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Outside RNC, Cornel West has inspiring words for the Palestinian people

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As Dr. Cornel West walked from Cleveland’s main downtown square on Tuesday to a car in a nearby parking lot, he did more good for America’s image in Palestinian eyes than Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump, ever could. And he did it by telling the truth.

After delivering an impassioned speech about love and justice to anti-Trump demonstrators in Public Square, blocks from the Republican National Convention in the Quicken Loans Arena, West, a gaggle of journalists and well wishers walked with him as he fielded questioned and hugged supporters.

“How concerned are you about the direction this country is going?” one reporter asked.

“Oh, we’re in big trouble,” West replied. “That’s why I’m supporting the Green Party, because Hillary Clinton is a neoliberal disaster too.”

Cornel West hugging a supporter. (Photo: Wilson Dizard)

Cornel West hugging a supporter. (Photo: Wilson Dizard)

Despite the mortal stakes of this election, and the bleak choices Americans have to make, between pay-to-play politics and outright racism, West doesn’t look sad or defeated, wearing a genuine smile and addressing everyone with respect and attention. He hugs people he’s just met as though they’re old friends. It’s a bizarre sight to see happen in politics, especially this year.

I asked my question: “In Israel/Palestine, what can Palestinians hope from Americans in this election?”

Cornel West (Image: Carlos Latuf)f

Cornel West (Image: Carlos Latuff)

West said, “Palestinians need to know that there are Americans in this nation including American Jewish brothers and sisters who love them, who are committed to their struggle against Israeli occupation and are concerned about them being able to live lives of decency and dignity. And there’s a growing number of young people… the Israeli occupation today for the younger generation is what Vietnam was for my generation and what South Africa was for the 80s and that includes precious young Jewish brothers and sisters as well as blacks and others.”

In an election where devaluation of human beings a common currency, West brings the word “precious” when speaking about people. That’s a radical defiance of both Trump and Clinton, who have in their own ways denied the worth of other human beings. Terrorists, broadly defined, don’t rate as humans with rights. Torture is on the table for Trump, drones the preferred weapon for Clinton. But West doesn’t deny anybody their status as precious or as part of seven billion siblings.

“What can Palestinians learn from the Black Lives Matter movement?” I asked.

“Well, we all learn from each other, my brother,” he replied.

While the United States has a reputation for regressive politics, the language of American civil rights movements has echoed in other similar struggles. In Northern Ireland in Derry on Sunday, January 30, 1972, Catholic civil rights marchers protesting the indefinite detention of youth without trial (on suspicion of involvement with the Irish Republican Army) sang the same song that sounded throughout the South just a few years before: “We Shall Overcome.” And then British paratroopers shot and killed 14 of them. None of the marchers were armed, the British government concluded in 2010, almost four decades later. But I digress.

My point here is about public diplomacy, and how Dr. West is doing America all sorts of favors by telling the truth: The tide is turning in the United States towards away from a blind allegiance to the U.S.-Israel alliance into something where an evenhanded approach to peacemaking appeals already to two thirds of Americans. Of course, Clinton condemns such suggestions of evenhandedness as very bad and no good et cetera et cetera.

We crossed onto the sidewalk and West greeted a supporter.

“Give me a hug, my brother,” West said as they embraced.

“It’s good to meet you, man,” the man said.

“We’re going to be on T.V. together. Tell him your name, my brother.”

“My name is Wayne Braxton, I’m from Austin, Texas,” said Braxton.

“My brother I’ve got faith in God for our struggle, for we are in it together. His humanity and my humanity. But when you overlook his humanity, I come out swinging like Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald…”

A reporter carrying a camera and microphone from Lebanese Al Madayeen got West’s attention.

“Dr. West, Palestinians are going to see this,” the cameraman exclaimed as West neared his car.

“Oh, Palestinians are going to see this?” West said, with a hint of surprise. “Absolutely,” he said, agreeing to speak on video.

“Palestinians are watching the Black Lives Matter movement and they’re trying to learn from them. What message do you have for the West Bank?”

