For many in the peace activist community, challenging U.S. military aid to Israel has been viewed as a key pressure point for advocacy on Capitol Hill and at the State Department. With the escalation of recent Israeli attacks on civilians, including those on unarmed protesters in Bil'in, assaults on the Gaza Flotilla, and Operation Cast Lead, which killed more than 1,417 Palestinians, leverage of military aid and adherence to U.S. laws of accountability have become increasingly important issues.
Many activists, however-perhaps unknowingly-belong to national advocacy groups that not only support military aid to Israel, but actually may be actively engaged in advocating for aid in Congress and/or the Obama administration.
A prime example of this occurred this past March when J Street, an organization that markets itself as "pro-Israel, pro-peace," issued a Dear Colleague letter to President Barack Obama which they described as the "U.S. Leadership for Peace" letter. However, the body of this short six- paragraph letter clearly focused on championing military aid to Israel:
"We also strongly support your budget request providing $3.075 billion in assistance to Israel....Israel faces very real challenges to its security, and reducing or otherwise endangering aid to Israel...would be unproductive."
The letter proved quite successful, garnering 116 signatures from House representatives, including nearly 80 percent of Democrats. It was generated one month after Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) called for an end to military aid to Israel. J Street called Paul's remark "alarming" and asked its members to "repudiate" it, arguing that military aid to Israel was "a pillar...that advances U.S. diplomatic objectives."
To be counted as a member of J Street, one merely needs to subscribe to their "listserv." A local activist may "join" to get e-mail notification updates. In doing so, however, the activist then becomes part of J Street's 170,000 constituency which is then leveraged on the Hill as voters that J Street represents and serves on this issue.
According to Dina Kennedy, a key member of the newly formed U.S. Palestinian Community Network, "you really can't fault groups like J Street. They are being open about what they believe in. The problem is that at the local level, we activists need to be more mindful of establishing allegiances with organizations that are inconsistent with our own values, even if it is only to receive e-mail notifications." The U.S. Palestinian Community Network is one organization focused on reclaiming the voice of justice-based peace. There are plenty of other peace groups activists can choose to support.
J Street argued that military aid to Israel was "a pillar...that advances U.S. diplomatic objectives."
In contrast to J Street's platform, groups like the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation have long worked toward including accountability for military aid to Israel as a pressure point on the Hill. According to its National Advocacy Director, Josh Ruebner, "Our vision for U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine is based on respect for international law and human rights. When these principles, as well as domestic U.S. laws, are being violated by a foreign military force, and civilians are being killed with our weapons, we have every right to ask our government to hold that country accountable. We are merely asking that the restrictions and sanctions specified in the Arms Export Control Act and Foreign Assistance Act be upheld in the case of Israel's misuse of U.S. weapons, and that Israel is held to the exact same standard as every other country in the world receiving U. …