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December 5, 2017 2:05 pm

10 Democratic Senators Express a Clear, Anti-Israel Bias

avatar by Yoni Tobin

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Senator Patrick Leahy. Photo: US Senate.

Last Wednesday, ten Democratic senators — including Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Al Franken (D-MN) — penned an open letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In it, they implored him “not to demolish the Palestinian village of Susiya and the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar.”

It is absolutely imperative that the Netanyahu administration not proceed with the demolitions, the senators fretted, because doing so would be “distressing” and would represent nothing short of “an irreversible step away from a two-state solution,” and a threat to “Israel’s future as a Jewish democracy.”

The concerns expressed in the letter about Israeli policies towards Palestinians represent not merely an isolated incident of disquiet over the impending demolitions, but rather a tendency of several of the letter’s signees to assume the worst of the current Israeli administration, and to accuse it of being cruel and undemocratic.

In 2011, Patrick Leahy (D-VT) sought to curtail US military aid to three of the IDF’s most elite combat units, citing his fear that these units were committing gross human rights violations against Palestinians in the West Bank. In 2016, Leahy asked the State Department to investigate “possible gross violations of human rights by security forces in Israel.” Another signee of the letter, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), called a February 2017 Israeli bill  regarding land seizure in the West Bank “brutal,” and gratuitously fretted that it would lead to a total Israeli “takeover of the West Bank.”

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The fact that a number of the senators had previously voiced grievances against Israel, coupled with the knowledge that the bases of both Sanders and Warren are — at best — highly skeptical of Netanyahu’s administration, places doubt on the objectiveness and fairness of the senators’ critiques. Of course, the political motivations of the letter’s authors have no bearing on the validity of the letter’s claims. If the criticism is fair, the criticism is fair, regardless of who the critic may be. A problem only arises when the criticism is unfair — as it is in the case of the upcoming demolitions.

Misleadingly, the letter describes the Palestinian village of Susiya as having existed since the 1830s, and being home to around 45 families. In short, according to the senators, Israel is savagely displacing Palestinians from a village that has been in their hands for close to 200 years. The truth is far less sinister (on Israel’s part, that is).

Rather than a small, functional village home to 45 families, as the letter portrays it, Susiya is a desolate patch of land on top of a hill, which is home to a tiny smattering of tents — built illegally without Israeli permits. As William Booth wrote in an August 2016 piece for The Washington Post, Susiya is entirely devoid of “streets, shops, or mosques [and] permanent home[s].” In other words, rather than the bustling small town that occupies the imagination of Elizabeth Warren’s staff, Susiya should really evoke images of cowboy-style ghost towns. Moreover, as Booth comments in his article, “there do not seem to be many people here, either.”

Other key details about the Susiya were also conveniently omitted from the letter, because they too undermine the letter’s “charity case” narrative. For one, the site is directly adjacent to a religiously significant historical site for Jews, which is controlled by Israel. As a result, many suspect that the residents of Susiya are sticking it out as an expression of political dissidence.

What’s more, Susiya does not exactly “survive through subsistence farming” as the letter claims. The hamlet’s solar panels (how many communities with a population under 100 in the world have solar panels?) were provided by Germany. Its water pumps that provide the village with a water supply? Thanks to Ireland. Susiya’s school? Gracias, Spain. The town’s playground? Bedankt, Belgium. The UN even directly gifted the herders with tents and shelters through its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs — and so it goes for the downtrodden victims of Israel’s unspeakable savagery and barbarism.

The case against demolishing the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar is almost identical. Israel asserts that aspects of the village have been built illegally without permits, something which is virtually uncontested even by staunch advocates of the pro-Palestine cause. The European Union, Italy and Belgium all contributed to the infrastructure of the town. And, in a critical detail missing from the letter, Israel plans to relocate the residents of Khan al-Ahmar to a new village of similar composition a mere 10 miles away.

None of this is to say that sympathy should be withheld from the people of Susiya and Khan al-Ahmar. Their plight is saddening, to be sure. However, that does not mean that the Israeli government deserves to be criticized for carrying out laws that every country in the world enforces.

The two villages are nothing more than small outposts which were constructed illegally, are populated by fewer than 100 people, and are kept alive only by generous contributions from European countries. The planned demolitions, whether one agrees with them or not, do not necessitate the moral outrage of the letter. It’s time that the Democratic senators who composed the letter are called to question for their clear prejudice against the current Israeli administration.

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