Sacramento Region Chapter
Bay Area Chapter
Los Angeles Chapter
Santa Cruz Chapter
Santa Barbara Chapter
September 9, 2019
To: Members of the California State Legislature:
Re: DECLINE PARTICIPATION IN ISRAEL-AFFILIATED TOUR OF ISRAEL
We write to you as members and representatives of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) to urgently ask that you decline any invitation to join a delegation to Israel sponsored by an Israel-affiliated organization. Inspired by the Jewish tradition of social justice, JVP works to achieve equality and dignity for Israeli Jews and Palestinians, who are primarily Muslim and Christian, in Israel-Palestine, and to demand U.S. policies in the region – and everywhere – that are consistent with international law and human rights. JVP is one of the fastest-growing Jewish organizations in the country, with over 18,000 members and 250,000 online supporters, about 3,000 and 32,000 of these, respectively, in California alone. We have some 75 chapters across the country.
It is very likely that members of the California Legislature have been, or soon will be, invited to a tour of Israel organized by the Israeli government, together with an Israel-affiliated organization whose mission it is to drum up support for that country. Such a tour would come in the wake of the Israeli government’s refusal, at President’s Trump’s urging, to allow U.S. Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib1 and Ilhan Omar to visit Israel-Palestine because of their criticism of Israel’s human rights violations and support for the Palestinian-led boycott movement. In a press conference earlier this summer, the congresswomen spoke to the importance of U.S. lawmakers seeing for themselves “the cruel reality of the occupation.” That reality is precisely what an Israel-aligned tour is designed to conceal.
The extent to which Israel-advocacy tours are calculated to propagandize rather than to inform can be gleaned from reports about a similar tour that was arranged for California Assembly members by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) last year.2 In the same time frame that tour participants were being led around upscale cities like Tel Aviv, exclaiming over what “a happy, peaceful place” Israel is, some 60 miles away in Gaza, Israeli soldier-snipers were killing and grievously wounding unarmed civilians, including children, journalists and medics, who were protesting Israel’s 11-year blockade of the area and calling for their right to return to the villages from which they and their families had been expelled when Israel was established. And in the West Bank, some 30 miles away, hidden behind Israel’s illegal “separation wall,” the Israeli government was proceeding with plans to forcibly transfer thousands of Palestinians living in farming and shepherding communities to make way for further expansion of Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land. Although international law prohibits an occupying country from transferring any of its civilian population to the occupied land, there are now more than 700,000 Jewish settlers living in the occupied West Bank, including illegally annexed East Jerusalem.3 The settlers have full citizenship rights, while occupied Palestinians have lived under authoritarian military rule for over half a century.
If this year’s tour of Israel for California legislators were to take place, participants would similarly be shielded from learning about the ongoing weekly protests in Gaza and the continued shooting of unarmed civilians by IDF soldiers, which between March 2018, when the protests started, and a year later had resulted in more than 275 Palestinians killed and over 28,000 wounded.4 Nor would the delegation be made aware of the recent demolition of an entire Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem, part of an ongoing plan to “Judaize” that land.5
State legislators should also be aware that many of the Israeli government’s policies, which officially privilege Jewish people above all others, are inimical to the values of the California Legislature and its constituents, including, to mention only a few: the systemic detention, abuse, and imprisonment of Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank;6 Israel’s use of mandatory identification cards that distinguish between Israeli citizens based on their religion, facilitating the application of myriad discriminatory laws and practices; and its Nation-State Law passed last year, establishing Hebrew as the only official language and downgrading the status of Arabic, primary language of some 20 percent of its citizens. That law also declares Israel to be the homeland of the Jewish people only. Imagine a U.S. law declaring our country the homeland of white Christians only, not Native Americans, or people of color or of different religions.
The unprecedented refusal by the Israeli government to allow members of Congress who are charged with conducting oversight on U.S. foreign aid and human rights compliance to visit Israel-Palestine has focused attention on the realities of Israel’s oppressive and discriminatory policies. This is not a time to embark on an Israel-sponsored expedition to a mythical tolerant democracy. It is a time to reconsider unconditional U.S. support for Israel, and the annual provision to that country of $3.8 billion in taxpayer funds for military aid,
We look forward to continuing to work with you to advocate for the rights of refugees, the fight against family separation and border walls, and so much more. Knowing that you abhor such violations of human rights here, we trust you will not act to whitewash them as they are systematically applied against Palestinians in Israel-Palestine, currently intensified under the Trump administration.
Accordingly, we urgently call on you, as our representatives, to decline to take any Israel-affiliated trip to an area from which your colleagues in Congress have been banned.
On behalf of:
Jewish Voice for Peace-Sacramento
Jewish Voice for Peace-Bay Area
Jewish Voice for Peace-Los Angeles
Jewish Voice for Peace-Santa Cruz
Jewish Voice for Peace-Santa Barbara
2 See https://www.ajc.org/news/trip-to-jittery-israel-an-eye-opener-for-california-assemblymembers