For the second time this year the United States Congress voted to send Israel billions of dollars in military funding. Of course there's nothing unusual about that specifically, but what is interesting is how progressives in Congress chose to coordinate their votes.
On both occasions, members of the so called squad, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Presley and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, either voted in favour of funding Israel or refused to take a concrete stance against it.
So do these self styled progressives actually support the Palestinian cause, or are they just all talk and trying to protect their careers, and political ambitions in Washington DC?
September 20th, 2021, New York, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, or AOC, proposed an amendment seeking to limit arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Israel.
This came on the cusp of the third anniversary of the murder of Saudi journalists and dissident, Jamal Khashoggi.
AOC's amendment to block an arms sale to Israel, worth over $700 million in Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAM bombs, comes four months after Israel used these very munitions, manufactured by Boeing, to kill Palestinians in Gaza, most of them civilians.
The offices of Al Jazeera and the Associated Press were also bombed during the Israeli onslaught against the besieged Gaza Strip in May, 2021.
In light of these events the amendments proposed by AOC not only seemed quite sensible but also drew support from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and applause from human rights and pro Palestine advocates.
This didn't however stop the Israeli ambassador to the US from calling the congresswoman antisemitic for trying to restrict the sale of one weapon.
The next day, another good move from the progressives came when they removed the Iron Dome provision from a government spending bill. The proposal would have seen another additional $1 billion sent to the Israelis to replenish their rocket interception system.
House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, likely added the Iron Dome provision to the government spending bill in an attempt to win over support from Republicans.
This didn't work, and without Republican support, the bill was destined to fail, it could only pass by a simple majority, if a handful of progressives in Congress agreed to it.
They didn't. They said that if it's included in the bill, they won't vote for it by acting as one collective block, they successfully removed the Iron Dome provision from the spending bill.
Naturally it's assumed that Israel would end up getting the money anyway, but this was the right thing to do and was in line with their stated principles of supporting human rights and standing up for Palestinians.
For once, it seemed that progressives had finally gotten their act together, but unfortunately, this was short lived.
Just a few days later funding for the Israeli Iron Dome was brought up for a separate vote in a standalone bill by House Appropriations Committee Chair, Rosa DeLauro.
Naturally, funding Israel is a much higher priority than raising the debt ceiling or making sure that the government doesn't shut down; so that had to come first.
And as expected, the bill passed in a landslide 420 to 9 votes. One Republican and eight Democrats voted against it, including members of the squad, such as Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Presley and Cori Bush.
However, the most famous of the group, AOC mysteriously switched her vote from No to Present at the last minute.
AOC and her progressive colleagues apparently want to play both sides. She wants to appear like she opposes the establishment, but without actually doing anything to stand in the way.
She wears a tax the rich dress, while attending a $30,000 ticket event. She wears a Medicare for All mask, while helping elect a house speaker and a president who refused to support Medicare for All.
And so we have AOC pretending to support Palestinians while refusing to take a clear stance against funding Israel.
Well AOC is after all, not just a US politician, but also a congresswoman from New York. Asked about her present vote on Mahdi Hassan's show, this is what she had to say:
Was it worth doing 'Present', because it didn't really satisfy anyone; supporters of Israel are mad at you for not voting for it; critics are mad at you for not voting against it. Do you regret that?
You know, it is something that I weigh because there's the, there's always the macro, and then there's the micro, and in the macro of narrative, of politics, of national impact.
You know, I probably should have just gone with my value, but in the macro, which would be to vote no, but in the micro, I do believe that this created a window in our community to be able to bring all folks to the table because my great fear is that we are going to import the same sort of contention around this issue.
New York, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez
Well I don't know about you but that didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, macro, micro, what is she talking about? Is she against the violent illegal occupation of Palestine or not?
It is a very simple question, Jamal Bowman, also a New York congressman and a so called progressive, was also asked why he voted to fund the Iron Dome.
Your squad colleagues, Ilhan Omar Rasheeda Talib, Ayanna Presley voted no, AOC controversially voted present, but you voted yes. How come?
It’s important for me to make sure I represent everyone within my district, not just some people within my district, and this was an issue that was very important to many people in my district.
Jamal Bowman, Congressman, New York
So when Jamal Bowman says that funding Israel's Iron Dome is representing his constituency. What does that mean exactly; is he a congressman in Israel, or in the United States?