West replied: “I think our young our precious Palestinian brothers and sisters need to know that there are voices here in the United States of all colors, white and black and red and yellow and brown, some of them are young Jewish voices who are concerned not just about the plight of Palestinians, but know that the day will come when the vicious Israeli occupation will be lifted. Palestinians will be able to live lives of decency and dignity and live lives of self determination.”

“We’re fighting for that day,” he said. “We’re raising voices, we’re changing the climate of atmospheres in that regard. And we’re doing it in the name of Martin King, Edward Said and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, of Dorothy Day, all of those in the United States who have always highlighted the plight of oppressed people and the Israeli occupation as well as the second-class citizenship of our Arabs living in the state of Israel is something the world will have to address, but it will be in the name of love and justice and not one iota of anti-Jewish hatred or anti-Jewish prejudice is done in the name of justice, across the board. And I want my Palestinian brothers and sisters to know that, because some of us are going to be faithful unto death for that struggle,” he ended.

My last question for West before he got in his car concerned Jews who support Trump despite some of his followers’ penchant for vile antisemitism. Jews I’ve interviewed here, including one Orthodox man from Brooklyn, denied that that even happens or, if it does, Trump can’t control that.

“Antisemitism in the Trump campaign, what do you make of that?”

“What’s that?” West asked.

“How can Jews support Trump when there are so many Trump supporters online who attack Jewish journalists,” I asked.

“Well politics makes strange bedfellows. You got a lot of Jewish reactionary brothers and sisters who will put up with anti-Jewish prejudice among their own if they’re committed to a certain kind of policy,” he said. “You know what I mean?”

Zing. That policy, as Jewish Republicans here have explained to me, is Trump’s loyalty to Israel and his bona fides are his own daughter’s conversion to Judaism. They do so from their own position of safety as non-Christian Americans in an overwhelmingly Christian country. But people like West are doing the damage control the United States doesn’t know how to do to try to mend the image of Americans in Palestinians eyes. Those eyes are seeing the same disturbing footage of police shooting and killing Americans.

West has been a vocal advocate for Palestinian rights, speaking as a Bernie Sanders surrogate and appointee to the Democratic party’s platform committee. In a surreal interaction in June, West challenged Clinton’s appointees to the committee on the question of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank. The Clinton appointees rejected West’s call for evenhandedness for both Palestinians and Israelis, and denied that an occupation even exists. Clearly, these folks have never stood in line at the Qalandia checkpoint.

The occupation is as real to Palestinians as the air they breathe and the water they only have a few hours a day. West, and others like him, know that. But just as crucial as hating injustice instead of hating the people who commit it, and just as important as love and justice, is telling the truth. If you lie to people, they’re going to find out, and they’ll never trust you. The Democratic Party, on Israel/Palestine as on many others, either believes its own lies or forgot it was lying by denying the existence of an Israel’s military occupation, now almost five decades old.

“Do you have faith in the system?” one reporter asked West as we stepped into the parking lot under the midday sun.

“I have faith in God,” West replied. “I don’t have faith in no system, now.”

Wilson Dizard

Wilson Dizard is a freelance reporter and photojournalist covering politics, civil rights, drug policy and everything else. He lives in Brooklyn with his bicycle, camera and drum set.

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21 Responses

  1. kalithea on July 20, 2016, 1:40 pm

    Neither Hillary Clinton nor Trump will do anything to improve the situation for Palestinians. We can expect perhaps 8 more years of hell for Palestinians, unless Trump becomes President which will make it 4 years of hell or less because I predict impeachment and then there might be a way to escape the disastrous decision Americans will make choosing Trump. However, choosing Hillary is as disastrous if not more for Palestinians.

    Trump is already off the rails. I can guarantee you that if everyone in the convention hall started screaming for Pence to replace him; and if by some miracle that were possible then even Pence would stab him in the back; that’s how much chaos, mistrust and animosity Trump elicits even within the Republican party at this stage. He’s like the dumb American version of Caesar.

