Avi Weiss, who protested Mandela, seeks defeat for Jamaal Bowman

Man raises his arms

Jamaal Bowman is challenging Eliot Engel in a Democratic congressional primary in New York.

Gina M. Randazzo ZUMA Press

Rabbi Avi Weiss, a hardline pro-Israel activist, has inserted his anti-Palestinian views into Tuesday’s Democratic congressional primary in New York between the incumbent, Eliot Engel, a long-time supporter of Israel, and Jamaal Bowman.

The reason? Bowman has suggested that US aid to Israel be conditioned on its treatment of Palestinians.

Writing this month in the Yonkers Tribune, Weiss complained about Bowman that, “You’re quoted as saying that American aid to Israel should be conditional on exploring Israel’s human rights record. I am of the opinion, as noted by others, that there is no country anywhere facing the same threats as Israel, that has a better human rights record.”

Weiss does, in fact, believe this sort of Israeli propaganda. In 2014 as Israel was killing more than 1,400 civilians in Gaza, including over 550 children, Weiss went to the border area and reported back that the Israeli military is “the most moral army on the face of this earth.”

He said not one word about the reality of Palestinian civilian deaths, but only promoted empty words about how much the Israeli military was doing to protect Palestinian civilians.

His pro-Israel bias has taken serious form in New York too. Weiss protested Nelson Mandela’s 1990 visit to New York City over the South African freedom fighter’s embrace of Yasser Arafat and Palestinian freedom.

Following the death of Mandela, Weiss wrote that he was not sorry he led the protest against his visit.

“I feel a profound connection to my black brothers and sisters, and pray that my actions were not misunderstood. On those days, I was standing up against one thing and one thing only — the embrace of Arafat by this man or any man.”

Déjà vu

Today, this time in the middle of the Black Lives Matter movement, this “profound connection” has led Weiss to stand once again against a Black leader who has expressed support for Palestinian rights.

Weiss links to a Bowman interview last year with Jacobin in which the Democratic candidate asserted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “a mini-Trump who warned of ‘Arab turnout’ at the polls and brags about building a wall.”

Bowman noted, quite rightly as Israel gets closer to its anticipated annexation of Palestinian territory, that with Netanyahu calling for “expanding settlements and annexing the West Bank, we should seriously consider placing conditions on the billions of dollars of military aid our government provides him in order to make sure that the rights and dignity of both the Israeli and Palestinian people are respected.”

Voicing an opinion backed by a growing number of Democrats in Congress, he added, “I just don’t understand why American taxpayers are subsidizing the detention of Palestinian children while Democrats are criticizing child detention at the Mexican border.”

Notably, however, more Democrats have remained silent on the rights of detained Palestinian children than the two dozen engaging the matter legislatively.

Yet Bowman remains cautious on Palestinian rights. He only supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement as a free speech issue, not as a means to secure an end to the Israeli occupation, equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel and the right of Palestinian refugees to return.

Engel, however, is so weak on Palestinian rights that Bowman easily surpasses him.

In 1994, Engel joined a bipartisan congressional “peace accord monitoring group” organized by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) with the “apparent aim” being “to discredit Israel’s Palestinian negotiating partners by exposing Palestinian violations that Mr. [Yitzhak] Rabin dismisses or ignores.”

In other words, from early in his congressional career, Engel was more hawkish than then-defense minister Rabin who ordered the beating and breaking of bones of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators.

Even as ZOA leader Morton Klein’s anti-Palestinian and anti-Black racism has been increasingly exposed in recent years, Engel has kept up the relationship.

Last year, as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Engel spoke at the ZOA’s “Capitol Hill Mission” luncheon. According to the ZOA, at the pre-mission dinner, Jason D. Hill, an anti-Palestinian professor at DePaul University, “urged Israel to retake the traditionally Christian town of Bethlehem.”

This is the sort of hate Engel has gone along with for decades in maintaining his ties with the ZOA.

Though his support of Palestinian rights is a bit tepid, and there are additional issues in play, a Bowman victory would be another sign that grassroots Democrats are tiring of a bipartisanship on Israel that routinely assaults Palestinian rights and smacks of the sort of racism that politicians practiced for far too long regarding apartheid South Africa.




"The most moral army in the world", "purity of arms", "shoot and cry": it's remarkable how Israeli sanctimoniousness imitates that of the Nazis. Himmler made a famous speech in which he too claimed the Nazis acted with great restraint and morality in killing those who were trying to kill them. Poor Jews from the Warsaw ghetto, babies and grandmothers, were trying to destroy the military machine of the Third Reich? Children in Gaza are trying to destroy with stones the nuclear-armed State of Israel? The Palestinians have no army. How can they destroy the IDF? Bowman is right: the situation in Israel/Palestine can be transformed overnight if the US turns off the tap. The Israelis will accept a two-State solution if the alternative is no more US dollars. A two-State solution has been blocked only by Israeli and US rejectionism. Weiss is typical: objecting to Mandela's support for Arafat who from the mid 1970s agreed to recognise Israel and end violence in return for an autonomous Palestinians State and who was bundled up and thrown to the dogs by Oslo. Think about Cast Lead (26/12/08 to 17/1/09) why did it end when it did? Because Obama was being inaugurated on 20/1/09. Between his election in November and his inauguration, he refused to comment on the Israeli action. By 20/1 he could use the usual excuse of the powerful: that's done, get over it, move on. But Cast Lead stopped because of US intervention. 3/8/2014, Ban Ki-Moon condemns the bombing of UN schools. The US is forced to respond. Result? Israel stops the bombing and pulls back. The US pulls the strings and provides the money, with the assistance of the EU. The Israelis are only as powerful as we permit them to be. Bowman should be congratulated and supported. He has opened a breach in the wall of US duplicity and dishonesty. US taxpayers will rebel when they realise what is being done with their dollars. They don't because of a complicit media. We should get behind Bowman and push hard. Things are moving.


I disagree with Bowman: All assistance to Israel should cease.

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.