With Obama Signing Statement, the Conflation Campaign Must Stop

On February 24th, Congress sent HR 644, known as the “Customs Bill,” to President Obama's desk. As we has been reporting for the past year, this bill includes a provision that, while ostensibly about countering the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel, is in truth about legitimizing settlements and for the first time in history legislating U.S. support for and defense of Israel's settlement enterprise and the occupation that enables it. The provision achieves this by conflating Israel and the occupied territories, in effect requiring the U.S. to treat both as sovereign Israel.

As long predicted by APN, when President Obama signed HR 644 into law shortly after it reached his desk, he issued a signing statement observing (correctly) that the conflation of Israel and settlements contradicts longstanding U.S. foreign policy and violates the Executive's constitutional foreign policy prerogative, and declaring that this conflation would not be implemented.

Like President George W. Bush, who in 2002 issued a similar signing statement in response to a Congressional effort to change longstanding U.S. foreign policy regarding Jerusalem, President Obama deserves credit for defending the Executive's prerogative in the conduct of foreign policy and diplomacy. This prerogative was confirmed emphatically and to a degree unprecedented in U.S. history by the Supreme Court last year. The Court did so, ironically, in its ruling on the Jerusalem law that President Bush declared unconstitutional.

These two cases – Congress seeking to legislate a change in U.S. policy on Jerusalem and now on settlements –highlight why the drafters of the Constitution vested foreign policy in the hands of the executive, where it is to a greater degree insulated from reckless efforts that, for the purposes of grandstanding and populist point scoring, would move U.S. foreign policy in a direction that is anathema to U.S. national security interests.

APN has followed, reported on, and vociferously opposed the “settlements=Israel” provision in the Customs Bill since its inception, along with similar provisions in other legislation. APN has also repeatedly raised concerns about AIPAC and other Jewish community groups who advocated and lobbied for this provision, and their consistently dishonest or disingenuous insistence that it is merely about BDS.

The fact that AIPAC and its fellow travelers have actively sought to obscure the real intent of these legislative efforts, hiding behind false claims that these measures are merely about stopping BDS, underscores their own awareness of the fact that openly advocating for settlements would find little support among the same American Jews they claim to represent. Indeed, such a campaign would likely divide the American Jews to a degree unseen since the early 1990s, when AIPAC opposed then-Prime Minister Rabin's efforts, backed by President Clinton, to launch the peace process with the Palestinians.

Looking ahead, it is clear that advocates of the settlements plan to continue to try to exploit concerns about BDS against Israel to legislate the "settlements=Israel" conflation wherever they can. Numerous pieces of legislation are pending in Congress, including measures that are expected to be key "asks" in next month's AIPAC policy conference. Likewise, numerous states are considering, and some have already passed, their own "settlements=Israel" measures.

It's not too late for AIPAC and other groups to desist from this dishonest campaign and cease efforts to hijack concerns about BDS against Israel in order to legitimize settlements. It's not too late for them to recognize that by refusing to distinguish between Israel and the occupied territories, they are only making common cause with and strengthening the BDS movement. They are, in effect, advocating for a mirror image of the outcome sought by many in BDS movement: a zero-sum goal of one nation, Greater Israel or Palestine, extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

Failing that, AIPAC and others backing this campaign, both at the federal and state level, must come clean to legislators and the American people about the real purpose of these efforts: not combating BDS but legitimizing settlements and the occupation. At least, then, Americans and American Jews who care about Israel – including elected officials – could have an honest debate about what is being proposed and what is at stake.

APN will continue to track, report on, and vociferously oppose all such measures. APN will likewise continue to both oppose BDS against Israel and support boycotts and other activism targeting settlements and the occupation.