Right-wing Israelis, and their supporters in the United States, have spent the last 48 hours venting their fury at Sen. Elizabeth Warren, since the Massachusetts Democrat told a young Jewish activist that she would press Israel to end its military rule over millions of disenfranchised Palestinians in territories it seized by force in 1967.
To be more precise, Warren’s critics, led by the Republican Jewish Coalition, have expressed outrage that she said, “yes — so, I’m there,” when asked, as she campaigned for the presidency in New Hampshire on Monday, if she would commit to push the Israeli government “to end occupation.”
While the various means of Israeli control of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights remain an occupation under international law, and the need for “an end to the occupation” was described as essential by a Republican president, George W. Bush, just over a decade ago, Israel’s far-right government now considers even using the word “occupation” to be an unpardonable slur.
The success of this Israeli effort to change the terms of the debate explains why video of Warren’s comment has been described in the right-wing echo chamber as the candidate being “caught on camera” endorsing an “attack on Israel” that is tantamount to anti-Semitism.
In fact, Warren’s comments were not recorded secretly, they were filmed openly by IfNotNow, a group of young American Jews who want their community’s support for the Israeli occupation to end, as one of their members, Becca Lubow, posed for a photo with the senator at a public event.
What’s perhaps most remarkable about the attempt to smear Warren as an anti-Semite is that her acknowledgement that the territories are indeed occupied, rather than contested or disputed, echoes not just the longstanding position of every American president before Donald Trump but famous remarks made 16 years ago by an ultranationalist Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon.
Sharon, who was one of Israel’s most revered military leaders, told fellow members of the right-wing Likud party in 2003 that a political solution to the conflict with the Palestinians was necessary because “the idea that we can continue holding under occupation — and it is occupation, you might not like this word, but it’s really an occupation — to hold 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation is, in my opinion, a very bad thing for us and for them.”
WATCH Fifteen years ago the Israeli prime minister and longtime hawk and backer of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, Ariel Sharon, said the occupation has to end. #TBT— Yachad UK (@YachadUK) December 6, 2018
"To hold 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation, is, in my opinion, a very bad thing." pic.twitter.com/7NBgnzAt5n
“It cannot continue forever,” Sharon said, referring specifically to Israel’s military rule over the West Bank. “Do you want to stay forever in Jenin, in Nablus, in Ramallah, in Bethlehem? I don’t think that’s right.”
Another Jewish leader who sees the end of the occupation as vital to the future of not just Palestinians, but also Israelis, is Sen. Bernie Sanders. At the end of the last Democratic presidential primary, representatives of Sanders tried, and failed, to amend the 2016 Democratic party platform to include language calling for “an end to occupation and illegal settlements.” That amendment was opposed by representatives of Hillary Clinton, and the platform’s final text called only for a negotiated end to the conflict “that guarantees Israel’s future as a secure and democratic Jewish state with recognized borders and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity.”
Two weeks ago, while again campaigning for the presidency, Sanders agreed pose with IfNotNow activists in New Hampshire behind a “Jews Against the Occupation” sign.
Our members in NH just asked @BernieSanders if he’s also an anti-Occupation Jew and looks like the answer is YES!— IfNotNow? (@IfNotNowOrg) June 29, 2019
Learn more about us bringing the crisis of Israel’s military occupation over Palestinians to 2020 elections w/this exclusive from @Politico: https://t.co/JrGmtzDZE1 pic.twitter.com/IRhyLCMNgN
In 2016, the Sanders campaign briefly employed one of the founders of the IfNotNow movement, Simone Zimmerman, as its Jewish outreach director. Just as Sanders became more openly critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, Zimmerman was forced out of the campaign over an old Facebook post in which she had directed an obscenity at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Another IfNotNow founder, Max Berger, recently joined Warren’s 2020 campaign. He was instantly attacked by a Republican blogger who misunderstood some Twitter banter from 2013, in which Berger had joked about a debunked report from the right-wing blogger Ben Shapiro that Sen. Chuck Hagel had received donations from a nonexistent group called “Friends of Hamas.”