I think what AOC and Bowman are talking about is not their constituents; they're talking about their peers, their superiors and special interests groups in Washington. You see by not voting against Israel's Iron Dome, specifically, they are showing, they are demonstrating that their criticism of Israel is all talk, it's just an act. They’re telling the establishment and the Israelis don't worry, because when it comes down to an actual vote, we're not going to stand in the way.
And now pay attention because this, this is the most important part, you need to understand what's going on here.
When it came to funding the Iron Dome, you saw who voted no, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Presley and Cori Bush, but a few months earlier they had done the exact opposite. In July those very same politicians had voted, to give Israel $3.8 billion in military funding.
That bill in July barely passed with 217 votes in favour and 212 against. And if they wanted to, they could have said, No, we're not voting for this we are not giving Israel billions of dollars, eight weeks after they just butchered Palestinians in Gaza. but they did, they voted for it.
And now when it comes to the Iron Dome, when they know that it's going to pass anyway, they vote no, and only then do they vote no, because it's symbolic, so they can keep up the act, they can keep pretending that they are in support of Palestinians.
This is all such an elaborately deceitful act, and they don't just do this with funding Israel, they also do this with the $15 minimum wage, with reelecting Nancy Pelosi, every time there is a crucial vote, an ugly vote, some of the progressives will vote No, but just enough of them have voted Yes, to make sure that it passes.
We already know that politics is theatre; we already know that politics is a dirty game but they are especially good at it. They're playing both sides, trying to keep their supporters and their constituents happy and maintain their street credibility, whilst making sure not to upset the establishment, which is the most important factor at play.
And what's interesting here is that there's an entire debate about the Iron Dome you see people on both sides of the aisle saying it's purely defensive, how can you vote no? Of course we should fund Israel's Iron Dome it saves lives.
If the Iron Dome is purely defensive can the Palestinians have one too? Can Iran, Syria, or anyone else? Give the Palestinians billions of dollars to build anti aircraft batteries. Do Palestinians also get to defend themselves from aerial attacks and rockets? Because if we look at the numbers, if we look at the facts to see who is really in danger here, It's undeniably the Palestinians, the majority of casualties are always Palestinians, and always Palestinian civilians.
So logically it is the Palestinians who need protection the most, they need protection from Israeli jets that bomb them almost weekly. Who in the US Congress is going to stand up and say that Palestinians also have a right to defend themselves? Are they not human beings, are they not equals like you and I?
Once again you can clearly see the double standards applied how they dehumanize Palestinians, deprive them of a home, deprive them of a state, deprive them of dignity, and even the basic right to self defense.
Every time an American or European politician speaks on the matter all they talk about is Israel's right to defend itself. And they use this to justify a mass murder of Palestinians, war crimes, bombing UN schools, bombing the press and bombing medics.
So again I asked you, what about the Palestinians, where is their right to self defense?
Some commentators and politicians even have the nerve to say that the Iron Dome saves Palestinian lives!? Which Palestinians, the ones who are living under Israeli occupation?
This is like saying that German bunkers and German anti aircraft batteries in occupied France were built to protect the French from Allied bombs.
This is how sick and twisted they sound, this is their logic; Israelis are the only ones who can defend themselves, and anyone else is not important.
So in addition to 'scoring' another billion dollars in funding from the US Congress on top of the 3.8 billion in July, Israel recently gained something else. Israel was granted observer status by the African Union, back in July.
Israel used to enjoy observer status at the organization of African Unity, but this was replaced back in 2002 with the current African Union, and ever since Israel has been desperately trying, for almost 20 years now, to get back in, and regain its observer status.
But what is Israel doing in the African Union at all, why was it given observer status in the first place, and what are the objectives that it is trying to accomplish?
A team of international lawyers have lodged a legal complaint in an attempt to get Israel's position at the African Union revoked.
Joining us now is one of those lawyers leading the effort, Stanley Cohen, an attorney and political activist who has represented many high profile defendants, such as Musa Abu Marzouk of Hamas. He's also been a consultant to numerous NGOs, as well as to movements and governments throughout the Middle East with Hamas and Hezbollah, among them.
Why is Israel in the African Union, how did it get there, and how does it benefit from having observer status?
