On the hill

New resolution championed by Tlaib calls for Biden to apply genocide prevention law to Israel

The resolution accuses Israeli officials of “increasingly threatening a second Nakba”

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) attends the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday, March 29, 2023.

On the same day that she hosted a controversial “Nakba Day” event on Capitol Hill, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) also introduced a resolution that would ask the Biden administration to target Israel with a law aimed at preventing genocides and other major atrocities.

Tlaib, joined by Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Cori Bush (D-MO) introduced a resolution seeking to recognize the Nakba, the Arabic term — translating to “catastrophe” — that Palestinians use to describe the founding of the State of Israel.

The legislation includes a provision asking that the administration apply the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act of 2018 to “the treatment of Palestinians by Israel (both state and nonstate actors),” and provide support and protection for civil society and human rights groups “working to monitor, document, prevent, and respond to atrocities.”

The Elie Wiesel Act requires the Department of State to provide specialized training for foreign service officers “who will be assigned to a country experiencing or at risk of mass atrocities,” including war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, as well as provide an annual strategy and report to Congress on efforts to prevent atrocities in such countries.

The resolution also accuses Israeli officials of “increasingly threatening a second Nakba,” asserts a right of return for Palestinian refugees and states that “the United States is complicit in Israel’s ongoing Nakba against the Palestinian people by providing Israel with weapons and diplomatic support.”

It calls for restrictions on the use of military aid to Israel, an end to U.S. diplomatic support for the destruction of Palestinian homes or forcible relocation of Palestinians and for the U.S. to “refrain from building any diplomatic facility on land expropriated by Israel.” Tlaib and McCollum have previously expressed concerns about the planned construction site for a new U.S. embassy building in Jerusalem. 

Two pro-Israel Democrats, Reps. Brad Schneider (D-IL) and Dean Phillips (D-MN), told Jewish Insider on Thursday that they had not seen the legislation, but reacted with bewilderment to the Elie Wiesel Act provision.

Phillips called the resolution “obviously concerning” but said he wanted to read it before commenting further.

Schneider noted that the resolution’s introduction comes amid an ongoing rocket barrage by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group in Gaza targeting Israeli civilian areas. Israel has responded with airstrikes on Islamic Jihad targets, including senior officials from the terror group. 

“The response to those rockets is Iron Dome defending Israeli citizens, that also means Israel doesn’t have to go into Gaza on a ground operation,” Schneider continued, referring to Israel’s missile-defense system. “Islamic Jihad is threatening the lives of civilians on both sides of the border. I pray every day for a pathway to two states.”

Tlaib introduced a similar resolution in the previous Congress, with a similar list of co-sponsors, but the new legislation includes significant changes, including the addition of the Elie Wiesel Act provisions.

Also on Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who stepped in to host Tlaib’s Nakba Day event in his Senate committee room after it was blocked by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), told JI he did so because, “members of the United States Congress in a democratic society have a right to hold a meeting. I think it’s outrageous that Speaker McCarthy threw them out of a room that they had reserved.” He declined to answer further questions.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), a pro-Israel stalwart and outspoken voice against antisemitism in the Senate, emphasized the broad bipartisan support for Israel and fighting antisemitism when asked about Sanders’ decision.

“Whenever we hear any antisemitic activity, we call it out. I am proud of the strong bipartisan support we have in this Congress to not only support the U.S.-Israel relationship and speak out against any form of antisemitism or hate,” he said. “We have actions we’re taking [against] antisemitism, and it’s been strongly bipartisan — in most cases unanimous — but there will always be some members that we’re not going to agree with.”

Phillips, a member of Democratic leadership who is also the ranking member of the Mideast subcommittee on the House Foreign Relations Committee, expressed mixed feelings on McCarthy’s decision to override Tlaib’s reservation.

“On the subject of overriding a room reservation that, in theory, can just be done a different day, I find it a little bit disappointing, that pattern,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that happen here I disagree with, but I think that’s part of what the institution requires, is people with different perspectives make their case. So I struggle as an unwavering supporter of Israel, but also someone who believes that silencing anybody, even with perspectives that are very different, even upsetting to me, is equally troublesome.”

Schneider said that “[McCarthy] didn’t cancel her event” and added that “she can try to rewrite history, but the fact of the matter is that in 1947, the U.N. partitioned what was then Palestine, between two territories — a Jewish state and Arab state — Jews welcomed that, accepted the state and declared their state in May of 1948. The Arabs rejected the U.N. offer out of hand and instead declared war on the new State of Israel.”

“That is the history,” Schneider continued, “and the tragedy is that the Palestinians, for 75 years, have refused to accept their own chance for their own state and the legitimacy of the Jewish people having a state of their own as well.”

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