Progressive group pushes Democrats to tie Israel aid to settlement issue

Image: Members of IfNotNow, a Jewish progressive group, protest Breitbart N
Members of IfNotNow, a Jewish progressive group, protest Breitbart News and Steve Bannon in Beverly Hills in 2016. Copyright Ronen Tivony NurPhoto via Getty Images
Copyright Ronen Tivony NurPhoto via Getty Images
By Benjy Sarlin with NBC News Politics
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Joe Biden called the idea of placing strings on assistance to Israel "outrageous," but other 2020 Democrats are open to the idea.


WASHINGTON — As Democratic 2020 contenders debate whether to tie American aid to Israel's stance toward Palestinians, a left-wing Jewish advocacy group founded to challenge Israeli policy is launching a campaign to push politicians to commit to conditions on assistance.

IfNotNowis debuting a new platform Thursday that will ask politicians to ensure aid is used to "move towards ending the occupation and achieving freedom and dignity for all Palestinians and Israelis — and does not fund any activities of occupation, such as home demolitions, the imprisonment of Palestinian children, or Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories."

Israel currently receives $3.8 billion per yearin military aid under a 10-year agreement negotiated under President Barack Obama in 2016.

"We know the brutality of the occupation is happening, now bold action is needed," Emily Mayer, a co-founder of the group, said in an e-mail. "The time has come for concrete commitments from every elected official to do everything in their power, including leveraging military funding to Israeli government, to end the occupation."

The new effort comes as activists critical of Israel's policies are gaining ground with some Democratic front-runners in the presidential field, and touching off new debates on aid issues.

Former Vice President Joe Biden said last month it would be "absolutely outrageous" to tie military assistance to policy changes even as he criticized the Israeli government's settlement policy.

But three of the four top-polling candidates have suggested they are open to leveraging U.S. aid in order to influence Israeli policy.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., told reporters last month "everything is on the table" if she determines Israel is moving away from a two-state solution by expanding settlements. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg saidin June that he supports Israel, but that "American taxpayers won't help foot the bill" if its government annexes territory in the West Bank that the U.S. has long argued should be part of a negotiated peace deal with Palestinians.

Most recently, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said at a forum held by liberal "pro-Israel, pro-peace" group J Street that he would not give Israel "carte blanche"on aid and that they would have to improve humanitarian conditions in Gaza to receive it.

Mayer said that IfNotNow's platform went further than politicians who "will wait for the Israeli government to build more settlements or to formally extend Israeli control even further West Bank to take any real action" because it would link aid to addressing existing concerns.

A second component of their platform would commit politicians to "fighting against the threat of antisemitism and white nationalism" while "not conflating antisemitism and legitimate criticism of the Israeli government and its policy of military occupation."

IfNotNow has been publicly supportive of Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar's criticism of Israel. The Michigan lawmaker became a repeated flashpoint for debate among Democrats after making comments that many of her Jewish and Democratic colleagues said invoked anti-semitic tropes, but others within the party defended.

Israel is currently facing a wave of rocket attacks from the Gaza Stripafter an Israeli military operation killed a senior leader of Islamic Jihad, which the United States designates as a terrorist group. Biden and Buttigieg have tweeted support for Israel's right to defend itselfin response.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who clashed with the Obama administration on issues like the Iran nuclear deal, drew condemnation from a number of Democratic candidates earlier this year when he said hewould annex territory in the West Bankwithout a peace deal.

Israeli legislators arestill deciding their next leaderafter two elections in less than six month failed to produce a clear governing majority for any party.

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