Congressional hearing on Jerusalem shuts out Palestinians

Congressional hearing on moving US embassy to Jerusalem did not include a single Palestinian witness.

Palestinians need not apply.

The subcommittee on national security in the US House of Representatives hosted five witnesses on Wednesday to address the bombshell issue of moving the US embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

But not one of the witnesses was a Palestinian or spoke for Palestinian rights and interests.

The hearing indicates that conservative members of Congress are intent on upping the pressure on Donald Trump to relocate the embassy. Initiation of the move could come as soon as 1 December when the president will once again have to decide whether to sign a waiver delaying such a move for another six months.

Four of the witnesses were well-known figures on the far right: John Bolton, a neoconservative who promoted the invasion of Iraq as a member of the George W. Bush administration; Dore Gold, a close ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who was until a year ago director general of the Israeli foreign ministry; Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America; and Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor at Northwestern University who has in recent years resided in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, all of which are illegal under international law.

Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, suggested that the list looked like one you’d find cooked up at the satirical news site The Onion.

The one marginally oppositional voice was that of Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum – a liberal Zionist organization.

While also supporting moving the embassy, Koplow cautioned gently that such a move might not be “prudent policy.” He was hardly outspoken in the nearly two hours of testimony the witnesses delivered.

North Carolina representative Mark Meadows said of Koplow, “There’s always one skunk at the party.”

Congressional Democrats and Republicans remained silent or laughed rather than defend Koplow.

Ignorance and hubris

The subcommittee’s chair, Florida representative Ron DeSantis, wasted little time establishing his anti-Palestinian bona fides by calling Israel’s military occupation of Jerusalem in 1967 its “liberation.” He also drew on racist and orientalist stereotypes, claiming that leaders in the Middle East “respect the strong horse.”

DeSantis is a member of the Israel Victory Caucus, a group established by Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum. Pipes is one of the most prominent anti-Muslim demagogues in the US.

According to the right-wing Israeli outlet Arutz 7, DeSantis and other members of Congress will be joined by Israeli lawmakers in Washington next week to sign a declaration urging the US government to demand that Palestinians “recognize Israel as the Jewish nation state.”

“American policy must ensure that Israel emerges victorious against those who deny or threaten her existence,” DeSantis said when the group was launched earlier this year.

The descent into ignorance and hubris at the hearing was on further display when lawmakers turned for enlightenment to John Bolton, who has remained unrepentant about his role in the catastrophic Iraq war.

With the same disregard for international law and Palestinian lives and interests as he had when considering the fate of Iraqis, Bolton insisted that the US would be moving the embassy to “incontestably” Israeli territory.

Israel drove tens of thousands of Palestinians out of the western half of Jerusalem in 1948 and occupied the eastern half in 1967. No country has recognized Israel’s claim to sovereignty over the city, which is why none currently keeps an embassy there.

Despite the strong US bias towards Israel, successive presidents have repeatedly signed the waiver delaying the move, a recognition that relocating the embassy would fly in the face of the stated American goal of brokering peace.

In accordance with the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, Trump has already signed one waiver delaying the move.

But Bolton, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, claimed an embassy move would have no adverse effect on currently nonexistent peace negotiations, or hurt regional relations.

He declared that UN General Assembly resolution 181 – the 1947 partition resolution which Israel often claims grants it international legitimacy – is a “complete dead letter,” and that Jerusalem will “never be an international city” as the resolution calls for.

Invoking one of the favorite insults of the far right, Bolton said that if the peace process is such a “delicate snowflake” then its “viability” is surely suspect.

Belittling Muslims

Matters did not improve when Dore Gold took the microphone. He stated his belief that Trump would stand by his commitment to move the embassy. Given Trump’s willingness to tear up long-standing policy in other areas with little regard for the potential catastrophes that might ensue, Gold may be right.

Not surprisingly, Gold was silent about the severe restrictions Israel places on the right of millions of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip – Muslims and Christians alike – to access holy places in Jerusalem.

Nor did he or other witnesses mention Israel’s damage to Jerusalem’s historic sites, including the destruction in 1967 of the entire Moroccan Quarter along with a mosque and Islamic school built in the 12th century.

The Zionist Organization of America’s Morton Klein belittled the connection of Muslims to Jerusalem while emphasizing Jewish ties as if he could arbitrate this political dispute by transforming it into his very own religious war with his spin on others’ faith.

“Jerusalem,” Klein declared to the committee, “is not very holy to Muslims.”

“They have not treated it as holy to them when they controlled it,” he claimed. Klein’s view chimes with the growing extremism in Israel, where many prominent political leaders call for the destruction of the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, among Islam’s most revered shrines, in order to replace them with a Jewish temple.

“The Arabs,” Klein insisted, “claim that Jerusalem is holy to Muslims … But this is a fundamental falsehood.”

Committee members gave silent affirmation to his dismissive words with not a person from the Democratic so-called resistance admonishing Klein for his illogic and bigotry.

What was entirely missing from the proceedings was any discussion of Palestinian rights, including of the Palestinians facing mass expulsions from East Jerusalem amid record demolitions and displacements by Israel.

The hearing laid bare a Washington consensus where superior rights for Israeli Jews are the norm and equal rights, or even a voice, for Palestinians are off the table altogether.

Republican anti-Palestinian sentiment was to be expected. Sadly, so too was the Democrats’ indulgence of such bigotry. While the parties may be acrimoniously divided on much else, their determination to help Israel trash Palestinian rights is entirely bipartisan.

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Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune, TheNation.com, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.