Pennsylvania Rep. Summer Lee joined other progressive U.S. lawmakers in signing a letter this week urging President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Tony Blinken to alter U.S. policy toward Israel in light of recent violence and in response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition.
The letter, initiated by Rep. Jamaal Bowman and Sen. Bernie Sanders, argues that the U.S. should “undertake a shift in U.S. policy in recognition of the worsening violence, further annexation of land, and denial of Palestinian rights. Only by protecting democracy, human rights, and self-determination for all Palestinians and Israelis can we achieve a lasting peace.”
In addition to Lee, the letter was signed by Reps. Cori Bush, Andre Carson, Betty McCollum, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib. Endorsing organizations include ardently anti-Israel groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace Action, IfNotNow Movement, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Jewish Voice for Peace condemns Zionism. IfNotNow accuses Israel of apartheid. The US Campaign for Palestinian Rights and CAIR lead the boycott movement against Israel in the U.S.
The letter calls for the Biden administration to ensure U.S. taxpayer funds “do not support projects in illegal settlements,” and to determine “whether U.S.-origin defense articles have been used in violation of existing U.S. laws.”
The letter further urges the Biden administration “to ensure that all future foreign assistance to Israel, including weapons and equipment, is not used in support of gross violations of human rights.”
“Many of us have previously written to your administration with deep concern regarding the entrenched Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian Territories, including the occupation and military siege of Gaza, and the Israeli government’s worsening systemic violations of Palestinian human rights,” the letter continues. “Those concerns have only deepened and grown more urgent under the new Israeli government.”
In an accompanying letter to colleagues, Bowman wrote: “[A]s long as the violation of Palestinian rights is permitted, the democratic and human rights of everyone in the region will remain in danger. The longer we wait to take action, the further the reality of a two-state solution — and the closer the reality of an entrenched extremist government and worsening violence in the region.”
The letter is open for signatures until Friday, March 31.
Lee, who represents Pennsylvania’s 12th District, which includes Squirrel Hill, did not yet respond to a request for comment from the Chronicle. In the lead-up to her election in November, she did not make herself available to the Chronicle for an interview and has not done so since, despite numerous requests.
In May 2021, Lee tweeted: “When I hear American pols use the refrain ‘Israel has the right to defend itself’ in response to undeniable atrocities on a marginalized pop, I can’t help but think of how the west has always justified indiscriminate & disproportionate force & power on weakened & marginalized ppl.”
She also tweeted: “The US has nvr shown leadership in safeguarding human rights of folks its othered But as we fight against injustice here in the mvmnt for Blk lives, we must stand against injustice everywhere. Inhumanities against the Palestinian ppl cannot be tolerated or justified.”
Questioned about those tweets at a town hall meeting organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Relations Council in April 2022, Lee said she believed American politicians should have spoken out on behalf of the Palestinians in the midst of fighting in Israel and the Gaza Strip in May 2021.
“That would have cost us nothing,” she said. “Instead, I saw American politicians rushing to use the phrase, ‘Israel has a right to defend itself,’” she said. “The question was, what were they defending themselves against at that moment? What that tweet was talking about is, when we are saying that a powerful entity has a right to defend itself when no one has done anything needing defense?” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.