Historic bill puts US sanctions against Israel “on the table”

By Danielle L

A bill in congress has put U.S. sanctions against Israel on the table for the first time in history. Here’s how NYC-DSA has taken action – and how you can get involved.

U.S.-Israel policy should concern every American. For 52 years, the U.S. has provided unconditional backing to Israel’s brutal and illegal occupation of Palestine. U.S. backing has helped Israel avoid sanctions from the international community for its systematic violations of Palestinian rights, including illegal Israeli colonization of Palestinian lands, expulsion of Palestinian refugees (and denial of their right of return), and sadistic treatment of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.

A pillar of U.S. support for Israel is military aid: upwards of $3.8 billion annually since 2016, by far the most for any U.S. ally. This aid continues notwithstanding its direct violation of U.S. federal law – the “Leahy Law” – which prohibits arms sales or transfers to regimes which  commit gross violations of human rights and international law.

Until recently, there was little-to-no concerted effort to reverse this policy and uphold U.S. law; to make U.S. aid to Israel contingent on Israeli respect for international law and Palestinian human rights. However, this changed in 2017, when Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum introduced the Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Occupation Act, known as H.R. 2407.

H.R. 2407 represents the first concerted attempt in history to establish U.S. sanctions against Israel for its ongoing violations of Palestinians’ human rights. The bill aims to prohibit military aid to any regime that commits war crimes against children, and would allocate $19 million for monitoring of human rights of Palestinian children. Every year, 700 Palestinian children are detained in the Israeli military justice system. Without guaranteeing due process or human rights, this system is unique in the world for its systematic prosecution of children. Half of all detained children are apprehended in their homes in the middle of the night, and many are detained outside the Palestinian territories, in violation of the Geneva Convention. Three-quarters experience physical violence or torture. Virtually all are denied parental contact and legal counsel, and 99 percent are convicted, primarily for throwing stones.

H.R. 2407 has considerable traction in the House: 30 representatives co-sponsored the bill in the last session of Congress. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently expressed support for it. Additionally, leading Palestine solidarity and humanitarian organizations in the U.S. have backed it, including the American Friends Service Committee (the Quakers), American Muslims for Palestine, and Jewish Voice for Peace.

From the point of view of DSA, which supports BDS, pushing for H.R. 2407 makes strategic sense. The bill effectively represents the ‘S’ in BDS: an actual, tangible sanction against Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. Moreover, Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP), the primary Palestinian organization lobbying for the bill, is a signatory to the 2005 BDS call to action, and an organization with which DSA could build valuable ties to help organizing in Palestine.

H.R. 2407 is also strategic from a PR standpoint, to convince mainstream U.S. public opinion to support Palestinian human rights. The bill polarizes the Palestinian issue by forcing politicians to answer a fundamental question: do you support torturing children? Apologists for Israeli actions will find it hard to avoid negative PR, even with a general audience. Winning the media battle has been the touchstone of past successful boycott movements, from Selma to South Africa, and H.R. 2407 can be effective here.

Beyond making an enormous and immediate difference in the lives of Palestinian children living under Israeli occupation, H.R. 2407 would represent a prelude to further sanctions against Israeli violations of international law and Palestinian human rights. DSA could leverage grassroots organizing initiatives around the bill toward future organizing for such sanctions. DSA is well placed to support these initiatives, given its history of grassroots campaigning, and stands to gain from organizing with local Palestinian and Palestine solidarity groups in NYC.

More broadly, the bill elevates the wastefulness of U.S. military spending, which is a key focus for DSA as a socialist organization. How can the U.S. afford to provide military aid to an arms-exporting, nuclear-armed nation, while millions in the U.S. lack basic means of subsistence? This money could otherwise fund a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and free higher education. Instead, the U.S. squanders taxpayer dollars abetting Israel’s systematic violations of Palestinian children’s human rights

Although H.R. 2407 is a national campaign, it cannot succeed without concerted local pressure on legislators. For this reason, in January 2019, the NYC-DSA Anti-War Working Group began campaigning in support of H.R. 2407. The AWWG identified representatives susceptible to pressure (namely Rose, Velázquez, Clarke, Ocasio-Cortez, and Espaillat), coordinated with local Palestine solidarity groups and activists, and used various tactics to solicit congressional support, including petitioning, meetings with legislators, and public appeals at community meetings.

The bill also comes at a crucial time, when the Israeli lobby’s anti-BDS campaign has hit New York. In 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order punishing companies that support BDS. New York City Council passed a similar measure that year. The resolution was co-sponsored by Rory Lancman, an opponent of Tiffany Cabán for Queens District Attorney. Many U.S. representatives from New York co-sponsored recent congressional legislation condemning BDS. And a recent NYC-DSA event on H.R. 2407 was canceled after protestors affiliated with the far-right JDL threatened the venue (a church).

Today, no representatives from New York have yet signed on to support H.R. 2407, signaling the need for stronger grassroots pressure. There are a number of concrete ways that DSA chapters can support H.R. 2407: become co-sponsors of DCIP’s “No Way To Treat A Child” campaign; add support for H.R. 2407 to DSA candidate questionnaires; make the campaign a citywide priority; and pass resolutions in support of the bill at citywide and national conventions.

These measures deserve strong consideration. DSA has already shown support for Palestinian rights by endorsing BDS in 2017, as well as U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders – so far, the only 2020 candidate to consider sanctioning Israel and a leading opponent of anti-BDS legislation in Congress.

DSA should embrace H.R. 2407, one of the most tangible ways Americans can advance BDS, and help finally shift U.S. policy in favor of Palestinian human rights.

Folks interested in getting involved in NYC-DSA’s work around H.R. 2407 can contact the Anti-War Working Group at antiwar@socialists.nyc. They can also sign the AWWG’s petition calling on NYS representatives to support the bill at bit.ly/PalestinianChildren.

Follow Queens Political Education at @qnspoliticaledu or email at queenspoliticaleducation@gmail.com

Danielle Lightfoot is on the Organizing Committee of the NYC-DSA Anti-War Working Group. The views expressed are their own.