WASHINGTON – Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), who is also serving as Deputy Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair, is circulating a letter on Capitol Hill pushing for the dropping of charges against Palestinian activist Issa Amro. The measure — which has also been introduced by Representatives Mark Pocan (D-WI), Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) — calls on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to intervene on Amro’s behalf.
Dylan Williams, Vice President of Governmental Affairs for J Street, told Jewish Insider that his group is not involved with the letter. When asked if J Street is not supporting the Congressional initiative due to an ideological dispute, Williams did not respond.
Unlike the March letter that called on President Trump to affirm the two state solution, which received backing from 187 Democrats and two Republicans, this initiative is expected to receive more modest backing of approximately 15-20 Members given its harsh criticism of Israeli military court convictions of Palestinian detainees. In 2015, McCollum also signed a letter to then-Secretary of State John Kerry calling for increased US attention towards detained Palestinian children in Israeli jails.
The letter notes that Amro received the UN’s “Human Rights Defender of the Year in Palestine” award. Eugene Kontorovich, Professor of Law at Northwestern University, critiqued the Democratic initiative and told Jewish Insider, “The letter takes as holy writ the statements of the UN Human Rights Council, whose obsessive, biased and untruthful campaign against Israel is well known, and has recently been denounced by America’s Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley.”
The issue of Palestinian detainees is timely given that a recent high profile prison strike just ended after 40 days. “We fear that Israeli military courts deliberating over Mr. Amro’s charges will be unlikely to render a fair and impartial verdict given that the conviction rate within that system is 99.74 percent,” the letter notes, citing a 2011 Ha’aretz news article.
However, Kontorovich explains that this statistic is deceptive. The letter “tries to delegitimize the Israeli court system by pointing out it has a 99% conviction rate – the same, as it happens, as Japan’s, and just a bit higher than the federal rate of 93%. Israel’s military courts are international models of fairness. Just as Israel does not seek to politicize the treatment of U.S. Security detainees, U.S. Congressmen should not meddle in this matter.”
The Free Beacon reported last week that Rep. Pocan will be sponsoring a June 8 event on Capitol Hill critiquing Israel’s continued military control in the West Bank. Pocan’s spokesperson declined to respond to multiple requests by Jewish Insider for comment.
Ellison backers claim that his steadfast support for the Palestinian cause played a role in his February defeat for DNC Chair. The Minnesota lawmaker’s introduction of a letter critiquing Israeli detentions of Palestinians demonstrates that Ellison remains undeterred and will continue advocating for pro-Palestinian policies in his new role as Deputy DNC Chair.