Dear Congress: ‘Pro-Israel’ is not ‘pro-settlements’

Congress has a long record of supporting and defending Israel's security, Israel's economy, Israel's position and treatment in international organizations and the international community, Israel's right to self-defense, and Israel's reputation as a nation that seeks peace. For this it deserves credit. 

Congress also has a long record of refusing to affirmatively support Israel's policy of building settlements in the occupied territories, including, for example, by barring the use of U.S.-backed loan guarantees for settlement activity. For this too, Congress deserves credit.  Israel's settlements enterprise runs counter to the policy of every U.S. administration since 1967, whether led by a Republican or Democrat, and runs counter to Israel's own interests.  Settlements undermine Israel's security, erode Israel's position in the international community and belie Israel's commitment to peace and the two-state solution - and if there is no two-state solution, Israel cannot survive as both a democracy and a Jewish state.  

Incredibly, today Congress is on its way to adopting legislation that would, for the first time in the nearly 48 years since Israel took control over the West Bank, make it U.S. law to affirmatively support Israeli settlements. This shift comes in the form of AIPAC-backed legislation which first appeared as freestanding bills (HR 825 and S. 619), nearly identical versions of which were attached this week to two major trade bills: S. 619 was incorporated into the Trade Promotion Authority bill (S. 995/HR 1890)andHR 825 into to the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement bill. 

Backers of these measures - including AIPAC - characterize them, disingenuously, as being about nothing more than fighting boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) activities targeting Israel. What could be simpler or more deserving of unanimous support? In reality, these measures are not about defending Israel at all – they are about shielding Israeli settlements from pressure, seeking to codify in U.S. law the view that there is no distinction between Israel and Israeli settlements in the occupied territories (referred to euphemistically in these bills as "Israeli-controlled territories" or "territories controlled by Israel").  

Supporters of these measures are, in effect, promoting a view that is identical to the one promoted by many BDS activists and advocates: that settlements and Israel are one and the same. For those who truly care about Israel and its future, this deliberate conflation of Israel and the settlements is outrageous. Activism and policies targeting not Israel but, instead, the settlements and occupation, are indisputably pro-Israel and pro-peace; they are also the best answer to the global BDS movement, demonstrating to activists that there is an avenue to oppose settlements and the occupation that is not anti-Israel.  

These bills, regrettably, suggests that no such avenue for meaningful pro-Israel activism against the occupation and settlements exists.  In doing so, they will only feed activism targeting Israel, bolstering BDS leaders and activists as they tell the world that settlements and Israel are one and the same.   

Likewise, these bills, if passed into law with their pro-settlement provisions intact, will not protect Israel from pressure from Europe over settlements. They will, instead, further discredit U.S. leadership and policy in the Middle East arena - an arena in which even Israel's closest allies in Europe have run out of patience with Israeli governments that talk about supporting two states but pursue actions that tell a far different story.  It will put the U.S. even more at odds with even its own closest allies, particularly in Europe, whose policies vis-à-vis settlements are grounded in international and EU laws.  

Do members of Congress understand what these pieces of legislation - being marketed to them as non-controversial, pro-Israel measures - actually seek to do?  If the answer is "yes," then let them stand up and say so. Let them end the pretense that this is about defending Israel and the pretense that they support the two-state solution.  Let them come out publicly in favor of settlements and the Greater Israel agenda - an agenda that prioritizes land over peace, places ideology over interests, and prefers permanent conflict over negotiated compromise. 

If the answer is "no" – and for many members, it certainly is – time is now short for them to wake up to the danger and folly at the heart of these deceptively-marketed measures. Once they do, they must stand up, as genuine supporters of Israel and a two-state solution, and oppose these efforts to legislate a disastrous new direction in Congressional policy.

Friedman is the director of Policy & Government Relations at Americans for Peace Now.