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Democrats pushing against Biden confront ossified views

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On 17 July, the AP finally called New York’s 16th congressional district primary in favor of Jamaal Bowman over long-time incumbent and staunch Israel supporter Eliot Engel.

Bowman is overwhelmingly expected to win the general election in November.

 

Bowman, formerly a middle school principal, stands with Justice Democrats and is a harbinger of change in the Democratic Party. He has been open about his support for Palestinian rights.

His victory has put anti-Palestinian racists such as Newsweek op-ed editor Josh Hammer on notice.

Bowman, for his part, wrote recently of his concern for Palestinian rights, stating that “the uprising we’re witnessing across the country against police violence also makes me empathize with the everyday experience and fear that comes with living under occupation.”

He added: “Just as the police force is a violent intimidating force in so many Black communities, I can connect to what it feels like for Palestinians to feel the presence of the military in their daily lives in the West Bank.”

DNC’s anti-Palestinian racism

The Democratic National Committee’s platform drafting committee, however, does not share Bowman’s courage. Its first platform draft didn’t even note the Israeli occupation.

The draft seen by The Electronic Intifada on Tuesday still omits that word. (The entire platform can be seen here or below, including the final three paragraphs where Israeli and Palestinian concerns are raised.)

There’s a generational and racial chasm between Bowman, an African American previously subjected to police brutality, and presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, some 30 years his senior. By comparison, Biden was instrumental in writing the 1994 crime law and so delighted in its becoming law that he boasted Democrats were now for “60 new death penalties,” “70 enhanced penalties,” “100,000 cops” and “125,000 new state prison cells.”

Biden is a career politician who has been in politics for decades and has provided military aid and excuses for Israel for nearly as long. He is also a white man with frequent words of praise for his experiences working with white segregationist leaders.

But today Biden is leading a Democratic Party that is rapidly changing around him. He seems unwilling to keep up when it comes to holding Israel accountable for denying Palestinians their freedom and rights.

During a CODEPINK webinar on Tuesday, James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, expressed frustration at the Democrats’ failure to employ the word occupation and to put limits on Israeli actions.

Zogby worked on the 2016 platform and was a member of the executive committee of the DNC from 2001-2017.

The draft supports a two-state solution and opposes Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank. Yet it refuses to take any concrete action against annexation by failing to touch the $3.8 billion in annual US military aid to Israel.

“Our commitment to Israel’s security, its qualitative military edge, its right to defend itself and the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding is ironclad,” the draft document states.

It rejects the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian freedom and equal rights save as a free speech right. In the words of the draft: “We oppose any effort to unfairly single out and delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, while protecting the Constitutional right of our citizens to free speech.”

The free speech protection is an improvement over the 2016 platform.

Much like 2016, when Zogby and public intellectual Cornel West raised profound concerns about Israeli actions on behalf of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, this time it fell to Sanders’ senior adviser Josh Orton to voice objections.

Biden and his platform accomplices are, for the most part, trying to drag the party backwards – or at least prevent a progressive plank from being passed.

“The Israeli right wing and, unfortunately, their US supporters, have long sought to erase the occupation,” Orton noted. “We shouldn’t help them. And a growing and just movement within our party believes that US aid should not be used to facilitate annexation and violate Palestinian rights.”

He added, “At a time when hundreds of thousands of Americans have been marching in our streets for equality and civil rights, it is absolutely necessary for the Democratic Party to speak truthfully to the Palestinians’ efforts to secure those same rights.”

Last week over 200 Democratic delegates pushed back with a letter voicing their concerns. They “fully support efforts to withhold $3.8 billion in military aid to Israel as it unilaterally annexes the Israeli-occupied Jordan Valley.” That annexation has not yet occurred, but has been repeatedly threatened.

Notably, they also urged support for the efforts of Congresswomen Pramila Jayapal, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who “are calling on the US government to place conditions and limitations on the continuation of military aid to Israel for settling and stealing the Jordan Valley from the Palestinians.”

That theft is routine – as it is in Jerusalem – and is sure to continue whether or not annexation occurs.

