Betty McCollum this week issued one of the hardest hitting criticisms of AIPAC from a sitting member of Congress in recent memory, perhaps ever.
Her statement provided the extraordinary sight of a US elected representative telling the anti-Palestinian organisation enough is enough. She pushed back – and hard.
McCollum denounced as “hate speech” the recent AIPAC Facebook ads that she said are “weaponising anti-Semitism to incite followers by attacking me, my colleagues, and my work promoting human rights for Palestinian children detained in Israeli military prisons.”
Terming the organisation a “hate group,” she declared that “the struggle to advance human rights and promote human dignity inevitably results in confronting entrenched forces determined to dehumanise, debase and demonise individuals or entire populations to maintain dominance and an unjust status quo.”
McCollum – who has introduced legislation aimed at preventing US tax dollars from being used by Israel to harm Palestinian children – has not been reticent in criticising discriminatory Israeli law previously.
In 2018 she termed the Israeli nation-state law “apartheid.”
Such language is simply not employed by members of Congress, who in general would far rather speak nicely to AIPAC’s annual conference than raise the least concern about decades of Israeli subjugation of Palestinians.
The Minnesota congresswoman took particular exception to an AIPAC petition connected to the ad which claimed: “It’s critical that we protect our Israeli allies especially as they face threats from Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS and – maybe more sinister – right here in the US Congress.”
She rightly termed the language “incitement.”
Particularly revealing in the episode was that McCollum’s comments came five days after AIPAC issued an apology for the ad. She has rejected that apology.
Ilhan Omar retweeted McCollum’s statement and Rashida Tlaib tweeted her own message of support for McCollum. Omar and Tlaib, the first Muslim women elected to Congress, were also targeted by the AIPAC ad.
The question from here as Democrats such as presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren begin to skip the March AIPAC conference is how many members of Congress will criticise AIPAC’s vicious attack on their colleagues.
How many will also challenge the routine Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights? AIPAC works assiduously to convince Congress that these violations are acceptable and relatively benign because they serve the (falsely) perceived greater good of Israeli dominance over the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Nor is this the first time McCollum has been a leader in standing up to AIPAC. In a 2006 letter she said the organisation would not be welcome in her congressional offices until it apologised for an AIPAC representative having “smeared” her reputation by claiming she gave “support for terrorists.”
Netanyahu assaults free speech
As it happened, McCollum’s most recent statement coincided with a tweet from Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, claiming, “In recent years, we have promoted laws in most US states, which determine that strong action is to be taken against whoever tries to boycott Israel.”
Democratic presidential candidates, while not on board with the nonviolent, Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, have said they support the free speech rights of proponents. Now they are going to have to confront the fact that the government of Israel is promoting laws intended to limit the free speech rights of American citizens.
Whether members of Congress push back on this brazen assault on American rights remains to be seen. Better yet, they might consider the substance of a movement fighting for equal rights and freedom for Palestinians.
At the very least, Netanyahu’s tweet establishes unequivocally that Israel is working to diminish the cherished speech rights of American citizens concerned about human rights and actually doing something to promote them.
And AIPAC is working to attack American members of Congress who stand up for Palestinian children living under occupation.
McCollum, for her part, is steadfast, saying, “I will not back down from my commitment to peace, justice, equality, and human rights for Palestinians and Israelis.”
The Democratic Party is finding more courage in supporting Palestinian rights with elected representatives such as McCollum, Omar and Tlaib leading the way.