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A northern California peace organization has inscribed the name of Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) on its “peacemaker” wall despite objections by Palestinian activists.
The Sebastopol Living Peace Wall honored Lee at a ceremony September 11. But pro-Palestinian activists opposed the congresswoman’s inclusion on the wall, saying she does not support justice for people in Palestine.
The activists, some of whom are themselves inscribed on the peace wall, met with a director for the wall project in July, but he declined to honor their concerns, contending you can’t expect anyone to be 100 percent pure. The activists countered that they don’t require purity, they just want consistency; a person who is being honored as “peacemaker” should not have a history of picking and choosing whose peace and whose justice they want to support.
Barbara Lee originally agreed to attend the ceremony at the Living Peace Wall, as did former Congress member Lynn Woolsey, who planned to introduce Lee to the audience. But two days before the event, The Press Democrat, a widely read local newspaper, published a story about opposition to the award from Sonoma and Mendocino County activists who support peace and justice for Palestine.
The story mentioned that there would be pro-Palestinian signs in the audience, and that one of the other recipients, Mary Moore, was planning to address Lee directly in her remarks.
“I am going to turn to her and say, ‘I hope you will join us,’” Moore said. “I plan to be respectful, I really do.”
The day of the event, Lee informed the Living Peace Wall committee that she would not be attending the ceremony, citing other obligations. Lynn Woolsey did not attend to accept the award on Lee’s behalf, nor did Lee send a representative from her office to accept the award.
The Sebastopol Living Peace Wall committee honors four “peacemakers” each year and inscribes their names on the concrete wall, which stands at the southeast entrance to the city of some 8,000 residents. A selection committee chooses three activists from the local community and one from outside the area.
Lee has served as a representative for California’s 13th Congressional District since 1988. The district includes the cities of Alameda, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, Piedmont and San Leandro, and is considered a bastion of progressive politics.
While in Congress, she has been a staunch supporter of many progressive causes, such as Medicare for All, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, and reducing military spending, among others. But she is best known for her lone vote against giving then-President George Bush carte blanche to wage war against Iraq following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Her autobiography is titled “Renegade for Peace and Justice.”
But Palestine activists say she has failed to be a renegade for justice in Palestine, siding instead with the mainstream of the Democratic Party, which has staunchly supported Israel with $146 billion (not adjusted for inflation) since World War II. They call her a PEP, which means Progressive Except for Palestine.
For example, at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Lee stood with the Bernie Sanders delegates on several issues, including a $15 minimum wage, climate change proposals, Medicare for All, and a fracking moratorium. But she refused to support those delegates’ attempt to bring a more balanced approach to the Palestine/Israel issue. That attempt included a call for the end to Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and to Israel’s creation of illegal settlements within those territories. The effort also aimed for the platform to include a neutral stance toward the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
Currently, Lee is declining to co-sponsor Rep. Betty McCollum’s (D-MN) House bill 2590, which would prohibit Israel from using U.S. taxpayer dollars on the military detention, abuse, and ill-treatment of Palestinian children. It would also prohibit Israel from using U.S. military aid to support the seizure and destruction of Palestinian property and homes in violation of international law. The bill is called “The Defending the Rights of Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act.”
In July, the Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, which is chaired by Lee, approved a bill with $7.2 billion in aid for Israel. That included the $3.8 billion allocated yearly by the Obama administration, plus another $3.4 billion in aid which directly or indirectly benefits Israel.
The Palestine activists contend it is time for Lee to join the newest crop of Black congressional leaders, like Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman, who recognize that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is similar to the oppression of Black people in America. This time she would not have to stand alone.
Lois Pearlman is a theater artist, journalist and activist. She has written and performed a one-woman show about Manhattan housing hero Jean Herman, called Last of the Red Hot Tenants. Currently she is working with activist Mary Moore on Ms. Moore’s biography.