Sponsored by hardline Republican Senators Dean Heller of Nevada and Ted Cruz of Texas, the bill – the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act of 2015 – is an updated version of previous bills that sought the same goal.
The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 grants the president “authority to waive certain funding limitations for Department of State acquisition and maintenance of buildings abroad until the US Embassy in Jerusalem has officially opened,” according to the US Congress’s website.
Heller’s and Cruz’s new bill, if passed, will eliminate the president’s authority to delay or not implement the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. In other words, it is an attempt to force the United States to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
Though the bill stands little chance of surviving both the Congress and the Senate, it reflects an increasingly reactionary and pro-Israel agenda of right-wing American legislators. Cruz’s sponsorship also highlights the influential nature of Christian Zionism among Texan legislators.
In late November, Cruz spoke at a gala dinner hosted by the Zionist Organization of America, where he was introduced by the notoriously anti-Palestinian lawyer and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.
“The threats to Israel right now have never been greater, and now is a time when we do not need leaders who simply speak empty words of support for Israel,” Cruz told the audience in a warmly-received speech, as reported by The Dallas Morning News.
Cruz added, “We need leaders who will stand and act. Now, more than ever, is a time to strengthen the unshakable alliance and friendship America has with the nation of Israel.”
Along with the UK’s Prince Andrew, Dershowitz was accused in a recent court filing of raping a teenage girl who was forced into sexual slavery by his close friend Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire hedge fund financier who was convicted of pedophilia. Dershowitz and Prince Andrew have strenuously denied the allegations.
As The Electronic Intifada’s Rania Khalek recently reported, “Dershowitz negotiated an agreement that (if the allegations against him are true) shields him from prosecution for participating in a child sex-trafficking ring.”
Also in attendance at that gala was Christian Zionist leader John Hagee, pastor of a San Antonio mega church who is known for his anti-Semitic and anti-Palestinian views. According to The Dallas Morning News, Hagee was honored by the Zionist Organization of America with an award named after far right-wing Israel supporter and casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
Booed off stage
Cruz, a keynote speaker at the In Defense of Christians gala, sparked outrage among the audience, which consisted of Christian Arabs with roots across the Middle East.
Noting the spread of the Islamic State group in the region, Cruz simplistically claimed: “ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hizballah, Hamas and their state sponsors like Syria and Iran, are all engaged in a vicious genocidal campaign to destroy religious minorities in the Middle East.”
Referring to the Nakba, or the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Palestine that began in 1947-48, Cruz asserted: “In 1948 Jews throughout the Middle East faced murder and extermination and fled to the nation of Israel. And today Christians have no better ally than the Jewish state.”
As booing erupted throughout the audience, he added that “those who hate Israel hate America.”
“If you will not stand with Israel and Jews, then I will not stand with you,” Cruz angrily said, before storming off stage.
“Like most other blind ideologues on the far right, he cared not a bit for the reality and the sensitivities of Middle East Christians,” James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, subsequently told Time.
However misplaced it may seem, Cruz’s dogmatic support of Israel, despite its ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, is not rare among Texan politicians. A promoter of anti-choice and anti-immigrant policies in his home state, Texas Governor Rick Perry is no exception.
As the Palestinian Authority took a statehood bid to the United Nations in 2011, Perry took to the pages of the extreme right-wing Jerusalem Post to profess his undying support for Israel. “Historian T.R. Feherenbach once observed that my home state of Texas and Israel share the experience of ‘civilized men and women thrown into new and harsh conditions, beset by enemies,’” Perry wrote.
Any casual observer might point out that Texas and Israel “share the experience” of ethnically cleansing the indigenous peoples of those lands. As historian Gary Clayton Anderson observes in The Conquest of Texas: Ethnic Cleansing in the Promised Land, 1820-1875, Western expansionism in the United States brought colonial settlers to present-day Texas, who drove employed racially-motivated violence to drive indigenous Native American tribes off their ancestral lands.
Palestinian sovereignty, Perry added, is “in direct opposition to our own vital interests.”
More recently, as Israel’s summer assault tallied up Palestinian deaths in Gaza, Perry called for the US to back Israel with “vigorous support” and dismissed the deaths of Palestinians.
“War is a horrible thing,” Perry replied when asked about the mass casualties, as reported by Raw Story at the time. “There are individuals who lose their lives in war.”
