settlement expansion, but The White House did take some action toward the region this week.
Last Friday law professor and University Network for Human Rights (UNHR) co-founder James Cavallaro had been nominated to sit on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a watchdog within the Organization for American States. That nomination has now been rescinded over past tweets from Cavallaro on Israel. He announced the news on his Twitter page: “This morning, the US State Department informed me that it would withdraw my nomination to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights..due to my statements denouncing apartheid in Israel/Palestine.”
The move came shortly after The Algemeiner, a right-wing pro-Israel website published a post on the offending tweets. There’s a lot of stuff in here. Cavallaro called Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) a “Shameless Motherf*cker” and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) “pedantic, self-righteous and pompous,” but it doesn’t take a political scientist to realize the big issue was his consistent criticisms of Israeli policy and references to Israel being an apartheid state. Perhaps his biggest no-no was responding to a Guardian piece on Rep. Hakeem Jeffries’ (D-NY) connections to Israel lobbying groups. The article, which was written by Chris McGreal, was published shortly before Jeffries became House Minority Leader. “Bought. Purchased. Controlled,” wrote Cavallaro.
Let’s revisit the McGreal article. He points out that pro-Israel groups gave Jeffries $460,000 in total in 2022. His largest single donor was Pro-Israel America, who gave him over $213,000 on their own. McGreal also runs through the congressman’s relationship with AIPAC and highlights his political record on the issue:
Jeffries opposed a bill introduced last year by another party member, Betty McCollum, to ensure that the nearly $4bn in annual American military aid to Israel is not used to illegally annex Palestinian land, to demolish Arab homes and forcibly remove Palestinians, or to detain children in Israel’s labyrinthian military judicial system.
Earlier this year, 15 Democratic members of Congress urged the Biden administration to intervene over the largest forcible removal of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank by the Israeli military in decades, in what has been called a war crime by Human Rights Watch.
Jeffries told Aipac that aid should continue with “no conditions”. He signed a letter drawn up by Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch opposing “reducing funding or adding conditions on security assistance”. The letter was signed by more than 300 members of Congress, boosted by an Aipac lobbying campaign.
McGreal also quotes a Jewish Insider interview Robert Wexler. “The pro-Israel camp needs someone just like Hakeem to lead us into the future,” said the former congresman. “In fact, I would say, if the pro-Israel community wanted to create a Democratic leader for the future, we would create Hakeem Jeffries.”
UNHR put out a statement on the development:
While Cavallaro’s potential participation on the Commission would have absolutely no impact on U.S. policy on Israel, the withdrawal of his nomination will have real consequences for human rights in the Americas. Cavallaro has been a courageous and committed voice for justice for victims of human rights abuse across the region; as an experienced Commissioner in his second term, he would have advanced the cause of human rights in the hemisphere significantly..
The University Network for Human Rights is proud of Jim Cavallaro. We would expect nothing less of our leadership than a consistent and unwavering condemnation of human rights abuse, no matter the perpetrator. We are deeply disappointed and dismayed that the State Department does not uphold a similar standard.
Odds & Ends
💵 Former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said the U.S. should slash its military budget in half. “We have created an entire enterprise that focuses economically on creating crisis to justify outrageously high defense spending.”
💻 Blockbuster investigation from The Guardian on “Team Jorge,” a hacking and disinformation unit that claims it has meddled in 30 elections across the world. The unit is led by Tal Hanan, a former Israeli special forces operative:
In more than six hours of secretly recorded meetings, Hanan and his team spoke of how they could gather intelligence on rivals, including by using hacking techniques to access Gmail and Telegram accounts. They boasted of planting material in legitimate news outlets, which are then amplified by the Aims bot-management software.
Much of their strategy appeared to revolve around disrupting or sabotaging rival campaigns: the team even claimed to have sent a sex toy delivered via Amazon to the home of a politician, with the aim of giving his wife the false impression he was having an affair.
The methods and techniques described by Team Jorge raise new challenges for big tech platforms, which have for years struggled to prevent nefarious actors spreading falsehoods or breaching the security on their platforms. Evidence of a global private market in disinformation aimed at elections will also ring alarm bells for democracies around the world.
🇵🇸 Dan Weissmann in +972 Magazine on an academic journal that claims to study antisemitism but is actually dedicated to demonizing Palestine activism:
This pseudoscientific direction and the neglect of Palestinian perspectives when Israel and Zionism are discussed in the journal might be a reflection of its leadership. JCA’s editor-in-chief, Lesley Klaff, who teaches law at Sheffield Hallam University, argued in a 2010 paper that “the removal of Israel as a Jewish state would necessarily entail the annihilation of the several million Israeli Jews who live there,” and further described advocating against an exclusively Jewish state as “tantamount to Holocaust promotion.”
🏫 Palestine Legal has filed a civil rights complaint against George Washington University:
The complaint alleges how, for years, Palestinian students and students perceived to be Palestinian have been denied access to mental health services, falsely accused of committing crimes, disproportionately investigated by campus police, put through months-long disciplinary processes for infractions that non-Palestinian students admitted to, and subjected to racist anti-Palestinian comments in class.
Palestine Legal is representing three GW students who have each been the target of anti-Palestinian discrimination and harassment by fellow students, professors, GW Hillel and/or GW administrators.
🎥 A number of public figures (including Mark Ruffalo, Susan Sarandon, Viggo Mortensen, Angela Davis, Naomi Klein, and Brian Eno) signed a statement expressing support for Barcelona’s mayor after she severed the city’s ties with Israel.
☕ King County Council put out a statement denouncing antisemitism, but removed a reference to the IHRA definition of antisemitism from the original text. The definition has been criticized by human rights groups as it can be used to suppress activism and speech critical of Israel and Zionism. King County Jews Against Antisemitism put out a statement calling on local residents to thank council members:
Part of our larger victory came through the many conversations we and others (including some of you!) had with councilmembers, which deepened their understanding of antisemitism, the dangers of the IHRA definition, what is happening in Israel/Palestine, and free speech. Some councilmembers even told us about the independent research they did which helped them understand the issues, which we appreciate. We will continue to remain engaged to provide further education on antisemitism and ensure the IHRA definition does not inform legal or policy decisions or become adopted by other jurisdictions. If you haven’t seen these yet, please do read our talking points on the dangers of the IHRA definition and this op-ed by University of Washington Distinguished Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies Liora Halperin, which provides a personal story of the perils of the IHRA conflation of criticism of the State of Israel with antisemitism.
✝️ Mike Pompeo in a recent podcast interview: “(Israel)is not an occupying nation. As an evangelical Christian, I am convinced by my reading of the Bible that 3,000 years on now, in spite of the denial of so many, (this land) is the rightful homeland of the Jewish people.”
⛪ Nikki Haley’s first presidential rally was opened by the (antisemitic, anti-Catholic, Islamophobic) Christian Zionist John Hagee. In 2008 he said the Holocaust happened because Jewish people “ignored” Theodor Herzl.
🇮🇱 Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-NY) introduced a bill requiring the Secretary of the Treasury to mint coins in recognition of the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and the 75th anniversary of the United States-Israel relationship. “There were no such thing as Palestinians,” Meir was quoted to say in 1969. “When was there an independent Palestinian people with a Palestinian state? … It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.”