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Sanders, Bowman to Biden: Israel’s Apartheid Must Not Be Funded by US Taxpayers

The lawmakers say it is time for a fundamental “shift in U.S. policy” toward recognizing Palestinian rights.

Israeli security forces take aim at Palestinians demonstrating in the village of Beita, south of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, on April 10, 2023, against a march by settlers to the nearby Israeli outpost of Eviatar.

A group of congressional progressives has urged the Biden administration to stop using taxpayer money to fund Israel’s atrocities against Palestinians under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far right regime.

In a letter sent to President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday, 14 lawmakers detailed their concerns about escalating Israeli violence in the occupied West Bank, saying that it is unconscionable for the U.S. to be funding these attacks.

With no end in sight to the Netanyahu regime’s sprint to the far right, the lawmakers said, Biden officials must begin a fundamental “shift in U.S. policy” by recognizing Israel’s human rights violations against Palestinians.

“We write to you with deep concern regarding the rapidly escalating violence in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and the alarming actions of the new extreme right-wing Israeli government. We urge immediate action to prevent the further loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives,” the lawmakers wrote. “At this inflection point, we ask your administration to undertake a shift in U.S. policy in recognition of the worsening violence, further annexation of land, and denial of Palestinian rights.”

The lawmakers urged the administration to “ensure U.S. taxpayer funds do not support projects in illegal settlements” and investigate whether aid is being used in ways that violate U.S. laws governing the use of U.S. weapons. They also asked officials to ensure that any future aid, including military equipment, isn’t used to carry out “gross violations of human rights.”

To date, the U.S. has given $158 billion in aid to Israel, almost entirely in the form of military aid, with billions of dollars in yearly assistance packages. International experts like scholar Noam Chomsky have said that U.S. aid is instrumental in Israel’s atrocities against Palestinians.

The letter effort was led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-New York). It was signed by members of the progressive “squad,” including Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), as well as freshman members like Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pennsylvania).

Congressional progressives, particularly Bowman, have had a mixed record on Palestinian rights — tellingly, Bowman voted “yes” to giving $1 billion to Israel’s missile system in 2021, while Ocasio-Cortez voted “present.” But the letter could perhaps signal the group’s willingness to speak out as Israeli forces aim to totally annex Palestinian territory — with actions like the Israeli army settler pogrom in Huwara in February — in what Palestinians and experts have said is a “cleansing” of Palestinians from their homeland.

Though the Biden administration has pledged to protect the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians, advocates for Palestine have condemned the administration for tacitly endorsing Israel’s oppression of Palestians at nearly every turn. Notably, Biden has repeatedly rejected the conclusion of respected human rights groups that Israeli policy toward Palestinians amounts to apartheid, which is considered a crime against humanity under international statutes.

“The Biden administration’s approach has been to issue statements of concern,” Beth Miller, political director of Jewish Voice for Peace Action, told Jewish Currents last month. “But not only does that not match the dire reality on the ground in Palestine, it also doesn’t align with existing U.S. law that should ensure that the U.S. isn’t complicit in human rights abuses against Palestinians.”

Palestinian advocates have voiced praise for the letter. “This is an extremely important letter signed by Congress Members holding the U.S. accountable in what’s going in Palestine. Our voices move Congress, and our ability to see accountability is possible,” said Iman Abid-Thompson, director of advocacy and organizing at U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights. “Don’t stop pressuring your Congress members.”

Other Democrats have also voiced concern about increasing settler violence against Palestinians, including Sen. Chris Murphy (Connecticut), who recently called for the U.S. to consider conditioning aid to Israel.

Meanwhile, there seems to have been a shift in the American public’s understanding of the issue. In March, Gallup found in a poll that Democrats now sympathize more with Palestine than with Israel for the first time since the group began surveying the issue in 2001.

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