It remains to be seen I mean look, it's obvious that Israel has had a very close connection to various despotic regimes in the African Union since literally day one. It provided arms to, you know, the the the genocide in Rwanda. It's important South Africa to the very end they had a relationship involving resources for Israel's nuclear programme in exchange for Israel, helping to develop South Africa. It's been involved in Kenya, it's been involved in Angola, you name it, Israel's footprint is heavy as long as deep in Africa, and as is typical for Israel, it's very ugly, it's very violent, it's very despotic, it's very corrupt, but it had tried for over 20 years to get the observer status and it failed on each occasion.
And what it did this time, and it remains to be seen whether we will be able to flesh out in full how to accomplish it. It waited until the legislative body of the African Union was in suspension, was not meeting, was not sitting, and it brokered some sort of deal with the committee, the executive committee, that deals with situations while they're not actively involved, who knows. Bribery, weapons, resources, contract relationships? They reached out and they got it. What does it get? it furthers the Israeli agenda, like the Abraham accords, saying, we're good people, we want to build bridges and open doors, we're getting bad press, we're not we're not the despotic, horrible, nightmare, genocidal maniacs the world correctly describes them as. it's got billions of dollars worth of weapons contracts in Africa. It's "private industry" has billions of dollars worth of contracts for natural resources. the connectivity between the northern part of Africa, which is part of the Middle East, and the West and the East in the southern tier. What's most perverse about this process is, it's a reintroduction, it's a reaffirmation of the very white European colonial project that subjugated the African continent for 150 years.
This provides Israel with an opportunity to work on its agenda, to work on its position and credence, to get access to information, to participate in discussions, to be able to introduce into the body politic of the commission for the Union their view, their discussion, their approach toward world issues. It allows them to build in a stronger safety net in the United Nations, whether it's in the General Assembly, where there can easily now be a dozen 15 states from the African continent that can support it, will be opposed to General Assembly votes against it, builds in further support in the Security Council where it really doesn't need it. So, on so many levels this is a big win for Israel and a terrible loss for 1.4 billion members of the African continent.
Stanley Cohen Attorney and Political Activist
You just mentioned some of the things that you also wrote about in counterpunch, for example, Israel being able to garner support from other nations at the UN, the next time that it bombs Gaza, or you mentioned the industrial complex arms sales.
Could you maybe just elaborate a bit more on these things and how Israel would benefit from having stronger ties with African nations In this regard?
Israel is always looking to develop new support, new states, especially states of color, especially states that traditionally one would think would be opposed because they have a history of genocide, of European colonial projects.
So Israel is looking to develop this section, this rubber stamp, this group, particularly in the African continent, the continent of people of color, black women and men largely, certainly all of color who support them, so that when the debate developed about Israeli racism, about its supremacist policies, about its hatred towards people of color, about its support for European colonial projects; without it being one, it gets the point to Africa, and it gets to say What are you talking about, we've got the support of the African Union?
When it comes down to key votes over whether a committee in the United Nations will go one way or another way in terms of potential sanctions, in terms of suspension, suspending Israel rights or ability to continue in a particular committee, they can look to Africa.
This is all part of the grand Israeli propaganda scheme but, on the other hand, it also provides some cover for those African nations, individual African nations, that have been getting political heat and flashback for the close economic relationship with Israel.
So it furthers the ability of Israel to spend, to sell, billions and more. We now know, recently it's been exposed, that Israel has this enormous surveillance technology that it has been selling to African states, to despotic regimes. We know it provides a launch pad to push back against South Africa and other, historically, independent states that have fought against the kind of apartheid, the kind of racism, the kind of hate, the kind of European colonial project that is Israel.
So, from a standpoint of propaganda, it's a win; from a standpoint of building in support for its economic, its military and its political agenda, it's a win.
From the standpoint of garnering support from people of color, from a continent of color, the next time it knocks over schools and destroys residential towers, it affects hospitals in Gaza, it can look and say, what are you talking about, it's an extension, it's everything the Abraham accords introduced but really couldn't produce.
Stanley Cohen attorney and political activist
You and a team of international lawyers have combined resources to try and revoke Israel's observer status.
Could you tell us a bit more about how you hope to revoke Israel's observer status, and how you're working to combat this.
Sure it's part of a broader strategy. You have the activity that's underway in the African Union itself where some two dozen states are now demanding a full discussion-debate-exchange, when the African Union comes together again in another week, in less than one.
It is also part of challenges to Israel and various states in Africa on the universal jurisdiction where there are lawsuits for crimes against humanity and for war crimes and where Israeli political leaders and military leaders can't travel lest they be arrested or their property seized.