By the time a lasting ceasefire was reached in late August, Israel had killed an estimated 2,257 Palestinians, including 538 children, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
As Cruz and other Texas leaders push for anti-Palestinian legislation, Islamophobia spreads on the ground. Hundreds of right-wing protesters gathered in Garland, a suburb of Dallas, on Saturday to demonstrate against a conference being held by the Muslim community organization Sound Vision.
According to the event’s Facebook page, the annual conference’s stated mission is to combat Islamophobia and “stand against terrorism and hate together with the Prophet …” Expecting a large turnout, Sound Vision rented the Curtis Culwell Center from the Garland Independent School District, as many local religious and civic organizations often do.
Upon catching wind of the conference, the Garland Tea Party and other local right-wing groups began complaining to local news outlets weeks before the event took place. Unabashed racism was on full display.
A Facebook event to protest Sound Vision’s annual conference was created by a group of motorcyclists — it is laden with Islamophobic myths and violent rhetoric, often associating all Muslims with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Ahead of the protest, several of the bikers debated whether or not they ought to bring guns, despite it being illegal under federal law to carry weapons on school grounds.
One Facebook user, Jonathan Peugh, stated his intention to bring a pig to the protest — ostensibly believing that the mere presence of pigs is somehow offensive to Muslims. On its website, the Tea Party-affiliated nonprofit organization Voices Empower posted an article suggesting that a new Islamic educational complex is a smokescreen for plans to establish a “Muslim village” in Dallas.
Debora Green, the article’s author, was parroting the widespread claim that cities across Europe have so-called “no-go Muslim areas.” This claim, peddled by Islamophic hate groups and anti-Muslim figures, has been demonstrated as false time and again.
Once the event was underway on Saturday afternoon, protesters assembled outside, waving American and Israeli flags and taunting Sound Vision conference attendees. Ruben Israel, a protester who traveled from Los Angeles with the group Bible Believers, told the Dallas-Fort Worth NBC affiliate that Muslims are “trying to promote that they are a bunch of peaceful people. I have issues with that.”
Greg McKinley, another protester, claimed the conference’s attendees are “a faction of people who want to destroy [the United States],” as shown in another NBC report.
Others held up signs absurdly claiming Muslims are trying establish “Sharia” — Islamic law — in Texas and the rest of the United States. One man brandished a poster reading: “Go home and take Obama with you.”
“We pay our taxes to that school, and I don’t want [Muslims] here,” Lavona Martindale said, as bigoted chants like “You’re not welcome here!” rang out.
A similar protest is scheduled to take place outside a Houston hotel holding a conference for local Islamic religious organizations on Sunday night.
In October 2013, along with Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp, Governor Perry announced plans to establish an international campus of that university in Nazareth, a Palestinian city in the northern part of present-day Israel.
As reported by The Electronic Intifada at the time, Palestine solidarity activists at Texas A&M and Nazareth-based activists decried those plans, citing Israel’s racist policies towards Palestinians in present-day Israel, as well as in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the besieged Gaza Strip.
“Christian Zionists from the US … are not interested in justice or peace,” Omar Barghouti, founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, told The Electronic Intifada at the time. “We know their ideology — it’s a genocidal ideology, it’s an anti-Semitic ideology and it’s an Islamophobic ideology.”
Yet, Palestine solidarity is also on the rise in the Lone Star State. In August, as Israel’s assault on Gaza intensified, thousands of Texans gathered in front of the state capitol in Austin to protest in solidarity with Palestinians under attack.
That demonstration included interfaith and solidarity groups from cities and towns across the state, including Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Corpus Christi, as observed in an op-ed at The Daily Texan. It was ostensibly the largest Palestine solidarity protest to take place in Texas to date.
“The reality that Israeli missile strikes now blatantly target civilians spurred not only the protest here in Austin, but also around the globe,” wrote Dania Hussein, author of the op-ed and a neurobiology student at the University of Texas.
Pointing to the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) to be placed on Israel until it complies with international law and respects Palestinian rights, Hussein concluded, “Texans will continue to support the Palestinian call for BDS and a just peace.”
This post originally misidentified Senator Dean Heller by the surname Keller. It has since been corrected.
- Ted Cruz
- Dania Hussein
- Alan Dershowitz
- Rania Khalek
- Rick Perry
- John Hagee
- University of Texas
- San Antonio
- Daily Texan
- Dallas News
- Zionist Organization of America
- Sheldon Adelson
- Gaza Strip
- Texas A&M University
- Jerusalem Post
- Middle Eastern Christians
- Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
- US Embassy Tel Aviv
- Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act
- US Senate
- US Congress
- Jeffrey Epstein
- UN OCHA