Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (Wikimedia Commons).
A group of community leaders has received a pledge from Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-10th Dist.) that he would reexamine his support of a proposed bill containing lies about Israel that would prohibit Israeli military from using American tax dollars to violate international humanitarian law in its actions against the Palestinians.
Payne had signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill, Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act, proposed by Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat representing Minnesota’s 4th District, which includes St. Paul and surrounding area, which has a large number of Palestinian-Americans.
McCollum’s bill, which failed three prior times it was proposed, would “prohibit Israel from using U.S. taxpayer dollars on the military detention, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention; to support the seizure and destruction of Palestinian property and homes in violation of international humanitarian law; or on any support or assistance for Israel’s unilateral annexation of Palestinian territory in violation of international humanitarian law.”
Payne’s decision to sign on as a co-sponsor prompted a group of West Orange rabbis to send him a letter expressing their disappointment with their congressional representative and urging constituents to contact him with their disapproval.
“We were disappointed because in the past he appeared to be supportive of Israel,” said Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler, senior rabbi of congregation Ahavas Achim B’nai Jacob & David (AABJ&D). “He represents us and now we feel he is making a grave mistake.”
However, Bárbara Israel Bortniker, president of both the West Orange chapter of NORPAC and the Central New Jersey chapter of the Jewish National Fund, was among a group who met with Payne during NORPAC’s May 10 mission to Washington. They expressed deep disappointment with his co-sponsorship and received a promise that endorsement would be reexamined.
“He was very cordial,” said Bortniker. “He was there with two of his legislative aides and told us he signed on as a co-sponsor because it has something to do with helping children. We said it cynically misuses children and was only designed to slander the Israeli military and that it’s based on lies.”
Bortnicker said Payne reiterated his support for Israel and its right to exist and defend itself and had voted as such many times in the past, something her group appreciated.
However, Bortniker pointed out if Payne really wanted to help Palestinian children he should work to cut off funding for textbooks that paint a false and dangerous narrative of Israel.
“These textbooks create a culture soaked in violence and terrorism for Palestinian youths and it is perpetrated in every single subject from social studies to math,” said Bortniker. “That is really the abuse of Palestinian children that is occurring in the Palestinian education system. We said we have greater hopes not just for our own children or Israeli children, but also for Palestinian children. We want them to be educated in a way so they are not turned into martyrs, murderers and terrorists.”
The bill also ignores the Palestinian “Pay to Play” incentive system that provides cash payments to offenders with the greater the offense, the more money received by the offender and his family, noted Bortniker.
Additionally, she said the bill similarly downplays the substantial efforts Israel has made since 2015 to reform its juvenile justice system and the multiple improvements implemented, including establishment of a juvenile court system, parental notification, translation and recording practices.
Rabbi Marc Spivak of Congregation Ohr Torah was also along on the NORPAC trip and was among those who signed the letter. He said he reached out to Payne to covey not only the community’s disappointment but also that “he is ignoring a significant ally and important relationship for America.”
Other West Orange rabbis who signed the letter were Mendy Kasowitz of the Chabad of West Orange, Robert Tobin of B’nai Shalom and Yosef Sharbat, associate rabbi AAJB&D.
Other regional legislators who signed on as co-sponsors are: Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12), whose district covers parts of Middlesex, Mercer and Somerset counties and Plainfield in Union County; Rep Jamaal Bowman (D-16), whose district covers parts of the Bronx and Westchester County; and Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-14), whose district include parts of the Bronx and Queens.
McCollum’s bill is based on flawed statistics from the Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), an NGO that was designated a terror organization by Israel in 2021 based on its ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, deemed by the U.S. and European Union as a terror organization. Those ties prompted Citibank, Arab Bank and Global Giving, among others, to close their accounts with DCI-P.
Many of the claims made by DCI-P have been refuted by NGO Monitor, an independent and nonpartisan research institute dedicated to promoting transparency and accountability of NGOs claiming human rights agendas, primarily in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Since January 2018, NGO Monitor has identified approximately 90 Palestinian minors killed while engaging in violence against Israelis, including shootings, stabbings, lobbing explosives, Molotov cocktails, and stones, and other violent acts.
Among the claims made in the bill that the organization has debunked are: Israel uses military courts to try Palestinian minors; detains around 500 to 700 Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 17 each year; abuses youthful detainees and that children are not given the right to have an attorney present during proceedings.
Debra Rubin has had a long career in journalism writing for secular weekly and daily newspapers and Jewish publications. She most recently served as Middlesex/Monmouth bureau chief for the New Jersey Jewish News. She also worked with the media at several nonprofits, including serving as assistant public relations director of HIAS and assistant director of media relations at Yeshiva University.