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Meet Ali Kurnaz, young Democratic leader who lifted Palestinian flag on convention floor

US Politics
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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.

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.”

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.”

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Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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19 Responses

  1. Talkback
    Talkback
    July 28, 2016, 2:28 pm

    “But they said ultimately they couldn’t because if they did they would have no future in the … Party.”

    “They told me that I don’t belong there. They called me a […] as a slur even though I’m not […] and don’t regard it as a slur.”

    Insert “Jew” where “[…]” are and think about Germany’s history.

    P.S. Kudos to Kurnaz.

  2. Wonder Bunder
    Wonder Bunder
    July 28, 2016, 7:26 pm

    This is awesome.

  3. Kay24
    Kay24
    July 29, 2016, 7:18 am

    It was so brave of him to do this in that arena knowing how the Clintonites stand on this. As expected Hillary made the usual statement about protecting Israel during her speech, a sort of one liner, but yet she made sure Haim Saban was rewarded for the campaign contribution and that Netanyahu has his bottles of champagne ready to toast her victory in November – Sarah will be counting those empty bottles. It is a shame that just like she did the right thing by standing up to the NRA, she could not stand up to the other dangerous lobby, AIPAC.

    • echinococcus
      echinococcus
      July 29, 2016, 12:18 pm

      Kay,

      Your dig about the NRA is out of order in a forum where the only thing we have in common is support to Palestinian resistance. Some private weapons in the US are not relevant, as opposed to government weaponry.
      Partisan propaganda here is divisive for the solidarity movement.

      • strangefriend
        strangefriend
        July 30, 2016, 6:01 pm

        It’s completely in order. The NRA is a moneyed lobby that runs roughshod over Americans wishes, same as AIPAC.

      • xanadou
        xanadou
        July 30, 2016, 6:41 pm

        Echinococcus,

        Disagree. To my reading, Kay used the two issues that evoke very powerful responses as a comparison that show up clinton’s ability to evolve in one area, but unwilling to detach herself from a foreign calicifying regime with a dangerous stranglehold on US affairs.

        Something equally revolting happened when wassermanschultz was booted out of her DNC job, and was promptly included by clinton into her entourage. Considering clinton’s age and reported many health issues, and what clinton has in mind for her govt entourage, if elected, this does not bode well for Palestine, nor the US.

      • echinococcus
        echinococcus
        July 30, 2016, 11:16 pm

        Strange Friend,

        If you can’t see the difference between domestic policy lobbies and the Zionist organization I wonder on what planet you live.
        Many a gun rights supporter is supporting or would readily support Palestinian resistance, especially if explained in American terms.
        Zionists would love it if they could keep alienating them, so that solidarity with Palestinian resistance remains confined to useless trendy “liberals”. Why do you think they went after Alison Weir and her book?
        If you don’t like the way the Second is interpreted (and I don’t either) you can go make noise on any amount of other forums, without creating discord here. We have enough Zionists writing here for that.

      • echinococcus
        echinococcus
        July 30, 2016, 11:28 pm

        Xanadou,

        “Powerful response” doesn’t mean much.
        The attempts to disarm private persons while the State is massacring abroad and at home is also getting a “powerful response”.

        Essentially, here is not a place to reserve for the sole enjoyment of private gun control people. Given that it is at the heart of our topic, of course disarming the US can be discussed, and how.

  4. tarheelnm
    tarheelnm
    July 29, 2016, 9:14 am

    While I don’t believe that the DP can be reformed from within, I applaud this courageous young man. He and others like him understand that justice is a global issue, and there can be no justice for Americans until we insist on justice for all people.

  5. genesto
    genesto
    July 29, 2016, 4:48 pm

    He won’t have a future in the Democratic Party as it’s presently constituted, but he will have a future in the progressive movement which, hopefully, will bring the Party with it.

  6. Mayhem
    Mayhem
    July 29, 2016, 9:53 pm

    And meanwhile outside the DNC pro-Palestinian supporters were burning Israeli and American flags.

    • strangefriend
      strangefriend
      July 30, 2016, 6:03 pm

      Both of which are Constitutional forms of protest. So what is your point?

      • echinococcus
        echinococcus
        July 30, 2016, 11:36 pm

        Burning a Zionist entity flag is a sacrilege and responds to a Higher Authority than the US Constitution, just as with the Hebrew Franks. The American flag is not anything he’s worried about.

  7. Spring Renouncer
    Spring Renouncer
    July 30, 2016, 12:42 am

    The Democratic Party is sclerotic and not changing nearly fast enough. It is attempting to, yet again, integrate its dissidents back into the fold by giving them false hopes. Though generational change is occurring, young liberals are known to drift to the center as they age. Despite this, the Party could change over decades, but not before wrecking even more of the country and world. I think that abandoning the Democratic Party for the Green Party or a new party is the only way for voices like Kurnaz’s to be heard reliably and heeded in a reasonable time scale.

    • Mayhem
      Mayhem
      July 30, 2016, 7:06 pm

      Voices like Kurnaz’s are on the fringe and will always remain so.

      • Shingo
        Shingo
        July 31, 2016, 3:06 am

        Voices like Kurnaz’s are on growing and will become the majority and old and crusty Israeli supporters pass away

  8. freedom235
    freedom235
    July 30, 2016, 4:06 pm

    Kudos to the brave Ali we certainly need more of this on the public stage! I’d have liked to have witnessed this at the RNC in Cleveland as well. I will never understand how both the Dems as well as the Repubs got so corrupt, and the zionists so damn entrenched in this Country. Walking through the historical areas of Philly, one quickly realizes the depths of character – how great many of our leaders were in their drive to create a nation dedicated to the ideals of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, as well as the sacrifices made to do so. The sellouts, the corrupt, selfish, deceptive criminals that run this country – as well as their minions – have no where close the integrity and depth of character that it took to create this nation!

    Kurnaz had the stones to step away from the herd and follow his conscience. Evil forces wish to keep the status quo of the criminal, racist state that is Israel. God bless him, we in the US need more of this bravery desperately!

  9. JoeSmack
    JoeSmack
    July 31, 2016, 9:24 pm

    He’s holding it upside down.

    • CigarGod
      CigarGod
      August 1, 2016, 8:47 am

      Flying a flag inverted is an internationally recognized signal of a nation and/or people in distress.

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