Democrats head to a crossroads over Palestinian rights as primary season comes to an end

Bernie Sanders (Photo: Wilson Dizard)

The Democratic party is coming to a crossroads over Palestinian rights, one that may be as important to its future as its metamorphosis from the party of segregation into the party of Obamacare. Nominee or not, there’s nothing Hillary Clinton can do about it.

At the Lost and Found Beer Garden in Oakland, California, Muslim and Jewish Californians gathered with other fellow Americans to watch Clinton defeat Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Golden State’s Democratic presidential party. Fists raised in defiance, their voices reverberating through the venue, hundreds of supporters cheered Sanders as he promised to press on until the party’s convention in Philadelphia in July.

Sanders supporters I spoke to at the Lost and Found offered a recurring interpretation of Sanders’ Israel policy, even when they didn’t know much about the issue, saying that he will treat Palestinians like they are human beings. Deeper than that, the idea that a “two-state solution” is possible, or even desirable, is succumbing to the realities people learn about when they visit Israel/Palestine.

The problem with the “two-state-solution” is that it could be read as “separate-but-equal-state-solution.” Indeed, it’s whole purpose is segregation. But when one state has nuclear weapons, jet fighters and drones and the other has a motley collection of home-made-rockets and assault weapons, those two states will never be equal.

Just as liberal, Roosevelt Democrats in the North realized that segregation in the American south was a ghastly and cruel institution in need of dismantling, so too are Bernie Democrats wising up to the idea that separation and equality don’t mix.

One supporter, Daniella Saltzman, 46, had just come back from a trip to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. Her husband, Fred Werner, 43, had gone with her to perform her Bat Mitzvah. He was there wearing a white Sanders wig and a Sanders kippa. He wore the outfit for Purim.

Rabi’a Keeble and Fred Werner became friends canvassing for Sanders, one of many comradeships forged over the course of the Sanders campaign. (Photo: Wilson Dizard)

Fred expressed skepticism about the “two-state solution,” too, and lauded Palestinians for their hospitality, but deferred to his partner

“I think he needs to bring his message of social and economic and environmental justice to Israel/Palestine. For many reasons, one because of our relationship the United State relationship with Israel and because we are directly responsible for the current inequities in Israel/Palestine. Those inequities include civil rights, they include voting rights, they include rights to water.

Why is that important?” I asked

“It’s the desert.”

“Do you think American politicians understand there’s an environmental component to all this?” I asked

“I think they do, but they don’t talk about it,” Daniella said. “If they did that, it would be obvious that part of what’s happening is control over the aquifer in the occupied territories and because of that there will be no two-state-solution.”

But from the Clinton side, the question of Palestinian rights seems to be an afterthought.  A Clinton supporter I spoke to in the Bay Area, Christian Jensen, 36, summed up his take on Israelis and Palestinians. Basically, he didn’t know and he didn’t care.

“That’s so complex. I don’t think many Americans really care about it. Those people have been fighting for thousands of years,” Jensen said.

Cornel West spoke on Sanders’ behalf on Monday at a rally near the Golden Gate bridge.  Jensen was angry that West was part of the platform drafting committee, for reasons he wouldn’t really articulate.

“I don’t like him because I don’t like Jesse Jackson. Jesse Jackson spat in white people’s food,” Jensen said.

The connection to me wasn’t particularly clear, but whatever. Jensen denies being racist, but bringing up this unsubstantiated allegation shows what Sanders supporters are in for when they encounter Clintonistas in July. A lot of anger at the continued existence of their campaign. It’s like Occupy Wall Street protesters crashing a country club golf tournament. Who knew they liked golf anyway and why don’t they just leave?

It turns out they like golf.

Sanders supporters react with wild cheering as the candidate vows to continue his campaign into Washington D.C.”s primary, the final of the campaign. (Photo: Wilson Dizard)

Sanders has managed to bring Muslims and Arabs into the Democratic Party like never before. That includes Rusha Latif, an Egyptian-American Sanders supporter and canvasser who was born in the Bay Area.

“I think that the DNC is going to find itself at a crossroads at the convention. Bernie is really putting them on the spot to force them to think about new policies they have to choose if they are going to be a progressive party or if they are going to start towing the line of the establishment,” she said.

“Are you going to vote for Clinton?” I asked Latif.

“I don’t know, it’s going to be hard. I just don’t think she respects voters,” she sighed.

Clinton and Democrats are running a campaign whose central message relies on fear of Donald Trump. Latif, a Muslim Arab-American woman who wears hijab, would be one of the people the Democrats assume they can get out to the polls in November just out of anxiety over Donald Trump’s plans for expanding the racist police state.

“What would you tell her the reason is that she doesn’t have your vote?”

“Honestly I don’t feel like she has been authentic in reaching out to American Muslims. One gripe that I’ve had for a while is that she was willing to sideline Muslims to get the votes that she needed,” she said.

Latif was referring to a 2000 incident in which Clinton took $50,000 dollars for her senate race from a $500 a ticket fundraiser hosted by American Muslim Association (AMA), and then returned the sum when a New York Daily News columnist wrote that one of the members of the group had praised Hamas. Here, Muslims, an emerging constituency at the time without a clear party affiliation, were just trying to play the depressing, dirty game of political patronage. And what it got them was humiliation and rejection.

“What an insult! It’s a slap in the face. I found out when it happened. I remember seeing it in the news, but it stayed with me. But now, in this election she has a woman in hijab behind her in the stage. She’s using us as props,” she said.

“Why is it important to bring American Muslims into the political process?” I asked.

“We’re a big campaign issue this year, right up there with climate change and immigration. All the candidates are talking about us like we’re not there, like animals in a zoo. I’ve actually been pushing Muslims to start thinking of themselves as a voter block,” she said.

“Why does Bernie get your vote?” I asked.

“I actually got to meet him and told him you reached out to us and you’ve been really authentic,” she said,mentioning how more than a dozen Muslims were physically behind him at a Sacramento rally.

“He has Muslim surrogates,” she said. “He has engaged with us on every level of his campaign.”

The audience reacts to Sanders saying he will work with President Barack Obama. (Photo: Wilson Dizard)

But the grim reality is that Sanders won’t be the nominee, unless lightning strikes. Even so, the rumbling cheers and chants of “We are Bernie!” by his fans, many of them involved in politics for the first time, show that there’s still another chapter left in his campaign: Philadelphia.

“There’ll be 100,000 Bernie supporters surrounding the convention, and every time those delegates walk out and back to their hotels, we’ll be there reminding them that we are not voting for Clinton,” said Corey Collier, 30, who’d spent the last two months registering voters all along the West Coast.

There, social justice activist and Arab American James Zogby, intellectual Cornel West and Minn. Rep. Keith Ellison will be there to figure out what the Democratic party has to say about the future of Israel Palestine. West, at the Golden Gate bridge rally, put it succinctly:

“Bernie Sanders has a little Edward Said in him!”