Op-Ed

It’s not just about breaking protocol

Some Democratic members of Congress are making clear they will not stand for the utter disregard of protocol stoked by House Speaker John Boehner, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer. These Democrats, particularly from the Congressional Black Caucus, have made the decision to skip the planned speech by Netanyahu to a joint session of Congress next Tuesday.

Netanyahu’s attempt to undermine President Obama on negotiations with Iran surely stings a bit more coming from what is supposed to be one of America’s best friends.

Of course, the government of this so-called best friend is determined to push us into a war with Iran that many, perhaps most, Americans don’t want.

Netanyahu, the leader of a small nation that has militarily subjugated millions of Palestinians for decades, helps oversee more than $3 billion annually in military aid to Israel from American taxpayers.

With the sort of disrespect Netanyahu has shown President Obama in recent years, it is a wonder that more Democrats have not begun to question Israel about numerous human rights reports documenting unacceptable treatment of Palestinians.

Netanyahu has overseen a government that has expanded Israeli settlements (illegal according to much of the world, illegitimate according to the U.S. government) as if it were a game of monopoly. Netanyahu has also led an increasingly brutal military occupation, a blockade on Gaza, and two of three massive attacks on Gaza that have killed over 3,500 Palestinians, most of them civilians, since December 2008. In a recent speech, he stated unequivocally that Israel would always control the West Bank, which, combined with other statements and actions, clearly suggests that the “two-state solution” is a myth to be sold while the Israeli occupation deepens its grip on Palestinian life and land.

Palestinians living in Israel face home demolitions and zoning laws squeezing community development, as well as discrimination within housing, schools, jobs and resources. There are open calls by elected officials for further ethnic cleansing of Palestinians — as if the expelling of over 700,000 Palestinians in 1948 was insufficient.

Palestinians in the West Bank suffer from home demolitions, settler and military violence, checkpoints, apartheid walls, long-held political prisoners and torture, kids in prison and a profound lack of human rights. The Israeli government has overseen rampant anti-Palestinian discrimination — what Human Rights Watch has termed a “separate and unequal” two-tier legal structure in the West Bank — yet Netanyahu has been invited to speak to Congress for the third time.

In response, ‘Skip The Speech’ is trending in the halls of our government. Unfortunately, criticism from the Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus has so far been limited to criticizing protocol-busting by Boehner. They have failed to speak out against the march to war with Iran and the oppressive measures Israel continues to take against Palestinians — or even Israel’s racist treatment of its African migrant population.

Recent polls, however, indicate that there would be considerable support for Congressional leaders to be more vocal. A Gallup poll this summer regarding Israel’s assault on Gaza clearly indicated opposition from groups — young people, African Americans, and women — who typically vote strongly Democratic. Shibley Telhami’s research, published recently by the Brookings Institution and in the Washington Post, reinforces the notion that the Democratic grassroots is way out in front of elected Democratic officials in understanding the oppression Palestinians face at the hands of Israeli rule.

This March 3 an unusually large number of Democrats is apt to say enough is enough and skip the speech. Already three senators and more than 20 House representatives have chosen this course. Consequently, the Congressional audience Netanyahu will look out on will likely be very Republican and very white.

Such a clear moment offers a very good start for a reappraisal of how this country views Israel and its unjust treatment of Palestinians. It also reveals the true value of human rights to far too many of our elected Democratic officials, which is to say, they don’t value human rights nearly as much as protocol.

Ahmad Abuznaid is a co-founder and legal & policy director of the Dream Defenders. He lives in Miami.

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