For those who care about Palestine, the most exciting moment of the Democratic convention took place Monday when a young delegate jumped on to his chair on the convention floor and unfurled the Palestinian flag. He was soon surrounded by a crowd holding up Hillary Clinton signs to make his demonstration disappear. But the incident quickly went out on social media — “a very human moment in a very dark time,” as Laila Abdelaziz put it.
— Jamil Dakwar (@jdakwar) July 25, 2016
The man who raised the flag says that he was abused and knocked around by older delegates, but many young Democrats cheered him on.
“This issue is being brought to the forefront of the Democratic Party,” Ali Kurnaz, a Sanders delegate, said yesterday. “I believe that now, largely thanks to Bernie Sanders including it in his campaign platform people are starting to understand the issue for the first time. While others are coming out of the woodwork in support.”
Kurnaz is all Democrat: the Floridian is vice president of Young Democrats of Orange County, and communications director for Florida Young Democrats.
But for years, Kurnaz says he kept quiet about his support for Palestine. Born and raised in Orlando, of Turkish-American descent, Furnaz began doing Democratic Party work in 2007 when he was 17, and though Palestinian human rights were important to him, he says, “I learned very quickly it was an issue I had to suppress. Even as a college Democratic Party organizer, I would make sure that the subject was not brought up, because then there’d be a vote and the Zionists would win.
“But now it’s changing. I can tell most of the people of my age agree with me.”
Kurnaz was disappointed after he and other Sanders delegates tried to get two pro-Palestinian amendments to the Democratic platform ratified in the weeks before the convention, but failed. “We convinced a half dozen or so Hillary delegates to switch their vote,” he says. “But they said ultimately they couldn’t because if they did they would have no future in the Democratic Party.”
Kurnaz decided to take a stand the other day when the Democratic Party platform was voted on by the convention as a whole. He was especially nervous because the Florida delegation was very close to the stage and in everyone’s view.
“When they brought up the platform, I was shaking,” he said. “It took a lot of courage, but I stood on my chair and I held the flag up as high as I could. People tried to stop me. They said things like, First things first, or Sit down, or Be respectful.
“At that point I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t care what anyone thought or what anyone was going to do to me. I thought they might pull my credentials, but I didn’t care.”
Kurnaz was soon engulfed by tumult.
“Lots of Bernie delegates from Florida who were around me were in solidarity and tried to push away the Hillary signs held up to block me,” he recalled. “That was the positive element. The negative was the pushing and shoving and shouting at me. People told me that I don’t belong there. They called me a Palestinian as a slur even though I’m not Palestinian and don’t regard it as a slur.”
To those urging me to be "respectful" I wish they'd seen the shoving, pulling, racist comments, disrespect from Hillary delegates. #DNCinPHL
— Ali Akın Kurnaz (@AliAkinK) July 26, 2016
His experience since has shown him that the party is changing, that Bernie Sanders gave people permission to be pro-Palestinians. He has handed out stickers saying “I support Palestinian Human Rights” and younger delegates have cheered him on.
“I have not had a single Bernie delegate say anything negative when I have given out these signs,” he said. “I get fist bumps, high fives. Or thank you for saying what you said. I get the opposite from Hillary delegates. But I have never seen so much support for Palestinians at any Democratic convention. This is only going to intensify as the millennials rise into the party.”
I interviewed Kurnaz after he spoke out at a Code Pink demonstration for Palestinian human rights in Center City Philadelphia yesterday. A slender and softspoken man, he nonetheless seemed excited about the political party he has worked so hard for for nearly half his life.
“I want to bring the Democratic Party to represent the values that they claim they care about– equality and human rights,” he said. “We are moving in a path of progress.”
Many people have told Kurnaz that he will have no future in the Democratic Party. He no longer believes them.
“The ones who say that are 20 and 30 years older than me,” he said. “I am the future of the Democratic Party.”