California Democratic National Convention delegate Sam Hindi, who helped draft the letter, said, “We felt that some in the Democratic Party leadership have been out of step with Democatic voters on this issue for some time. With potential annexation looming, it is past time for the Party to reaffirm the position of Democratic voters and support human rights and self-determination for Palestinians.”

Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian American human rights attorney and a national delegate to the Democratic National Convention, told The Electronic Intifada that “the language reflects an intent to continue uncritical support of Israel” as it refuses “to hold Israel accountable for its rampant human rights violations and abuses.”

She noted it also opposes the “efforts of others to hold Israel accountable.”

Changing views

Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) has presented its own recent polling which flies in the face of Democratic trendlines and Hindi’s view by suggesting that Democrats overwhelmingly support a strong pro-Israel platform.

In fact, a staggering 81 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of independents say if a two-state solution is not an option, “I favor Israel’s democracy more than its Jewishness. I support a single democratic state in which Arabs and Jews are equal even if that means Israel would no longer be a politically Jewish state.”

Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development and Director of the Critical Issues Poll at the University of Maryland, also noted that in an October poll 66 percent of Democrats “back sanctions or stronger measures against Israeli settlements,” while in a March poll 81 percent of Democrats agreed it’s “acceptable” or even the “duty” of members of Congress to “question the U.S.-Israeli relationship.”

But Biden’s Democratic Party is stuck in antiquated views of the rights of Palestinians. Tony Blinken, Biden’s foreign policy adviser, in May told a DMFI online audience that Biden “would not tie military assistance to Israel to any political decisions that it makes, period, full stop.”

While over 500 Palestinian children, including four boys playing on a beach six years ago this month, were being killed during Israel’s 2014 military onslaught on Gaza, Blinken viewed the matter through the prism of Israeli military concerns – and continues to do so.

In Blinken’s view and Biden’s, Palestinians and Palestinian rights are very much a secondary consideration. They promote wording that “ensures Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state,” which by definition makes Palestinian citizens of Israel second-class citizens.

Biden is willing to concede that annexation is a problem, but he’s unwilling to take meaningful measures against it. Likewise, he’s willing to concede that American activists have a free speech right to pursue BDS, but he’s unprepared to recognize that Israel’s actions to destroy the two-state solution require moving on to a campaign for equal rights for all between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea.

Biden and Blinken are living in the past and lack the courage to take meaningful actions in the present.

If victorious against the vicious but inept Donald Trump in the midst of a raging pandemic that has overwhelmed the president and his incompetent subordinates in the White House, Democrats should anticipate that Biden will reject unilateral Israeli actions in the West Bank (minus occupied East Jerusalem).

But he can be expected to back the Israeli military vigorously in its subjugation of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. That means more pain and death for Palestinians subjected to the might of the US-funded Israeli military.

Trump’s actions on Jerusalem will not be reversed.

Finally, Biden will fight the BDS movement while demanding that Palestinians display an inexhaustible reserve of patience in the face of oppression, inequality and occupation.

Sadly, confronting racism for the ascendent part of Biden’s Democratic Party is less a matter of justice and more a response to the power of constituents as a voting bloc. Biden is changing now on racial equity issues because it’s the surest route to the White House, not because he has a strong history on such matters.

This does, however, suggest that grassroots Democrats active on Palestine should fight him at every turn and pressure him to be responsive. He’s not going to do the right thing simply on merit. He might if grassroots realities force his hand.

And as Zeina Ashrawi Hutchison, a human rights activist and a national delegate to the Democratic National Convention, stressed to The Electronic Intifada, “The Biden campaign still has time before the convention and the November elections to show that they value Palestinian human rights substantively. The platform should include accountability for Israel and equality for both peoples. I look forward to seeing improvements reflected in the DNC platform and in Biden’s foreign policy.”

Hutchison is right to hope and push for change. A political party that claims to be seized with racial justice issues can hardly be taken seriously if it refuses even to name an occupation. The Democrats assert they oppose annexation of Palestinian territory, but what’s the use if they won’t go on record threatening to cut the military funding to the power already illegally settling the Jordan Valley and elsewhere?




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