Our strategy itself is to bring before the African Commission on Human and People's Rights, which is an overseeing entity in an organization which was designed under the African Union and its predecessor, to act as a referee, to act as a board of oversight, to deal with conflicts within the African Union, to provide a vehicle to challenge activities of one state versus another.
For example, in 2014, I was part of a team of lawyers that bought an action in the African Union against Egypt for its refusal during the Israeli attack to open the Rafah border crossing, to let refugees under siege, and under slaughter, escape into Egypt.
So it is an instrument that provides binding law, which serves as a mediator or conflict resolver, but it also provides advisory opinions and at this point, we’re seeking what amounts to an advisory opinion.
We have two entities, one a national media and international media outlet that's ... largely in the African continent, and two, we have a Palestinian solidarity organization in South Africa that are actually our clients, they're the complainant.
They approached us and said, Look, we have standing because we're recognized by the Commission to bring an action, an action that, among other things, that we're now seeking is discovery, which says okay, we want the documents, we want the information, we want depositions, we want discussions, we want to interview, we want to, we want to question those people that played a role in this decision making, so that the truth is fleshed out.
We're seeking oral argument and we're inviting Israel to participate in oral argument; they'll never do it.
What Israel will say is we can't do that because it's recognizing its jurisdiction. So we have affirmatively stated, we will not argue later if you join an oral argument that you're ceding jurisdiction, so they can't use that as an excuse.
My understanding is we're now up to about 24 members of the African Union of the 54 or 55 states, which means we don't need that many more to reverse the decision legislatively, and I would hope that may happen. We're in communication with various states and organizations within the African Union itself about this.
We are planning to submit a supplemental application for relief in the next week to two weeks. But now that we have more information about how this happened, who bought it about and why we're going to name particular individuals and seek depositions from them, rather than generic requests.
And by the way if we have a dozen or so first party affidavits, complaints, declarations from victims of the most recent Israeli assault. The murder, the bombing, and disruption in Gaza just this past May.
Our position in 2021? This is an obscenity, in 2021 when most of the world with open eyes and good heart and looks at what's going on in Palestine and says apartheid, apartheid, apartheid, hatred, war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide.
You cannot as a continent that has withstood 150 years of even worse conduct, or if not worse but the same kind of European colonial violence apartheid, hatred. You cannot welcome Israel; you cannot give a privilege to work for them. That's the strategy.
The admission of Israel to the African Union is a gross perversion of the organization itself and an attempt to legitimize a white European colonial project, which is the antithesis of what most African and post colonial countries stand for.
It's an attempt to legitimize the occupation and portray it as some innocent nation state while actively denying Palestinians the very same thing.
Israel thinks that by normalizing ties with Arab countries through the Abraham accords or joining the African Union, even just as an observer, that it can rebrand itself as some regular nation instead of what it is, a colonial settler project, and then make everyone forget about the war crimes, the apartheid, and the occupation.
Where is the Palestinian state? Why don't the Palestinians get to join the African Union? Where is their self determination?
And at the same time over in the US Congress, you have supposed allies of Palestine who turned out to be all talk and no action.
You know, once upon a time a certain young woman of color, who was running for Congress in New York, said so what if you're a one term Congress member, you can make 10 years worth of change in one term, if you're not afraid.
Where is that brave young Congresswoman today?
Perhaps she and her colleagues are, indeed, too afraid to make any changes now that they're in office. By funding Israel, and refusing to take a clear stance against arming the occupation, they have shown that their political career and ambitions far outweigh their empathy for Palestinians.
At the end of the day we are talking about US politicians, women of color or not, they are US politicians, and you cannot make it in DC politics without playing dirty. The so called progressives, the very same ones who claim to support Palestine and that their politics are rooted in human rights, voted to give Israel billions of dollars, they, in effect, voted to fund the occupation.
They gave Israel money to continue occupying and bombing Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, on an almost weekly basis, on a daily basis. This is what they have funded and the blood is on their hands.
You can follow their Twitter posts and their Instagram lies, but you would fare better to look at their voting record. Look at how they act and you will know them by their votes not their voices.
Once again, you see the double standard of how only Israelis have the right to statehood, only Israelis have the right to self defense, only Israelis have the right to live in peace and security.
The Palestinians; nothing! They’re just terrorists according to the media and Western politicians.
They want to make the oppressor look like a victim and the victim look like an oppressor for the crime of resisting a foreign military occupation.