Advocates for the rights of Palestinians will join Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the City of Brotherly Love this July for the Democratic National convention, part of his five selections for the fifteen member Executive Committee drafting the Democrats’ 2016 platform.
Rewarding their work for progressive causes with access to the inner sanctum of Democratic party politics, Sanders helps amplify their voices like no other candidate has. It also helps stitch up a deep flaw in the Democratic party platform: blasting Donald Trump for Islamophobia while ignoring the plight of Palestinians, who suffer under an occupation whose sole purpose is to segregate people by religion. It also brings Muslims deep into the process at a time when Republicans have turned their faith into a piñata they can bash and the crowd roars. American Muslims can only defend themselves if they have a say in government. Online, some Trump fans, most anonymous, say charitable things about Hitler’s Holocaust of Jews. They get bolder by the day.
“Our lives depend on the outcome of this election. The stakes are much higher for us,” said Linda Sarsour, co-founder of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York, a Palestinian-American born in Brooklyn.
Three of the five selected have expressed skepticism about Israel. According to The Washington Post, they are James Zogby, the head of the Arab American Institute (AAI); Cornel West, a social justice activist and author critical of Israel, and Minn. Rep. Keith Ellison, one of only two Muslims in congress. Ellison stuck his neck out for Palestinians by the calling for the end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza. He didn’t go as far as saying Israel’s policy on Gaza was “disproportionate” force. Sanders said the word in an April debate. Now, it’s not so hard for other younger politicians. Ellison is the only elected official on Sanders side.
“I think what they’re doing is building a platform that reflects Americans views, they want the U.S. to take a balanced approach,” she added.
Sarsour, who is Muslim, has been a vocal surrogate for Sanders during his campaign, making impassioned speeches on behalf of his fellow Brooklyn native, who happens to be Jewish.
Sarsour recommends that the platform should avoid specifics of any peace plan, the subject of endless debate. Rather, the committee should agree that both Israelis and Palestinians deserve equitable and neutral moderator to resolve their dispute.
Meanwhile, Americans are displaying more sympathy for the plight of Palestinians, beamed direct into their Facebook feeds. Young people are most likely to see Palestinians as victims, not villains, according to Pew.
But adopting the idea of neutrality, while it appears a modest goal, could be tough. Clinton, a Methodist Golda Meir compared to secular Sanders, told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March that Israel’s security is “non-negotiable.” The corollary to that is that Palestinian security is negotiable instead. The corollary to that is that Palestinian lives are negotiable. They might matter some, but not as much as Israeli lives. Of course, Clinton wouldn’t outright say that, or maybe she doesn’t even think it, but it’s a logical conclusion, at least until She says “Palestinian security is non-negotiable” too.
Zogby, a Lebanese-American from Utica, New York, told The Washington Post that “peacemaking,” (like the venerable laserdisc, a retro 90s idea in its own right) depends on both sides trusting the negotiator, and the negotiator satisfying the needs of both sides.
“You need to find a way to meet the needs of both. To say we will satisfy one without the other is a recipe for failure” as peacemakers, Zogby said.
The Post has billed the appointments as a way of calming Wolfman Sanders before he strikes again. That doesn’t sound likely. Indeed, the choices set the stage for a potentially bitter clash in Philadelphia. Israel/Palestine is one of the most heated issues on Earth, and Philadelphia is a place where Americans have historically gone to engage in intense shouting matches about politics and parking spaces.
The Clinton team is a veritable Metrorail car of heavy, important D.C. types; a former state department official, two congressional representatives, the head of the Center for American Progress; the former chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, and somebody from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal workers. DNC chairman Debbie Wasserman Shultz’s picks include two congressional representatives and a business executive.
Sanders appointees, like some kind of motley sandlot baseball team, are all activists or intellectuals. Only one of them, Ellison, is an elected official. While Zogby has served on the lower DNC committees before, the others are novices to the process. They are going up against Clinton’s most loyal friends, who have shiny new bats and glossy gloves and are the favorites to win.
As Sanders said Monday the convention could be “messy.”
“So what?…Democracy is not always nice and quiet and gentle,” Sanders told the Associated Press, without giving an example of when democracy was ever quiet and gentle.
In announcing the appointments, he didn’t mention Israel or Palestine. All five of the appointees have backgrounds in other progressive causes.
With the five appointees on the chair “we will be in a very strong position to fight for an economy that works for all of our people, not just the one percent; to fight to break up the large banks on Wall Street, who in my view now have much too much economic and political power.”
Zogby, Ellison and West (along with Native American activist Deborah Parker and environmentalist Bill McKibben) are bringing political philosophy to the creation of a political platform. Political platforms are twisted cartoon versions of political philosophies.
A party’s presidential platform is like a duct-taped together inflatable bouncy house, something fun for the whole family. You can have fun and nobody gets hurt. There is limited swearing.
Implementing philosophy in politics is more like building a real house, for people to live in that helps them survive the deadly weather on this planet. People have done it before, there’s a way to do it, but it takes collective action to achieve. Best of all, if done right, it’s actually useful. Sometimes, there’s a lot of swearing, because it’s frustrating, difficult work.
There will likely be some surreal arguments between public intellectuals and Clinton loyalists. But after all the huffing and puffing, the platform is nothing more than a strong suggestion. It gets deflated after the convention and tucked away until the next one. Clinton is under no legal obligation to follow the mandates of the bouncy house.
I asked Sarsour whether she trusted Clinton, if the former first lady becomes president, to follow through on a part of the platform that recognizes Palestinians right to exist.
“No,” she said, without hesitation. “But this is still an important step.”