In 2010, the Census Bureau estimated that there were 1.7 million Americans of Arab descent. The Arab American Institute thinks this was an undercount, and puts the number now at about 3.7 million. The Pew Research Center says that there are about 2.4 million Americans who identify as Muslim. We can safely say that there are “millions” of Americans who identify as Arab, Muslim or both.
If a big chunk of these people decided to engage Washington to move US policy towards the Palestinians in the direction of more justice, could they have an impact?
A lot of people will tell you that there’s no point in trying. The pro-Netanyahu lobby is too powerful in Congress, they say.
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It’s true that the pro-Netanyahu lobby is perceived, not without some justification, as one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. However, until now, the pro-Netanyahu lobby has not faced meaningful grassroots opposition in Congress on questions of US policy towards the Palestinians at the edge of their grasp. It’s easy to be perceived as powerful if serious opponents don’t show up to fight you on issues that could matter.
We’ve seen on the issue of diplomacy with Iran that the pro-Netanyahu lobby was not unbeatable. There have been two agreements with Iran so far, both of which the pro-Netanyahu lobby did not like, and both of which the pro-Netanyahu lobby could not stop. In the case of diplomacy with Iran, the pro-Netanyahu lobby has faced powerful opposition, led by the president, but including many members of Congress and outside groups. That’s the key thing that made the pro-Netanyahu lobby beatable: the fact that they faced serious opposition.
Now there is a test case before us to see if serious opposition to the pro-Netanyahu lobby on US policy towards the Palestinians can develop. The pro-Netanyahu lobby has attached language to the trade bill package before Congress that seeks to block European sanctions against Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
One reason that this should be a winnable fight is that even if people who care whether Palestinians live or die do nothing, the “Fast-Track” bill may go down to defeat anyway. Most Democrats hate it. The entire labor movement and most environmentalists are against it. People who care about access to essential medicines for poor people are against it. If a new bunch of people who aren’t otherwise involved in “trade” fights got involved on the no side, it could make a difference, because the forces in play are already roughly matched. It’s not like we’ll be fighting AIPAC alone. Now we’ll be fighting on the same side as the AFL-CIO.
A second reason that this should be a winnable fight is that the pro-Netanyahu lobby is reaching beyond the edge of its usual grasp. Although the pro-Netanyahu lobby supports the settlements, they usually try to pretend otherwise. That’s why an AIPAC press release praising the legislation doesn’t mention the settlements. That’s why they’re trying to stay below the radar on this pro-settlement effort; the Jewish Daily Forward calls it a “stealth move,” and notes [my emphasis]:
This week’s congressional committee measures appear to be the first-ever formal step toward U.S. government recognition of the settlements’ legitimacy. None of the Capitol Hill sources contacted appeared to be aware of the explosive significance of the “territories under the control of Israel” clause.
European boycott efforts currently in effect or in the pipeline that might fall under the new congressional measures are nearly all limited to the settlements, not to Israel proper. Moreover, the United States already has stiff measures on the books, going back to the 1970s, that target boycotts against Israel. The sole effect of the new congressional measures, therefore, is to extend U.S. protection to the settlements “in territories controlled by Israel.”
You can add your voice to the settlement critics opposing “Fast Track” here.