    Today the Trump campaign had a woman associated with Melania’s speech take the fall for the plagiarism that they still refuse to call by its name but I’m just not buying the story about how the blunder came about. This appears to be yet another lie to cover up the humungous lies they’ve been telling that the passages that quote Michelle Obama weren’t taken from the latter’s speech. Trump will evade the truth even if it’s biting him in the ass. His aides and manager have been blatantly lying for an entire day and a half. Who can trust a word that Trump utters. This fiasco can’t be more revealing about Trump’s integrity and I shudder to put integrity in the same sentence with Trump!

    And again, Hillary elicits just as much mistrust no matter how much she tries to polish her act. Already she’s betraying the liberal base by moving to the center in her upcoming choice for VP that’s rumored to be either Kaine or Vilsack. She could give a rat’s ass about Sanders and his platform. Sanders should never have endorsed her.

    I just can’t believe that Americans have chosen these two LIARS as nominees for the Presidency. This just proves: in life, you get what you deserve. Unfortunately the rest of the world pays a heavy price for American stupidity and Palestinians are sadly at the top of the list.

    • annie on July 20, 2016, 2:09 pm

      Today the Trump campaign had a woman associated with Melania’s speech take the fall for the plagiarism that they still refuse to call by its name but I’m just not buying the story about how the blunder came about. This appears to be yet another lie to cover up the humungous lies they’ve been telling that the passages that quote Michelle Obama weren’t taken from the latter’s speech.

      this turned into quite the fiasco. yesterday #mylittlepony was trending on twitter! you know wat i think, i think ms trump was telling the truth when she said she ‘wrote’ her own speech w/just a little help. i think it was ms trump herself who plagiarized michelle obama. ha!

      • JWalters on July 20, 2016, 6:48 pm

        According to a news report on the radio today, Melania talked with her speechwriter over the phone, and gave her some thoughts from people “she admired, including Michelle Obama”(!). They claim the speechwriter wasn’t clear that some of what she was hearing were actual quotes. It seems to me possible that Melania, not being an academic or reporter, and not a native English speaker, didn’t take the trouble to emphasize that certain phrases were quotes. If true, had the speechwriter been in the same room, she would have seen that Melania was reading those passages, and the whole episode would not have happened.

        It seems to me the big news is that Melania Trump admires Michelle Obama.

      • genesto on July 21, 2016, 4:59 pm

        Hey, at least the campaign people stopped her before she could give her next speech! That one started off, “Four score and 7 years ago —-“. :-{)

        Anyway, I’m preparing for the worst, i.e. Trump becoming President – and having a First Lady that’s a college dropout, jewelry designer! :-{(

        (Note: just thought a little gallows humor could get help get us through this nightmare. Please forgive me if I’m wrong).

      • Keith on July 21, 2016, 8:11 pm

        GENESTO- “Anyway, I’m preparing for the worst, i.e. Trump becoming President – and having a First Lady that’s a college dropout, jewelry designer! :-{(

        Thank you for pointing out that Melania Trump would be a welcome respite from First Ladies who are Harvard Lawyers. Both Michelle and Hillary suffered from Ivy League elitism, as did their husbands. Too many Ivy league lawyers in Washington,says I. Don’t worry about Melania, The Donald say that she has a good head on her shoulders and he should know.

      • echinococcus on July 21, 2016, 8:40 pm


        If any degrees or special qualifications are required for being a presidential wife, or indeed president, they forgot to advertise it. No search brings up such a requirement.
        To the contrary: most presidents seem to have been lawyers –that would explain their general outlaw behavior, their stupidity, their greed and their inhuman, sociopathic personalities.
        One might argue that the wives of such persons should hold some diploma as kindergarten teacher or acute psychiatry nurse but then, they already have enough experience to skip the degree if they are the patient’s long-suffering wife.
        We won’t mention the husbands. Bill Clinton as a Byzantine dynasty starter should fear for his life.

      • genesto on July 22, 2016, 1:29 pm

        OK, I get the sexism and elitism charges against me for my snide remarks about Melania. I’m only trying to say that the Presidency, and therefore the country, is better off having a First Lady that can be a powerful force for good in the country, since she has the bully pulpit at her disposal. Eleanor Roosevelt and Michelle Obama are two examples that immediately come to mind. Maybe Melania, despite her modest background, can fit this role. I don’t know, and I apologize if my seeing her as just a trophy wife for Mr Trump is unfair. After all, my mother was an intelligent and powerful woman, with whom I could have insightful political discussions, even though she only had an 8th grade education.

