The Minnesota Legislature has important state issues to consider. U.S. foreign policy is not one of them. So it’s a bit of a head-scratcher that seven Minnesota legislators are this month touring Israel and the occupied West Bank on a trip coordinated by the local Jewish Community Relations Council. (“Minnesota lawmakers to travel to West Bank, Israel,” Dec. 1).
Israel and its American supporters court U.S. officeholders, inviting them to see for themselves the accomplishments of Israel and, presumably, influence public opinion. Visitors to Israel quickly sense the country’s prevailing winds of expanding Western capitalism, technology, real estate development and — above all — control. Control of the land. Control of its people. Control of the story. It is that last aspect of control that compels American supporters of Israel to arrange tours for U.S. officials.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, is a prominent legislator on the tour. In a statement, she said she wants to learn about “the complex political and security issues facing Israel and the region.” Such language is often code for justifying Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestinian territory, including the arrest and imprisonment without trial of Palestinians — even children. It is also used to justify controversial laws aggressively promoted by Israel’s lobbyists. Such laws aim to discourage American citizens from participating in the international BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Sadly, Minnesota is one of 27 states that have passed such laws.
Considering that ill-considered venture into foreign policy, the current legislators’ tour of Israel and the West Bank seems relevant to our state government after all. Thanks to the Minnesota Legislature, someone like me could not get a state job or contract, because I support the BDS movement.
BDS is a nonviolent means of confronting injustice, consistent with my religious convictions and my right as an American to express myself. When our legislators now traveling in Israel and the West Bank return, I hope they will be inspired to take another look at the shameful, anti-BDS legislation they passed and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton signed in 2017.
Speaker Hortman also expressed interest in seeing sites central to her Catholic faith. As a Catholic, I was interested in the same thing when I traveled to the region two years ago. I returned home profoundly sad, convinced that Jesus’s message of love, peace and justice are consigned to the occupied powerless in the land of his birth. As the speaker’s tour exits Israeli territory and crosses into the West Bank, will she see what I saw there?
Israel’s 52-year occupation of the Palestinian West Bank is illegal in the view of the United Nations, the overwhelming majority of countries and international law. Also, contrary to international law, Israel has allowed about 600,000 settlers to establish Jewish-only colonies or settlements there, taking Palestinian land, building Jewish-only towns and claiming water rights throughout the territory. The pattern of illegal development is so extensive it is no longer possible to imagine that a viable Palestinian state could exist there.
In the West Bank, Israeli newcomers live under regular Israeli law, protected by the Israeli army, while Palestinians live under repressive military law. The similarities to South Africa’s racist and widely condemned apartheid are impossible not to see and hear. The caged lines of Palestinians waiting to pass through military checkpoints. Heartbreaking stories of Palestinian families trying to hold onto their lands in a neocolonial system stacked against them. Huge refugee camps in Bethlehem packed with Palestinians displaced from ancestral homes. Arid Palestinian communities surrounded by gleaming new Jewish-only settlements, some with swimming pools.
Will our Minnesota legislators see and hear the reality of the West Bank? If they do, I think they may understand why it is wrong for them to discriminate against me and many other Minnesotans who support BDS, who wish no harm to Israelis but simply want equal rights, equal treatment and a just future for all the indigenous people of Palestine, including those displaced by the establishment of Israel in 1948.
As our traveling legislators see and hear the stories of Israelis and Palestinians, I hope they listen with American ears and consider the American values of equality implied when they took the oath of office to serve in the Minnesota Legislature. What have they seen and heard that could or should affect our state’s “foreign policy”? They owe it to Minnesotans to tell us.
Mary Christine Bader is a writer who lives in Wayzata.