Last week it looked like the Hillary Clinton forces on the Democratic Party platform committee were going to accept changes in the platform to accommodate burgeoning pro-Palestinian sentiment in the Democratic base. The thinking was: fold on Israel to make the base happy, then run away from the platform in the general election, if Clinton gets the nomination.
Well not so fast. Several reports in the last day or so indicate that Clinton forces are going to dig in their heels on the platform and fight Bernie Sanders’s platform nominees tooth and nail. So the battle ahead of the convention and even at the convention (Philadelphia, July 25-28) that some have anticipated may come to pass after all.
So we are looking at a possible blockbuster battle between the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and the establishment over a core issue, the Israel lobby in U.S. politics.
You will read many commentators, below, expressing concern about such a thing. But Peter Feld, a former Dem consultant, says that a battle over the issue could change our politics in very positive ways:
It is best to have as public a fight as possible. It matters less what the specific point of the battle is (Jerusalem language or something else), better a floor fight in front of the cameras than something bland worked out in a closed room. Also it would be key to avoid making it Bernie vs. Hillary, since that divisive 2012 convention floor vote over Jerusalem (when all the delegates came via establishment/Obama loyalists channels, as there was no nomination contest) suggests many of Hillary Clinton’s supporters could also be allies on this issue (like most liberal Democrats according to that recent poll). They may not all share her loyalty to Haim Saban or take direction from her commanders on this issue.
Now to the news. First, the Jerusalem Post cites widespread establishment opposition to changing the platform re Israel. It quotes former State Department official Wendy Sherman, a member of the platform committee:
“I am sure the Democratic Party Platform will reflect longstanding, strong support for Israel,” she said…. “Secretary Clinton’s views in support of Israel’s security and an unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel are well known.”
Some express the concern to the Post that the platform could actually hurt the Democratic Party among Jewish voters. (And surely donors too, but that part’s unsaid.)
Democratic establishment figures worry that a tougher stance on Israel may weaken their chances of winning over Jewish “persuadables” – not Jewish voters generally, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic and consider Israel relatively low on their list of voter priorities. Their question is whether Sanders’s picks will feed into a longstanding Republican narrative that the Democratic base is anti-Israel, and serve to discourage Jewish swing voters in critical states such as Florida.
“It’s not simply a reflection of the Democratic Party’s base. It also has to be a practical document that doesn’t hurt the chances of the nominee come November,” said one Democrat close to the platform committee. “It has to do no harm, and the most well-written words and best intentions mean nothing if they get Donald Trump elected.”
Mel Levine, a former Democratic congressman from California, who has been active at AIPAC and other Israel lobby events, doesn’t like the attention the issue is getting: “This process is raising issues which are generally not so broadly discussed in the American electorate, and I think the press has overblown all of this.” Levine told the JPost that in the end the platform will be “balanced” and “consistent with traditional bipartisan US policy,” i.e., pro-Israel.
More coverage in the Israeli press. Chemi Shalev of Haaretz says that a battle over the Democratic Party platform in which Sanders’ representatives use strong words against Israel — platform committee member Cornel West is pro-BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions); has said Benjamin Netanyahu is a war criminal, and Gaza is a “concentration camp”– “risks convulsing the party and driving away voters, and not only Jews.” Some of Shalev’s article is alarmist, and directed at American Jews.
[On the one hand] it’s hard to see how leftist liberals can continue to sympathize with an Israel that is portrayed by some of its own right wingers as succumbing to extremism and fascism… A few weeks ago, Republicans were supposed to be the conflicted party, but roles are starting to reverse. A fierce fight in the Convention over Israel would only accelerate that process.
There is a big gap between encompassing sympathy for the Palestinians and even advocating a more evenhanded and active U.S. approach to Middle East peacemaking and the kind of anti-Israeli positions articulated by West. Their tone and their content stray significantly from the American mainstream. Their language will ultimately be rejected by Clinton and the Convention, but they will nonetheless provide excellent openings for Republicans to drive a wedge between Democrats and independent moderates in general, and Jewish moderates in particular. ..
Sanders would then bear responsibility for unleashing anti-Israeli sentiments, of the kind that he has always avoided, into the American political mainstream. He would taint the Democratic Party in the process. He would thus harm Clinton’s chances of winning the elections, assuming she is the candidate…
The answer to Shalev is that these issues are worth fighting for. Many critics of Israel don’t want Netanyahu invited to the White House in the first month of a Democratic presidency. We believe what Cornel West is saying substantively: we don’t forget that Benjamin Netanyahu launched a war that his own military leaders considered “superfluous” that killed 500 children in 2014. We think BDS is the only thing that is putting pressure on a society whose leadership is shot through with fascistic and racist policies. And many of us also believe that support for a militaristic Israel among Democrats is distorting US foreign policy, making it more warlike; we wish to end this influence. These are of course central issues about the American place in the world.
Jewish Insider quotes another Democratic insider saying Clinton will dig in her heels and not try to create “false unity” by yielding on Israel:
[F]ormer Congressman Howard Berman discussing the Dem party platform on Israel… “[The Israeli/Palestinian conflict] is one issue that will not be decided based on trying to create a false unity of yielding to positions which would put the Democratic party on record and my sense from conversations with people who are very involved in Hillary Clinton’s campaign more so than I am is absolutely no intention to do that and a firm resolve to stand with American support for Israel.”
Jewish Insider also talked to Erin Schrode: “an activist on the front lines,” who is running for the Democratic nomination for California’s second congressional district. She would become the youngest congressperson, at 25. Schrode has spent a lot of time in Israel and is a giant supporter of that country. Asked whether the platform’s language on Israel should be changed, she said:
“No. I cannot accept such anti-Israel vitriol – and I don’t believe that any such change could ever come quietly. There is and will and MUST remain strong support for the State of Israel here in the USA. I believe in a two-state solution and in the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state…
“I mean that I don’t think changing the language could happen without significant uprising from the Jewish community and leaders here in our country. There’s a difference between advocating for a two-state solution while recognizing Palestinian rights and blatant anti-Israel rhetoric.”
Schrode celebrated Netanyahu’s speech to Congress a year ago trying to defeat President Obama’s Iran Deal. Bernie Sanders boycotted that speech. These are real and important issues, and the Democratic base is finally splitting over them. That’s for the good of the country.
Oh and let’s not leave out the NY Observer. The Trump-supporting organ says that Wendy Sherman will fold and the Democratic Party will adopt the “Hamas charter.” That it’s the end of the story for the Democratic Party being pro-Israel.
one would be forgiven for fearing that the result of these negotiations will be a DNC platform resembling the Hamas charter. Not because she’ll want it to, but because turning bad ideas into worse realities is her specialty.
Apologists may claim that party platforms are irrelevant to most voters, and there is truth to that. Unlike in Europe, where party manifestos matter a great deal, nobody outside a small group of long ago-decided voters reads or cares about the platform. But merely defeating an anti-Israel Democrat platform will not change the underlying cultural current on the American left. Approving an anti-Israel Democratic platform will be the starkest evidence to date that the left is abandoning the Jewish state.
Thanks to Ofer Neiman and Yakov Hirsch.