Bowman's support of Israeli bill focused on security


(re: “Bowman defends Israeli aid bill,” April 22)

The nuances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and U.S. policy in the Middle East can be complex and difficult. That is why I have been impressed so far by our new congressman, Jamaal Bowman.

During his brief tenure, he has strongly supported Israel’s security and its future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people while also standing up unapologetically for the rights and dignity of the Palestinian people. As a member of the vibrant Jewish community in our district — the volunteer chair of J Street’s Westchester chapter, and one who has deep affection for Israel — I have felt well-represented by Congressman Bowman, and proud of his stances.

I was pleased to see the congressman give his support to the Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act, recently introduced by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota. This legislation would help ensure that every dollar of the vital military assistance that the United States provides to Israel would go toward Israel’s legitimate security needs — and that none of it be used to support acts in the occupied West Bank that actually undermine Israel’s security, Palestinian rights, and American interests and values.

The United States provides about $4 billion in vital security aid to Israel each year in defense of our shared vision of Israel as a just, secure and free democracy in the Middle East. But currently, there is insufficient transparency and guidance in place to make sure aid is used solely for its intended defense-of-Israel purposes.

That means the right-wing Israeli government has been free to use American-funded or -supplied weaponry and equipment to carry out actions that extend and entrench permanent Israeli control of (de facto annexed) territory that should form part of a future Palestinian state, thereby undermining prospects for a peaceful two-state solution and violate international law.

Such frequent activities include demolishing Palestinian communities, expanding settlements on occupied territory, and arbitrarily detaining and employing harsh methods in interrogating Palestinian children in violation of relevant international law and standards.

These objectionable practices do not and will not make Israel safer, and in fact have often been condemned by veteran senior leaders of Israel’s security establishment for doing precisely the opposite.

The bill supported by U.S. Rep. Bowman and a number of his colleagues would explicitly prevent U.S. security assistance from being used for these harmful purposes, and would bring needed improved oversight to the aid process. It would ensure that Israel receives every dollar of the aid that the United States has promised it, and that all of it goes to defense purposes.

Similar guidelines already exist regarding the aid that we provide to many allies — so why not for Israel as well? The bill has already been endorsed by J Street, Americans for Peace Now, and T’ruah, which represent more than 2,000 rabbis and cantors nationwide — 28 in our congressional district.

This bill should be backed by anyone who supports Israel’s security and shares the Jewish commitment to the importance of human rights. Yet, Congressman Bowman has nonetheless faced unfair attacks from some inside and outside our congressional district who have branded this bill “anti-Israel,” and misrepresented it as somehow proposing to cut or condition our military assistance to Israel — which it does not, and would not, do.

I have yet to hear a compelling argument for how the bill’s restrictions on Israel’s use of aid would weaken Israel. I reject any argument that suggests that Israel’s security requires that it be able to arbitrarily detain Palestinian children and bulldoze their families’ homes to make way for new settlements.

And it is certainly neither critical nor helpful for its long-term relationship with the United States that Israel remain empowered to do so using the dollars of American taxpayers.

I know I am far from alone among supporters of Israel’s security in rejecting this facile — and frankly, immoral — notion, and in supporting the newly proposed legislation. Polling consistently shows that the large majority of both American Jews and Democratic voters simultaneously support Israel’s security and oppose annexation and unrestricted settlements in the occupied territory.

We believe the United States should play a more proactive and even-handed role in the region, promoting progress toward peace and meaningfully pushing back on harmful actions by both Palestinians and Israelis.

Far from “demonizing Israel,” Congressman Bowman’s support for this bill is well in line with the views of the American Jewish mainstream. His critics may be vociferous and loud, but on substance, they represent a minority view.

As one of the congressman’s constituents, I am grateful for his thoughtful engagement with the pro-Israel community, and for his principled and engaged action on this issue. I am confident that the seemingly ill-informed attacks of a small — even if vocal — minority will not deter him from continuing to follow a course that supports a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians.

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Gary Trachten,