Rep. Betty McCollum: ‘Not one U.S. tax dollar for taking Palestinian lands’

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: Chairwoman Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) questions witnesses on the Indian Health Service response to the Covid-19 pandemic during a House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies hearing on June 11, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum wants to stop American tax dollars from funding human rights abuses of the Israeli government’s continued occupation of Palestinian territory.

Before the latest 11-day war left more than 230 Palestinians and 12 Israelis dead, McCollum introduced a bill in April that would prohibit Israel from using the roughly $3.3 billion in foreign aid it receives from the United States each year for the military detention of Palestinian children, the demolition of Palestinian homes or the annexation of land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

“My bill says not one dollar of U.S. taxpayer funds are going to go for the demolition of homes, for the ill-treatment of children and for taking Palestinian lands,” McCollum said in an interview on Reformer Radio.

The latest bout of violence was spurred, in part, by the threat of more Palestinian families being forcibly removed from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

“The only way we’re going to achieve peace is to end the occupation,” McCollum said. “I’m watching the possibility of a meaningful two-state solution slip away every time there’s another expansion of a settlement.”

McCollum said her bill, if passed, is unlikely to stop Israeli expansion or even help bring about a peaceful solution — “I can’t control what Israel does with its money.” But on principle, she believes Israel needs to account for the aid it receives from the United States, and that taxpayers aren’t funding human rights abuses.

“Typically, the US always puts conditions on foreign aid,” McCollum said. “We put conditions on money even here when we give it to states and non-profits.”

McCollum, whose district covers St. Paul, Ramsey County and most of Washington County, has been one of Congress’s longest-standing advocates for Palestinian human rights and critics of the Israeli occupation. It was once a lonely and politically precarious stance in Congress, before her position was bolstered by a new generation of Democratic lawmakers.

For her advocacy of Palestine and criticism of Israel, McCollum has found herself more than once on the receiving end of political attacks from the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. Last year, they ran ads calling her antisemitic and insinuated she and  U.S. Reps Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib were greater threats to Israel than ISIS.

Back in 2006, when criticizing Israel was still largely taboo in Congress, she voted against a bill that would have put harsh sanctions on the Palestinian Authority, cutting off humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

By McCollum’s telling, an AIPAC lobbyist tried to intimidate her, telling her chief of staff her “support for terrorists” will not be tolerated. But she clapped back and actually banned them from her offices for a time, demanding a formal apology.

“I stand up to bullies. I have my whole life,” McCollum said. “I knew I was on the side of doing what was right. So I was not intimidated.”

Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.