YOUNG AMERICAN JEWS from the IfNotNow movement, who want to end their community’s support for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, succeeded on Friday in getting two more Democratic presidential candidates, Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden, to denounce Israel’s military rule over millions of disenfranchised Palestinians.
Activists from the group have been trailing Democratic candidates as they campaign in New Hampshire, and urging them to say, on camera, that they would work to end the occupation, if elected. Both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren expressed their support for the group’s position at recent events, triggering outrage from far-right Republicans and unease from establishment Democrats who are reluctant to criticize even the increasingly far-right Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Buttigieg was pressed on the issue by Erin Sandler, 29, at a campaign event in Laconia, New Hampshire. “All my life, politicians have talked about a two-state solution for Israel, but don’t address the ongoing military occupation,” Sandler said to Buttigieg. “Yes or no, are you willing to condemn the occupation?”
“The occupation has to end,” Buttigieg replied, to applause.
He went on to note that even Ariel Sharon, a right-wing Israeli prime minister, not only called for an end to the occupation in 2003, but told Israelis bluntly: “It is occupation, you might not like this word, but it’s really an occupation.”
IfNotNow welcomed Buttigieg’s remarks, while noting that it was a departure from more conservative positions he has taken in the past, and said that its members still need to hear how he, and other candidates, “will use American leverage to pressure Israel to end the Occupation.”
Democrats eager to defend Israel from sensing even the slightest uptick in pressure from Washington to respect international law appear to have been alarmed by IfNotNow’s success in raising the issue.
As Daniel Marans reported for the HuffPost, three days before IfNotNow activists confronted Buttigieg and Biden, a group of pro-Israel Democrats, led by the pollster Mark Mellman, sent a memo to all of the Democratic presidential candidates advising them how to respond to the young voters. Under the provocative subject heading: “WARNING on Anti-Israel Campaigners,” Mellman suggested, without evidence, that the American Jews confronting the candidates might not “acknowledge Israel’s right to exist at all,” and aimed to elicit comments that would be “a victory for anti-Israel forces.”
Mellman argued that the question about pressing Israel to end the occupation, “wrongly suggests Israel alone is responsible for the current impasse in negotiations, ignoring the fact that the Palestinian leadership has consistently refused offers for a two-state solution.”
Mellman also described the approach of asking the candidates direct questions about the occupation as somehow unfair. “Senator Warren was a victim of this hit-and-run camping [sic] tactic,” Mellman wrote, referring to the candidate’s pledge to IfNotNow activists on Monday that she would press Israel to end the occupation.
If asked about the occupation, Mellman suggested, candidates should offer this “principled, Democratic, pro-Israel response to this question,” beginning with the words: “I strongly support a two-state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.”
IfNotNow takes its name not, as Ivanka Trump might think, from remarks attributed to a Harry Potter actress, but from a famous saying of the first-century Rabbi Hillel the Elder: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am for myself alone, what am I? If not now, when?” The group’s sense of impatience with the American government’s longterm reluctance to press Israel to wind down an occupation that has endured for 52 years was evident in its members response to how Biden responded to their questions at two events in New Hampshire, on Friday and Saturday.
Asked first by Elias Newman, 26, if he would be prepared to pressure Israel, the former vice president began with a deflection, saying, as Mellman had suggested, “There’s no answer but a two-state solution.” He then added, in a puzzling choice of words, “I think the settlements are unnecessary,” before pivoting back to the pro-Israel talking points by suggesting that pressure should also be put on Palestinian leaders, who need “to be prepared to stop the hate.”
Pressed to say whether he considers the occupation “a human rights crisis,” Biden replied, “I think occupation is a real problem, a significant problem.” When he was then asked if he would pressure Israel to end the occupation, Biden said that he already had done so, both as a senator and as vice president, and referred Newman to his record.
Newman, who is an IfNotNow fellow, said in a statement later that Biden’s prior record did not include applying effective pressure on Israel. Describing his comments as “the bare minimum we should expect from Democratic hopefuls,” Newman said that “the crisis in Israel/Palestine is due in no small part to the failed policies of the Obama Administration, during which Israel’s decades long military occupation became more permanent than ever.”
More of Biden's weasel words @ TI