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Apr. 29 2010 - 11:09 am | 239 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

Rep. Eric Cantor’s East Jerusalem Tea Party

Seventy-eight percent of Jewish Americans supported Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential race. Minority Whip Eric Cantor, the House of Representatives’ sole Republican Jewish member, is out to lure his religious group to his side of the political aisle by bringing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Capitol Hill.

This week, Cantor’s network of Republican neocons, settler-supporters, and fundamentalist Christians – cleverly managed by a right-wing PR operation called the Israel Project – rallied around the cause of keeping Palestinian East Jerusalem in Israeli hands. A shot across Obama’s bow for 2012.

U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA)

U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA)

As the March 10 scandal involving VP Joe Biden illustrated, as East Jerusalem goes, so goes the Obama’s plans for Middle East peace. This city, occupied by the Israeli army in 1967 and “annexed” by Israel since then, contains sites holy to Jews, Christians and Arabs and is the single most contentious issue in the conflict. It’s been getting hotter in recent years because Israeli governments have moved  to “keep” East Jerusalem – building huge “settler suburbs” for 200,000 in occupied areas to the east of the city, and allowing settler groups in city neighborhoods such as Sheikh Jarrah to take over Palestinians’ houses.

Under any peace agreement, parts of East Jerusalem are likely to be placed in the hands of an international governing authority. At least that’s the view in the pro-peace-process world.

Cantor and the Israel Project brought to Washington a highly polarizing figure: the right-wing, settler-favoring mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat. This self-made high-tech millionaire isn’t the mayor of Arab East Jerusalem under international law. He’s recognized only as the mayor of the Israeli city of West Jerusalem, where the Knesset is. But he talked a good game, and his handlers sponsored a press dinner and got him several interviews in the U.S. media:

…. he said there was no flexibility on Jerusalem, which he said must remain as one under Israeli sovereignty. “There is no good example of a split city that ever worked,” he said. “Giving Palestinians any grip on East Jerusalem is putting a Trojan horse for Jews in Jerusalem.”

What Mayor Barkat didn’t say: He has favored cleansing East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood of dozens of Palestinian homes to build a Zionist/Biblical theme park called the City of David and the Garden of King Solomon, created by the settler organization Elad. He has championed a settlers’ housing project in the middle of Arab East Jerusalem that is a direct slap in the face of the United States – it’s named after convicted traitor Jonathan Pollard, serving a life sentence for selling American intelligence to Israel. [Right-wing Israelis who support Pollard forget that he also passed classified information to South Africa and Australia and attempted to sell information to Pakistan.]

A Palestinian map shows in blue "Greater Jerusalem," an Israeli plan to unite the occupied city of East Jerusalem with the Israeli city of West Jerusalem, creating a much larger city. The international community does not recognize East Jerusalem as part of Israel; the issue is supposed to be negotiated under an internationally-mediated peace process.

A map from the European Union-funded Palestinian NGO, Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem, shows in blue "Greater Jerusalem," an Israeli plan to unite the occupied city of East Jerusalem with the Israeli city of West Jerusalem, creating a much larger city. The international community does not recognize East Jerusalem as part of Israel; the issue is supposed to be negotiated under an internationally-mediated peace process.

Politico noted that an Israeli government spokesman carefully stayed away from endorsing Barkat: “‘The mayor of Jerusalem is an independently elected official on a visit that he arranged,’ the spokesman said.”

Barkat’s fact-twisting preceded him, thanks to the NGO Americans for Peace Now. Before he reached the U.S., APN circulated a document called  “Top 10 Myths Likely to be Heard from Nir Barkat.”

But will the mayor’s appeal – clearly contrary to the sharing-Jerusalem philosophy of the Obama administration – affect how American Jews vote in 2012? Eli Lake in the Washington Times speculated:

Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, ….  noted that Democrat Ted Deutch, who won a special election in Florida’s 19th Congressional District for the seat of Robert Wexler on April 13, received Jewish votes by the same wide margins as Mr. Wexler had.

“If Republicans, as they say every election cycle for at least 18 years, are correct that Jewish votes are turning to their party, you’d think they would see it in the last special election, which took place in the most heavily Jewish congressional district in the country,” Mr. Forman said.

Still, [Matthew Brooks from the Republican Jewish Coalition] said he is advising Republicans to make an issue of Israel in November.

“What we are advising Republicans in those races are to ask difficult questions to the Democrats running,” he said. “Do you stand with Obama and his pressuring of Israel, or do you stand with the Jewish community? We are going to have it so Democrats are going to have [to] pick a side.”

Polls have consistently shown that American Jews support the U.S. playing an active roll in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – the most recent poll last month found 82% in favor. Still, there’s likely to be some slippage to the right among members of this community who don’t support the notion of a shared Jerusalem.  Some of these folks might stay with Obama if he makes significant progress on sanctions against Iran – another of Cantor’s big issues.

If Obama can’t make measurable progress on the two issues that matter to this essential part of the Democratic tent – a peace process and Iran sanctions – we’ll probably be seeing the Republicans moving in aggressively – and cynically – to capture the vote of Jewish Americans. And more of Eric Cantor’s “East Jerusalem tea parties.”

Follow @Peacemakersblog on Twitter.


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  1. collapse expand

    I work in the same building as the Iraeli consulate in my city. Several times a month a group of Jewish activists (unfortunately I forget the group’s name, it may be Jews Against the Occupation) protest in front of the building, hand out information about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and answer questions about their position.

    I would hope that such organizations are having an impact, and that more Jews in North America are questioning the actions of Israel.

    Unfortunately there appears to be a generational divide. The activists appear to be of an older generation; while university campuses continue to be the cites of conflict between supporters of Israel and supporters of Palestine.

    People need to realize that Israel is just like any other country in the world: capable of oppression and focused on self-aggrandizement. Especially citizens of settler states, like the USA, Canada and Australia. Those who regret the genocide of aboriginal peoples (a group which should include anyone with a soul) should recognize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for what it is – colonization and resistance to colonization – and try to prevent Palestinians from suffering the same fate as too many peoples in the world.

  2. collapse expand

    The tea-baggers are just a sad group of old, white, rich, malcontent republicans who hate blacks, hispanics, asians, the middle class and the poor and hate the fact that we have a black president. When they howl “take back America!!!” they mean to take it back from the minorities. Luckily the middle class and the poor far outnumber the tea-baggers so they will have little effect in November. Mark Montgomery NYC, NY 10036 boboberg@nyc.rr.com

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    About Me

    I'm a former Wall Street Journal defense, technology, and telecomm reporter and helped launch the Friday Weekend Journal as a contributing writer. For the past several years I have been a writer, editor, and communications professional for international NGOs in human rights, microcredit, and advocacy. Currently working on an anti-genocide project at a Washington, DC, think tank.

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