Last week the Democratic Party Platform drafting committee had a public hearing in Washington in which the Israeli-Palestinian issue was a source of great dispute. Bernie Sanders’ surrogates said that the platform must include references to the occupation and settlements. Hillary Clinton surrogates said they did not want a divisive platform, and one said that settlements and “what you refer to as occupation” shouldn’t be in there.
For those who think this issue ought to divide the Democratic Party, there was encouragement in Sanders proxy Cornel West’s declaration that the country is at a “turning point” on this issue. He advocated for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to alleviate the misery of Palestinians, even as Clinton surrogate Robert Wexler said that BDS is anti-Semitic. And West said that “for too long the Democratic Party has been beholden to AIPAC,” a reference to the Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
There was also obvious division in Wexler’s repeated recommendation of drawing Israel’s borders so it will be a Jewish majority state, a type of religious gerrymandering that in the United States would be seen as offensive.
C-Span has the June 9 debate here, at about 1:05.
Robert Wexler, the former Florida congressman, now an advocate for Israel, speaks first and states the importance of the United States standing by Israel as a Jewish-majority state now and forever.
Yesterday’s terrorist attack in Tel Aviv was yet another painful reminder of the threats Israel faces including from Hamas and of the importance of the United States standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel. We must unequivocally support Israel’s right to defend herself.
He then praised the proposed ten year bigger-than-ever military aid package for Israel and urged that the platform commit itself to “a negotiated two state solution that guarantees Israel’s future as a secure and democratic Jewish state” and that provides “justice, sovereignty and dignity for Palestinians… They deserve to govern themselves in their own contiguous and viable state.”
No reference to settlements, only to alleged Palestinian misdeeds: “Both sides must implement confidence building measures and avoid unhelpful actions. Incitement is dangerous and undermines the two state outcome.”
And Wexler took a swipe at the BDS movement:
BDS may hope that pressuring Israel will lead to peace, the truth is that outside forces will not resolve the I P conflict, particularly when anti-semitism is rising throughtout the world, Democrats must condemn efforts to isolate and delegitimze Israel. Delegitimization must stop immediately.
Wexler was cheered and booed as he wrapped up.
Then Sanders surrogate Cornel West said he has “very deep disagreement” with Wexler and stated that Palestinian and Jewish babies are equally precious.
The real question is going to be that a commitment to security for our precious Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel can never be predicated on an occupation of precious Palestinians. We’re going to have to talk seriously about occupation.
I don’t know if you’d allow a use of the word occupation, West said, when the New York Times can’t even state it directly.
But he said the Palestinians have been “demeaned devalued dominated exploited” for over 50 years. And “for too long the Democratic Party has been beholden to AIPAC.”
“We’re at a turning point now,” West said. It will go slowly inside the Democratic Party and more quickly outside it, which is “why I support the BDS.”
But the Party must downplay “the unbelievable misery we see in Gaza, the West Bank and other places.”
No I would not support and would in fact oppose the use of the word occupation for the very reason that it undermines our common objective. The objective of the Democratic Party is to achieve a negotiated two-state outcome.
Once you have borders under a negotiated solution, Wexler assured West, “what you refer to as occupation, will be resolved.”
James Zogby, another Sanders surrogate, said that Wexler opposes unilateral actions. “Are settlements unilateral actions?” And, echoing Sanders at the April 14 Democratic debate: “Would you agree or disagree that that [Israeli] self-defense has been disproportionate?”
“On the question of occupation,” Zogby said, “it has been recognized by every American administration that there is an occupation.”
Wexler said the platform should no sooner refer to occupation than to refugees, and the party leadership’s position that many Palestinian refugees will have to give up their right to return to Israel.
He announced the Clinton position generally, “We should not litigate the Israel Palestine conflict.”
“Except for the issues you want to litigate,” Zogby threw in.
Former congressman Howard Berman echoed Wexler, saying that the platform must not be a source of division. Israel “can be both a Jewish homeland and a democracy,” he said and the main objective is “we should number one make sure that Hillary Clinton is the next president of the United States.”
He was followed by former State Department negotiator Wendy Sherman, who made no reference to occupation, but said the chief foreign policy beams in the platform must be defeating ISIS and stamping out terrorism, and promoting democracy and peace in the Middle East.
Sherman said that Hillary Clinton had laid out the best approach to the Israel/Palestine conflict in her Saban Forum speech last year. In that speech, Clinton only touched on settlements briefly, but vowed to fight BDS and promised to invite Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House in her first month in office.
Wexler then echoed Sherman: “Yes Secretary Clinton’s speech at Saban was the ultimate statement of American policy and where we should go as a nation and a party.”
Former congressman Anthony Weiner wants the battle to end: he writes in yesterday’s Daily News that the Sanders forces should drop the Israel talk now, and Clinton “should not give an inch.” I.e., do not say a word to alienate the lobby. This from a man who has denied that there is an occupation.
During my days as Sanders’ colleague in Congress, I recall him being a solid “yes” vote on the many votes that reinforced our strong relationship with the Jewish state.
But his representatives to the convention’s platform committee, Cornel West and James Zogby, signal that he wants to challenge the Democratic Party’s long and deep commitment to our sole true ally in the Middle East.
He should drop this effort, and Hillary should not give an inch. This year the Republicans have a nominee who has declared that the United States should be neutral [here’s Trump’s statement] in the region, a wrongheaded and dangerous posture that further reveals Trump to be ignorant and dangerous.
So another signal, that Clinton will run to Trump’s right on Israel and Palestine.
The platform drafters also heard from Matt Duss of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, who said that while the US is Israel’s close friend, the occupation runs counter to US values and damages our interests, too; it is fostering resentment and extremism across the region.
We must recognize that Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territories and its daily restrictions on the most basic political and civil liberties of the Palestinian people run contrary to fundamental American values. We must reject the idea that we have to sacrifice our values in order to stand with our allies.
The special relationship also “hinders” the U.S. relationships in the region, creating a “deep well of resentment from which extremists draw freely and profitably.”
We’ll be following this battle closely as it unfolds in coming weeks.