At today’s meeting of the annual J Street conference, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., suggested that the U.S. consider conditional aid to Israel.
“I support military assistance to Israel,” said Warren’s planned remarks, referring to the aid as “the elephant in the room.”
“But if we’re serious about arresting settlement expansion and helping move the parties toward a two-state solution, then it would be irresponsible not to consider all of the tools we have at our disposal,” her speech went on. “One of those is restricting military aid from being used in the occupied territories. By continuing to provide military aid without restriction, we provide no incentive for Israel to adjust course.”
Warren’s position is consistent with the more progressive stance on Israel policy the senator has taken in recent years. Before the 2020 election cycle, Warren had come under fire for her vote on U.S. aid to Israel during the 2014 Gaza war. At the time, she defended the vote, saying, “America has a very special relationship with Israel.”
But Warren went out of her way during her presidential campaign to position herself among the new class of Democrats not afraid to question that special relationship. In October 2019, she said “everything is on the table” should Israel move away from a two-state solution, and in May 2020, she signed a letter with 18 Senate Democrats opposing Israel’s unilateral annexation of territories in the West Bank. On the campaign trail, the senator said she would push Israel to end its ongoing occupation of Palestine and denounced the country’s decision to bar Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich, and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., from entering the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Those decisions came with a price. After Warren told activists from the Jewish anti-occupation group IfNotNow that she would push Israel to end the occupation, Republicans blasted her as anti-Israel, and some even labeled her an anti-Semite. Criticisms flowed from within her own party as well. Democratic Majority for Israel, a centrist Democratic PAC working to elect pro-Israel candidates, sent a memo warning other Democratic presidential candidates about IfNotNow, advising them to stick to a script saying they supported a two-state solution.
“Warren’s support of the common-sense idea that US military funding to the Israeli government should never go toward the occupation is a huge sign of the growing support among Democratic voters to take on the foreign policy hawks who no longer have complete control over the debate,” said Morriah Kaplan, spokesperson for IfNotNow.
Mark Mellman, a longtime strategist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, launched Democratic Majority for Israel with several other Democratic strategists in 2019, aiming to curb the growing willingness among the party’s left wing to criticize the U.S. relationship with Israel and human rights abuses in the occupied territories. DMFI was the first Democratic group to run ads — with help from AIPAC — attacking Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., by name in either of his presidential campaigns. Most recently, DMFI came under criticism after a 2018 social media post surfaced from a board member who wrote, “Gaza is full of monsters. Time to burn the whole place.”
After news that Warren’s presidential campaign had hired an IfNotNow co-founder, Mellman made a personal call to her campaign manager. He wanted to make sure the staffer wasn’t working on Israel policy or Jewish outreach; Warren’s campaign assured him the staffer was not.
During the J Street speech, Warren also reiterated support for a two-state solution, condemned the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and called on Israel to help Palestinians access Covid-19 vaccines. She called on the Biden administration to restore access to the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem to Palestinians, to reopen the Palestine Liberation Organization delegation office in Washington, D.C., and to take steps to end the ongoing blockade and ensuing humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.