This month, the United Nations’ Commission of Inquiry (COI) on the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel found that the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine is the root cause of the decades-long conflict in the region. But as the probe gets underway, the Israel lobby’s flagship organization, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is actively attempting to extinguish it.
In response to the inquiry led by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), members of Congress have initiated legislation to abolish the investigation in both the House and the Senate. On June 14, Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Nevada Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen introduced the COI Elimination Act S.4389. The bill is similar but not identical to H.R.7223, also called the COI Elimination Act, introduced by Representatives Gregory Steube, Vincente Gonzalez, and Joe Wilson in March.
Both bills seek to abolish the UN inquiry as well as other UN groups in order “to combat systemic anti-Israel bias at the United Nations Human Rights Council and other international fora.” The legislation also calls for restricting U.S. funding to the UNHRC by 25 percent of the amount budgeted. While the Senate bill only has three co-sponsors currently, the House version has nearly 70 signatories made up of mostly Republican representatives.
The UN inquiry came as a result of the Israeli attacks on Gaza and occupied East Jerusalem in May 2021, with the purpose of investigating human rights abuses that occurred during that period. The U.S., Israel, and 19 other countries have sharply condemned the inquiry following the release of its first report.
“We believe the nature of the COI established last May is further demonstration of long-standing, disproportionate attention given to Israel in the Council and must stop,” U.S. Ambassador to the UNHRC Michèle Taylor said during the 50th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, as the UN inquiry’s first report was being debated.
The State Department has also rebuked the UN inquiry, its spokesperson Ned Price remarking,
…[W]e firmly oppose the open-ended and vaguely defined nature of the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on the situation in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, which represents a one-sided, biased approach that does nothing to advance the prospects for peace.”
The UNHCR did not respond to press queries on the congressional bills, instead reiterating the COI’s goals and that all member states must abide by its actions. However, a UNHCR spokesperson did tell MintPress News that,
The mandate of the Commission of Inquiry was supported by a majority of member states of the Council and the allocation of a budget was then approved by the General Assembly. All members of the Human Rights Council are expected to fully cooperate with its decisions, as reaffirmed in General Assembly resolution 50/251 of 2005.”
According to Jewish Insider, AIPAC has spent this month lobbying on Capitol Hill for more members of Congress to support the COI Elimination Act as part of its first in-person National Council meeting in Washington, D.C., since the start of the pandemic.
Their efforts appear to have succeeded as nearly 40 House Representatives signed onto the bill over the last two weeks.
“It’s simply another AIPAC-driven effort to demonize the UN in order to obfuscate the cruel and inhumane realities on the ground in Israel-Palestine and to deny the apartheid nature of the state,” historian Walter L. Hixson told MintPress News.
The author of “Israel’s Armor: The Israel Lobby and the First Generation of the Palestine Conflict”, Hixon explained that AIPAC activists don’t have a secret lobbying tactic but rather pressure members of Congress through their financial clout.
“It’s what they always do,” he said. “They let them know that people who support them can get support from AIPAC and people who oppose them can expect their next campaign opponents to be funded by AIPAC.”
“It’s pretty ruthless lobbying that exerts its influence, and unfortunately there are a lot of members of Congress who are very easily swayed, unprincipled, fearful and tow the AIPAC line,” Hixson added.
In addition to lobbying members of Congress directly, AIPAC is also encouraging Americans to urge their representatives to support the legislation.
Yet they are not the only Israel lobby organization tackling the COI. Richard Goldberg, senior advisor at the Israel lobby group Foundation for Defense of Democracies published an op-ed in the New York Post railing against the COI. Pro-Israel groups B’nai B’rith International, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and the National Jewish Advocacy Center have also come out against the COI.
AIPAC has also pressured Congress on other issues during their recent Capitol Hill tour, such as continuing military aid to Israel, supporting the Stop Iranian Drones Act, and rejecting a Senate letter urging the U.S. government to investigate the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Sent last week, a letter signed by nearly half of the Democrats serving in the Senate calls on President Joe Biden to directly involve the U.S. in probing Akleh’s killing.
AIPAC talking points sent to lawmakers ahead of the letter’s publication and seen by Israeli newspaper Haaretz said “the circumstances surrounding the death of Ms. Abu Akleh remain unclear despite the hasty conclusions of various media outlets,” whereas the letter “implies both Israeli culpability and inability to conduct an objective, thorough investigation of the incident.”
AIPAC still king
While the COI Elimination Act has received significant backing, the bill’s stated purpose is far-fetched. The U.S. cannot — with a stroke of a pen — unilaterally eradicate a world agency investigation.
However, according to Hixson, the country does have considerable control over the UN and by withholding a quarter of funding (as promised within the bill) can prove detrimental to the UN’s efforts.
“The UN has always been — from its inception in 1945 — heavily influenced by the United States,” Hixson said, noting how its headquarters are in New York and the U.S. has been a longtime funder of the entity. “They can’t dictate to the UN to change a policy, but they can certainly hurt it financially and influence decision-making,” he added.
Whether the bill comes to fruition remains to be seen. But Hixson believes it has a chance, especially given that Democrats are signing onto it as well. Currently, nine Democrats have sponsored the House version and Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal has signed on to the Senate act.
Israel lobby experts have suggested that AIPAC’s influence on Capitol Hill is waning as more Democratic politicians and American Jews become increasingly critical of the Israeli government’s actions. For example, experts have speculated that AIPAC establishing political action committees last year is just a desperate attempt to cement its authority over Washington politics.
While Hixson agrees, he also asserts that AIPAC still remains quite influential. And with in-person lobbying again a feature of AIPAC’s work as pandemic restrictions dissipate, the organization may continue to see its influence balloon.
“AIPAC is very determined. They’ve increased their funding. They’ve increased their office space. They’ve increased their number of personnel,” he said. “It remains a very powerful lobby, not just for a foreign policy for a foreign country, but period. It’s as powerful as any lobby really in Washington, and probably more powerful than the gun lobby.”
Nevertheless, public support for Israel has waned substantially in the last decade, mirrored by an increasing sympathy for the Palestinian cause, especially among Democrats. According to a February Gallup poll, sympathy for Israelis has declined from 64% to 55% from 2013 to 2022 and climbed from 12% to 26% for Palestinians.
While Israel might be losing the battle for public opinion, in the realm of political influence in Washington, it is still winning the war.
Feature photo | Palestinians burn tires during a protest outside the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza City, on April 25, 2022. Majdi Fathi | NurPhoto via AP
Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.