Juan Vargas, a Democratic congressman from California, tweeted on 4 March what many of his colleagues have tried to deny in recent weeks: “Questioning support for the US-Israel relationship is unacceptable.”
Vargas is on the foreign affairs committee in the US House of Representatives with Ilhan Omar, but unlike the congresswoman from Minnesota he has telegraphed that he will allow no piece of information or evidence to lead him to question the relationship.
In Vargas’ view, if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes coalition deals with Kahanist racists – as he recently did – there is no space to question the US-Israel relationship.
Such unquestioning support comes as no surprise from Vargas. Late last year the congressman went so far as to voice support for the “67 borders” of Israel.
But he wasn’t referring to the June 1967 boundaries – before Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Syria’s Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
Rather, he was referring to the first century.
“With a twinkle in his eye,” recounted the San Diego Jewish World last November, the publication summarized Vargas as saying “he has absolutely no objection if Israel is made to return to its 67 borders. Just so long as the people demanding it are talking about the year 67, not the year 1967.”
“If you want to go back to 67, that will probably take in Lebanon, parts of Syria, Jordan and some portions of Egypt.” Vargas added, “I don’t think Israel wants to do that, and its neighbors wouldn’t either.”
But as characterized by the San Diego Jewish World, Vargas would have “absolutely no objection” to Israel claiming these territories.
This is a dangerous signal to send a country that for years has taken Palestinian land and occupied the territory of neighboring states, specifically those named by Vargas.
Vargas’ jocularity at the thought of conquering whole countries and dispossessing their people is wildly inappropriate from a member of the foreign affairs committee.
But given the trepidation around voicing criticism of Israel on Capitol Hill, it is hardly surprising that there has been no public rebuke from colleagues and apparently no media commentary beyond the article itself.
Vargas is clearly convinced he can get away with such statements. He made a similar comment in June 2017 to the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), trumpeted by noted Islamophobe Daniel Pipes, when he stated that “when people say that we should ‘go back to the 67 lines,’ I’m OK with that – the lines may be twice as long, but the neighbors may not.” Vargas added that it’s a “pet peeve when people talk about ’67.”
According to the San Diego Jewish World, Vargas, like many of his colleagues, is supporting measures to curb Americans’ freedom of speech and conscience in order to shield Israel from any consequences for its conquests.
Vargas is a co-sponsor of legislation that, in his words, “basically says if you are going to boycott, sanction or divest from Israel then you should have no business with the United States. We shouldn’t deal with you.”
“You are boycotting, divesting and sanctioning an ally who is not at fault in any way there, and we shouldn’t have any business with you,” he added.
Vargas also denounced efforts to “delegitimize Israel.”
“All these lies cannot undo that, and BDS cannot do that.”
But what is this absence of “fault” and what are these “lies”? Does Vargas deny that Israel is an occupying power? Does he deny that some 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel are subjected to dozens of discriminatory laws?
In the context of Israel’s ongoing election campaign, Netanyahu himself proudly declared on Sunday that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens.”
Referring to the so-called Nation-State Law Israel passed last year encouraging Jewish settlement and stripping the Arabic language of official status, Netanyahu added: “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish People – and them alone.”
Does Vargas deny the Nakba, when some 750,000 Palestinians were dispossessed – ethnically cleansed – in 1948, or the dispossession of hundreds of thousands more again in 1967?
The reason Vargas appears so intent on crushing the BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – movement is precisely because it seeks to address all these realities that Vargas apparently dismisses as lies, and restore to Palestinians their full rights.
Sadly, Vargas is not alone among lawmakers in thinking that if you stand up for equal rights for Palestinians through the BDS movement then it is appropriate to deny your free speech rights and refuse to do business with you.
Senator Charles Schumer of New York, a Democrat, expresses his anti-Palestinian views here:
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the newly elected Democratic representative from New York, who has been cautious regarding Palestinian rights since facing criticism of her initial honesty about Israeli occupation forces massacring Palestinians, did push back on Vargas’ claim that questioning the relationship is unacceptable.
“I’m curious if Rep. Vargas will further explain his stance here that it’s unacceptable to even question US foreign policy,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “Plenty of Democratic members have asserted that discussion and debate on this issue is fair and merited.”
Sadly, many members of Congress, including Democrats like Vargas, are intent on stopping that debate from happening, so that unquestioning American support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and theft of their land can go on forever.