    • Keith on July 21, 2016, 8:00 pm

      KALITHEA- “Today the Trump campaign had a woman associated with Melania’s speech take the fall for the plagiarism that they still refuse to call by its name….”

      Is it possible to plagiarize cliches? If so, then a more valid criticism would be that Trump set her sights too low.

      • echinococcus on July 21, 2016, 8:21 pm


      • RoHa on July 21, 2016, 10:53 pm

        It seems those cliches were plagiarized from a film, so MO is as much a plagiarist as MT.

        And I remember that Biden plagiarized a speech from Kinnock.

      • annie on July 22, 2016, 12:54 am

        no it’s not the same. it may be the same idea but it’s not identical phrasing other than “your word is your bond” which is a common phrase:

      • RoHa on July 22, 2016, 1:57 am

        You mean you have actually listened to the speeches? That is dedication way beyond the call of duty.

      • RoHa on July 22, 2016, 5:10 am

        Of course, it is not necessary to use the exact words to be guilty of plagiarism. The same ideas, especially if in the same order, but without attribution, is a sufficient condition. If, for example, I were to rewrite the Enneads, in English, in my own words, with full stops, capital letters (now regarded as essential for NeoPlatonic philosophy), with my annoying spell checker suppressed, and without a single misplaced comma, and then declare it to be All My Own Work, I would be roundly and correctly denounced as a plagiarist by the tiny handful of people who have actually read the blessed Enneads.

        But rather than subject myself to the torture of actually listening to the speeches, I’m going to take a free ride on Keith’s question and suggest that cliches and political pabulum aren’t really the sort of thing that the concept of plagiarism applies to. It would certainly be a mockery of language to call that stuff “intellectual property”.

      • Keith on July 22, 2016, 10:31 am

        ROHA- “You mean you have actually listened to the speeches?”

        I’m with you RoHa, you have to draw the line somewhere.

      • rhkroell on July 25, 2016, 12:30 am

        Is it possible to plagiarize cliches?

        Michelle Obama’s speech may be rated as too cliché-ridden in your judgment, Keith. I would think that a great deal of contemporary political discourse — especially words spoken in public to a politically-enthusiastic U.S. Democratic Party (or Republican Party) audience — would be rated cliché-ridden by most of us. That’s beside the point.

        You are guilty of plagiarism whenever you use someone else’s words or ideas without crediting them. Much of Melania’s speech is virtually word-for-word identical to Michelle’s speech. You can’t deny that. She’s guilty as charged. The excuses coming out of the Fortress Trump campaign are lame at best.

  2. Citizen on July 20, 2016, 4:20 pm

    Watching main media TV news and infotainment channels, one would think issues discussed here do not exist–must be invented by invented Palestinians way across the pond.

  3. JWalters on July 20, 2016, 6:31 pm

    When Americans finally learn the facts, they will want to free America too from Israeli occupation, starting with the government and the media.

    Thank you, Dr. West!

  4. oldgeezer on July 20, 2016, 11:39 pm

    A brave man. He knows he has and will be smeared for speaking the truth. For speaking in favoir of justice and equality. Something that racists, be they white or zionist, live in fear of. Their crimes and hate can only exist in the darkness of evil.

  5. Marnie on July 21, 2016, 12:14 am

    “How can Jews support Trump when there are so many Trump supporters online who attack Jewish journalists,” I asked. “Well politics makes strange bedfellows. You got a lot of Jewish reactionary brothers and sisters who will put up with anti-Jewish prejudice among their own if they’re committed to a certain kind of policy,” he said. “You know what I mean?”

    Sure do know what you mean Dr. West. I love this man, who will continue to be vilified for telling the truth and called all sorts of names. The only name calling I’ve heard from him is ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’. God bless him.

  6. Amar on July 21, 2016, 12:31 pm

    I have a dream… Cornel West for president.

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