NEW YORK — A Democratic pro-Israel group sent a memo to Hill staffers earlier this month criticizing a group of 40 left-wing lawmakers who signed a letter that called the Israeli demolition of a wildcat Palestinian village in the West Bank “a violation of international law” and an example of “creeping annexation.”
“It seems that Members who signed it were importantly misinformed about the circumstances surrounding this unfortunate event,” wrote Democratic Majority for Israel president Mark Mellman in the memo, first uncovered by +972 Magazine.
The letter underlined the latest split among pro-Israel groups on the left, given that the more dovish group J Street had spearheaded the document that DMFI was opposing. Founded in 2019, DMFI has sought to strengthen support for Israel within the Democratic party, while pushing back against a growing number of progressive voices who have taken a more critical approach to the Jewish state.
In Mellman’s memo, he insists that criticism of the Israeli government’s policies is legitimate, but argues that the 40 Democrats had gone too far in their letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month in which they called on him to condemn the razing of Khirbet Humsa.
The demolition rendered around 73 Palestinians, including 41 children, homeless. Critics said Israeli security forces used the US presidential election as cover to carry out the move while international focus was elsewhere.
Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians said the army had destroyed structures erected illegally in a military live-fire zone.
Mellman argues in the memo that Israel has a right to uphold building laws in the West Bank’s Area C, which according to the Oslo Accords was designated for Israeli control. He points out that the Khirbet Humsa residents were given the opportunity to argue their case before the Supreme Court and lost.
“Perhaps it would have been better for the Israeli government to have refrained from taking this step, or taken it differently,” the DMFI memo reads. “But attempting to label the removal of these 7 tents and 8 animal pens ‘illegal’ or ‘creeping annexation’ or (as some have) ‘ethnic cleansing’ reflects either ignorance of the facts or an intention to create hostility toward Israel in spite of the facts.”
The memo has sparked criticism from leaders of left-wing groups in Israel and the US, including J Street, Breaking the Silence, Americans for Peace Now and Yesh Din.
They noted the DMFI memo’s use of an aerial photo of the village with a logo belonging to the pro-settlement Regavim group.
1/16 In a recent letter to Democratic members of congress, DMFI defended the demolition of Khirbet Humsa and the displacement of 73 Palestinians with information from pro-annexation org Regavim. Let’s review some of their arguments.
— Yehuda Shaul (@YehudaShaul) December 22, 2020
In a counter memo to Democratic staffers, J Street accused DMFI of “drawing on the work of Regavim — a far-right Israeli NGO that wages legal battles to evacuate Palestinian villages in the occupied West Bank and campaigns against Palestinian statehood and for Israeli annexation of the West Bank.”
Mellman insisted the use of the Regavim picture was not intentional and that DMFI had no contact with the right-wing Israeli group.
A spokesman for Regavim confirmed that there had been no collaboration, saying that “the extreme left have been reduced to attacking Regavim, although the information we circulated is available to anyone, free of charge, at the click of a mouse, on the Govmap site.”
But the criticism extended beyond the use of the Regavim photo, with Breaking the Silence’s Yehuda Shaul arguing on Twitter that the Khirbet Humsa residents had not recently moved into the firing zone as DMFI had stated. He also pointed out that Palestinians are almost never granted building permits in Area C, leaving them with few options to build legally, and claimed that firing zones are a tool used by Israel to take over more West Bank land.
Mellman countered that qualms regarding the military-judicial system in the West Bank are legitimate, but said characterizing the demolition as “creeping annexation” and “ethnic cleansing” is not.