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AIPAC pans bill to block US aid from some Israeli activities in West Bank

Pro-Israel group says Minnesota Democrat’s legislation aiming to prevent funds being used in certain security ops, such as arresting minors, would undermine Israel’s security

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Illustrative. IDF soldiers handcuffing and blindfolding a Palestinian during an operation to arrest terror suspects in the West Bank, December 8, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90.)
Illustrative. IDF soldiers handcuffing and blindfolding a Palestinian during an operation to arrest terror suspects in the West Bank, December 8, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90.)

The American Israel Public Affairs group has forcefully castigated legislation recently introduced by a Democratic lawmaker seeking to prevent US security assistance to Israel from being used in certain operations in the West Bank.

The “Defending the human rights of Palestinian children and families living under Israeli military occupation act,” introduced by progressive Democrat Betty McCollum of Minnesota last week, aims to prohibit US aid from being used in the Israeli detention of Palestinian minors, the demolition of Palestinian homes and the furthering of annexation of West Bank land.

The legislation does not threaten consequences for such actions or provide an enforcement mechanism. However, the bill does require the State Department to file an annual report to Congress detailing the extent to which US aid from the previous fiscal year was used to bankroll any of the aforementioned activities. That report could well be used in subsequent legislative efforts to officially restrict or condition security aid to Israel.

AIPAC has launched a public campaign calling on its supporters to urge their congressional representatives not to back McCollum’s bill, which the mainstream pro-Israel group claims “will create new rules and restrictions just for Israel, weaken Israel’s security, undermine the US-Israel relationship, and reinforce Palestinian resistance to direct talks.”

Democratic US representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota in July 2020. (Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images via JTA)

On Wednesday, AIPAC tweeted, “Let’s call the McCollum bill what it is: A baseless libel against Israel and US officials managing our aid program.”

“The State and Defense Departments know and ensure that American security assistance to Israel is used only for ‘legitimate self-defense’ and internal security.”

AIPAC also helped organize a letter signed by nearly three quarters of the House, expressing full-throttled support for US aid to Israel and opposition to efforts to “adding conditions” to security funding.”

Opponents of the bill have argued that the legislation is unnecessary as existing US law — the Arms Exports Control Act — already bars foreign aid from being used by foreign countries to commit human rights violations. They maintain that many of the arrests of minors that Israel carries out in the West Bank have justified security reasons and that the home demolitions are carried out after thorough due process.

Some opponents have held that the legislation would not be implementable as much of US foreign aid is fungible and impossible to track. The bill also makes no mention of a two-state solution to the conflict — the official policy of the Democratic Biden administration — as part of an apparent effort to win the backing of more left-wing representatives who oppose such a resolution.

The bill has 15 Democratic co-sponsors, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayana Pressley, Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush.

Siding with AIPAC has been the Democratic Majority for Israel, a newer group that seeks to shore up support for Israel in the Democratic Party against the backdrop of growing support for the Palestinian cause in progressive circles.

DMFI issued a statement last week calling the proposed legislation “yet another in a series of one-sided, demagogic anti-Israel bills.”

“The McCollum bill criticizes Israel for the number of juvenile arrests it makes in the disputed territories without acknowledging that her home state of Minnesota incarcerates 2.3 times more juveniles per capita than Israel does in the territories, while the U.S. as a whole holds 2.7 times more juveniles per capita than Israel does in the territories,” the group said.

On the other end of the party, the progressive J Street and Americans for Peace Now groups have backed the legislation, arguing that if the AECA were sufficient, the various actions cited by the bill would not be regularly taking place in the West Bank. Moreover, they argue that there shouldn’t be an issue with calling for greater transparency over how US aid is spent and doing whatever is possible to ensure that the assistance does not go to activities that violate international law.

“Where is the line drawn between defending Israel from any criticism or inquiry & enabling the worst abuses of occupation?” tweeted J Street senior vice president Dylan Williams in response to AIPAC’s “blood libel” charges.

“What’s the case *for* allowing taxpayer dollars to be used to mistreat Palestinian children, demolish their homes & annex their land?” he added.

Several Congressional sources told The Times of Israel that the bill is unlikely to even come to a vote, let alone pass, as Democrats heading key Congressional committees are planning to oppose it. But the sources speculated that the legislation is more about sparking a debate within the Democratic Party and pushing its members and leadership to take a more critical stance on Israel as it continues to expand its presence in the West Bank.

McCollum has sought previously to keep Israel from spending US funds on detaining Palestinian minors. Those bills attracted only a handful of backers, and no support from groups that describe themselves as pro-Israel.

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