Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner can do the right thing and support Middle East peace by rejecting a bill sponsored by pro-Israel activist Il Rep. Sara Feigenholtz and urge the Illinois General Assembly to support peace based on Two-States, non-violence and the respect of human rights. Rauner can also take a strong stand to defend the rights of Christian Arabs whose rights are being violated by Israel’s occupation and settler policies.
By Ray Hanania
This week, Palestinians and Israelis again battled it out in someone else’s backyard, this time in the Illinois General Assembly.
The Illinois legislature, with little publicity or public debate until the last minute after legislators committed to the bill, approved a new bill to punish critics of Israel, a foreign country with no financial ties to the state.
The bill by State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz targets institutions which have voted to divest their investments from groups that support Israeli settlements and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Jerusalem, called the “BDS” movement – Boycott, Divest, Sanction.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has been falsely told by the bill’s sponsors that the new law would fight anti-Israel bigotry, has said he will sign the bill because he opposes “anti-Semitism.”
Sadly, Rauner knows little about the Middle East conflict and even less about the civil rights abuses Israel imposes on non-Jews, especially Christian Arabs whose lands have been confiscated to support Israeli settlements.
The Feigenholtz bill, which was drafted by AIPAC, Israel’s powerful Washington D.C. lobby, strips and denies pension fund investments from any institution that supports a boycott of Israel’s oppressive policies in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. The Feigenholtz bill was introduced to the Illinois Senate by her colleague State Sen. Ira Silverstein.
The bill was characterized by Feigenholtz, a mediocre legislator with no significant legislation under her belt, as an effort to support Israel’s refusal to support the creation of a Palestinian State and Israel’s opposition to peace based on compromise.
What does Middle East policy have to do with Illinois?
Nothing. But several independent educational institutions and religious groups have voted to divest their funds from institutions that support Israel’s occupation and Israel’s brutality against Palestinians.
These institutions have turned to divestment as a means of forcing Israel to do the right thing, to respect human and civil rights of Christian and Muslim civilians in Israel and in the occupied territories.
Many Americans have been pushed by extremist Israelis to view the Palestinians as just another segment of the growing Islamicist movement. But the truth is that Palestinians are secular and include Christians, who trace their heritage back to the founding of Christianity in the Holy Land. In fact, the majority of Arabs in the United State, which is a Christian country, are not Muslim but are in fact Christians themselves from the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox religions.
“Truth” is the first victim of Feigenholtz’s legislation, which is intended to deny American citizens their constitutional rights to protest against the actions of a foreign country. Israel already siphons more than $5 billion a year from American taxpayers, money that could otherwise support reforms to help the poor, or ease the financial burden on states like Illinois, which is ranked as one of the worst in the nation when it comes to financial integrity.
The bill was passed by the Illinois Senate and this week by the Illinois House, and was sent to the desk of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who must sign the bill to make it law.
Rauner can do three things.
He can sign the bill and declare publicly that it supports civil rights abuses against Christians, who are oppressed along with others by Israeli policies in the West Bank.
He can veto the bill, forcing the legislature to go back and vote to override Rauner’s veto, which is likely. And, he can refuse to sign the bill, which is in effect a veto, which after time, the legislature can also override.
Or, he can urge both sides to go back and address the issue responsibly by replacing the Feigenholtz bill with a bill that would instead support Israeli and Palestinian peace based on two-states, non-violence and respect for human rights.
The legislature does have the votes to override a Rauner veto. But would they stand up to a bill that urges peace based on non-violence and compromise, one that recognizes Israel’s right to exist and the right of Palestinians to a state?
Feigenholtz succeeded to push this bill through the legislature because the mainstream news media in Illinois did not cover the controversy until the very last minute when approval was guaranteed.
By denying a public debate on the bill until the last minute, long after it was already supported by legislators, Feigenholtz was able to shove the bill down Rauner’s throat on the false claim that it stands up to “anti-Semitism” and defends Israel.
The Feigenholtz bill doesn’t defend Israel. But it does defend Israel’s government’s rejection of peace. And it doesn’t stand up to anti-Semitism because criticism of Israel’s many human rights violations is not anti-Semitic but principled and moral.
What Feigenholtz really wants is to distract the public away from the real issues, that Israel’s government opposes peace, rejects a Palestinian State and continues to oppress Christian and Muslim civilians in Occupied Jerusalem and the Occupied West Bank.
Most legislators who supported the bill did so because there was no vocal opposition to it until it was too late and they had already committed their support. They never understand the real issues because they only heard one side.
Governor Rauner, however, has the chance to do the right thing and put a spotlight on this bill and its true intent, and make a significant statement in support of genuine peace to protect Israeli and Palestinian rights.
Rauner could take a stand and say that he not only supports Israel’s right to exist, but he also supports the rights of Christians and Muslims to be free from occupation, oppression and the violation of their rights by extremists in the Israeli settler movement.
Rauner can support Israel without supporting the settlements or Israeli oppression. And, he can oppose anti-Semitism by not being anti-Semitic himself. Christian Arabs are Semites, too, and refusing to defend their rights is anti-Semitism.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and media consultant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)