Biden needs to find the ‘will’ to pursue Israel-Palestine peace, a congressional ally says
CHICAGO: President Joe Biden needs to find the “will” to do the right thing and push Israelis and Palestinians together to achieve peace, one of his strongest supporters in Congress told Arab News Wednesday.
Congresswoman Marie Newman, a Democrat, said the issue of Palestine and Israel is important to her constituents in her former 3rd District, and even more so in the newly drawn 6th District where she is running for re-election in the June 28, 2022 Democratic Primary election.
Newman has been an outspoken critic of the Israeli government’s harsh policies toward Palestinians, including the home confiscations in Sheikh Jarrah and several other human rights violations. But she insisted she supports Israel and the Biden administration, explaining that getting both to do the right thing is not something to be criticized for.
“I wish the answer was yes, Ray, I just don’t think it is there. I think it is not a priority for them. And as much as I scream about it, Rashida screams about it, and Ilhan. There are 10 of us that talk to the State Department regularly about this and it has not been prioritized. We fight, we fight. We fight. Because every fight starts with one person. Then it grows to 10. And then it grows to a thousand. We have to fight,” Newman said.
“It is all about will. We could go in and start peace talks … and it would take some finessing … because there are many members of Palestine’s various areas that would have to be represented, because there is not just one government entity there. With regards to Israel, we would have to get them to the table. But here is what is important. I am never a fan of forcing what someone’s governmental model should be. Getting them together is the main (aim), convening the stakeholders is our job. The US’ job. If they chose a one-state option, a two-state option, a federated model, a Belgium model, I am okay with it because they chose it as a team. So, let’s let the people who live in the place decide. Let’s not … I shouldn’t be deciding for them. The American government should not be deciding for them. But it is our job as the leader of the free world to bring them together and to have peace talks and help them get to a place where both can live freely, equally and in justice.”
Newman unseated an entrenched conservative Democrat in March 2020 to represent the 3rd Congressional District which had the largest concentration of Palestinians and Muslims of any of the nation’s 435 congressional districts. Pro-Israel Democrats redrew the district merging it with the 6th District forcing her to face-off on June 28, 2022 with another Democrat, Congressman Sean Casten, hoping Newman might be forced out.
But Newman said the Palestinian, Arab and South Asian Muslim community has doubled in size making the need to speak to Palestinian and Arab needs that much more of an imperative. Newman said nearly 10 percent of the old 3rd District was Palestinian, Arab and South Asian Muslim; the same community in the newly drawn 6th District is “closer to 18 percent.”
Newman praised Biden for supporting many important issues and sponsoring policies to help Americans, but she said the Palestine-Israel conflict is an “additive” issue in his administrative.
“Let’s be very clear. This is additive. Has he done some great things with foreign policies? Is he handling Ukraine well and all those things? But when it comes to Israel and Palestine, we are very conflict-diverse because Israel is a close ally of ours. And it should remain a close ally of ours,” Newman said.
“But let’s be clear. This (supporting Palestine rights) is additive. It is not critical (to Biden). I am saying now is the time to start addressing the issue. Add it to the top of your priority list. It is additive.”
As a result of supporting Palestinian rights, Newman has been attacked as being “anti-Semitic.” The freshman congresswoman has sponsored and supported several pieces of legislation and endorsed resolutions that have criticized Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.
She remains resolute despite the personal attacks: “You can’t be afraid to do the right thing. The right thing, is the right thing.” She said it is becoming easier for members of Congress to support Palestinian rights because American attitudes, especially among the younger generation, are steadily changing.
“At the end of the day, what was even controversial five years ago is not controversial now. The sentiment around Palestine and Israel has really gotten to be a much more realistic look at what the state of the situation is. Years ago, people would just say Israel could do no wrong. Everybody wants Israel to be at peace and be prosperous,” Newman said,
“But when the government and the military mistreat the Palestinians, that is absolutely wrong and I will not stand for it. And humanitarian rights are humanitarian rights. And this is not about religion or anything else. This is about treating humans correctly and that is really where all this is rooted in.”
Newman insisted that criticizing Israel’s government is legitimate and that she is offended by attacks from pro-Israel extremists and even extremist members of Congress who have labeled her “anti-Semitic.”
She said being called anti-Semitic is “infuriating” and very hurtful to her husband, who is Jewish.
“I think you know that my husband is Jewish. I am called anti-Semitic on social media, members of Congress called me anti-Semitic. It is so upsetting to my husband and his family when that happens,” Newman explained.
“I am saying hey Israel, you cannot steal homes. You cannot disrupt people’s lives. You cannot drag people out of their homes and take their homes away from them. No. First of all, it is incredibly immoral but secondly you wouldn’t allow that in France. You wouldn’t allow that in Canada. You wouldn’t allow that in Korea. Why do you let Israel, without speaking up? So we criticize our ally Israel and say, wow, you have a huge humanitarian rights violation issue here. Huge.”
Newman acknowledged there are some in the Arab and Muslim community who want her to be even tougher in her criticism of Israel, but she said that she works closely with the community to get them to understand the reality of achieving peace.
“Because I am close to the community they understand, now, that I mean that Israel should be free, and be their own sovereign entity and be able to prosper and be their own nation. Israel has a right to exist now, too. I want both of them to live in peace and I think they really understand that,” Newman said.
“I think my ability to understand the complexity and the everchanging nature of what is on the ground there is emblematic. And I think people now trust that I constantly seek information and counsel because it is an everchanging situation. What we don’t want is war. We are pro-peace and pro-justice. And I think the community really understands that is my goal, is that we just want freedom for the Palestinians. The occupation is bad for Israel and Palestine, by the way. It is a horrible thing for both of them. It’s not a sustainable model moving forward. It is completely untenable.”
Newman strongly supported a resolution introduced to Congress in May that recognized the Palestinian “Nakba,” the Arabic word for “catastrophe.” Last year, Newman urged Biden to stop Israel’s evictions of Palestinians from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
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