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Progressive foreign policy missing from revised Sanders revolution

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Bernie Sanders on Wednesday delivered a speech from Burlington, Vermont to his die-hard fans nationwide, calling on them to continue to support progressive politicians to achieve goals like campaign finance reform, universal healthcare and fixing an unfair criminal justice system.

Absent from his address was any mention of Israel/Palestine or American foreign policy in the Middle East. His own progressive stances on these issues drew many supporters during the Democratic primary, especially ones who felt his rival Hillary Clinton was too hawkish and beholden to Israel. But in the wake of Clinton’s nomination in Philadelphia last month, Sanders has been reabsorbed back into the Democratic party, but appears to have left behind his primary season positions on foreign policy. The speech came as a disappointment to some of Sanders most ardent fans: Arab and Muslim Americans.

“I think it shows a lack of courage,” said Robert Akleh, co-founder of Arabs for Bernie, a Brooklyn-based grassroots group. Akleh, a Palestinian Christian whose family comes from Haifa, said that the foreign policy and domestic policy are also interlinked, given the astronomical cost of U.S. wars in Iraq and elsewhere.

“The problems in the Middle East are getting worse and worse and the amount of blood and money spent are big issues that both sides, corporate dems and progressives, would rather not talk about. We spent over 1 trillion on Iraq. That would have been enough to give everybody health care and all the other stuff this group is fighting for,” he said, referring to the new Sanders-backed non-profit, Our Revolution.

Our Revolution got off to a rocky start, with the abrupt resignation of staffers who felt that it had lost the grassroots credentials Sanders brought to the primary campaign. They felt Sanders’ former campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, now head of Our Revolution, would let untransparent sources of cash flow to the new effort.

It’s also not clear how much Our Revolution’s goals differ from Clinton’s since Sanders made its priorities sound like the defeat of Donald Trump first and foremost. That’s a common refrain from the Clinton camp. He mentioned Muslims only once in the almost hour-long speech.

“This campaign is about defeating Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for president. After centuries of racism, sexism and discrimination of all forms in our country we do not need a major party candidate who makes bigotry the cornerstone of his campaign. We cannot have a president who insults Mexicans and Latinos, Muslims, women and African-Americans,” he said.

That goes without saying for many Arab and Muslim Americans. Better than a candidate who simply does not insult them, would be a candidate who stands up for the dignity of Arab and Muslim lives around the world, and respects, as Cornel West said, the preciousness of human life. That message had resonated and inspired, but now seems absent from the Sanders campaign.

Akleh was also disappointed in the complete lack of mention of Israel/Palestine. During the campaign, Sanders had distinguished himself by sounding almost impossibly progressive on the issue compared to Clinton. He doesn’t think it will come up again

“Probably not. It serves him no purpose,” Akleh said. “I suppose this is the best showing they’ll have,” he added, referring to Palestinian rights activists.

Akleh said that Sanders speech on Wednesday reflected the hostility to recognizing Occupation that one saw during the platform drafting before the DNC. There, despite the advocacy of West, a Sanders appointee, and others, the party adopted a status quo plank that sounded much like 2012. All the same, Sanders in his speech hailed the platform as the most progressive in history.

“The corporate Democrats are fully on the side of Israel,” he said.

On the bright side, Akleh feels that Sanders was able to make advocacy for Palestinians less of a taboo.

“Well what it did do was make it more acceptable to support Palestine, so it expanded the discussion,” Akleh said. “But will it solve the issues? Nope.”

Meanwhile, in California, Rusha Latif, 35, an Egyptian-American Muslim author and Bernie supporter, said she also felt disappointed that Sanders had left behind his advocacy on behalf of Palestine or his opposition to militarism. After all, those subjects had brought him votes and passionate support during the primaries.

“Some of the things that excited people were Bernie’s vocal support of Palestine and opposition to the Iraq War. These were not side issues. They were central,” she said.

“The Bernie campaign was about restoring people’s dignity. We can’t just be about American dignity,” but the dignity of people overseas as well.

“So do you think that Clinton is going to be handling the foreign policy and Sanders is going to be doing domestic stuff?” I asked.

“Oh God, I hope not,” Latif responded.

Latif said she appreciated Sanders domestic priorities, but worried that he is leaving behind some of his most fervent supporters by walking away from a progressive foreign policy. Beyond that, reducing militarism is central to achieving progressive domestic policy goals, Latif feels.

More than that, American tax dollars are going directly to the perpetuation of occupation and destruction of Palestinian lives, Latif said.

“We are actively supporting a government that is oppressing people,” she said of Israel. “It’s not like some other government we’re just allies with. We’re invested in that repression. One of the reasons I am still engaged is that I want to keep conversations about Palestine happening,” she said.

Latif on Tuesday went to a meeting of Bay Area progressives called Brand New Congress, a national group focused on the 2018 midterm elections. She felt sympathy from fellow Bernie supporters on issues like Palestine and reducing American militarism, but also that it wasn’t their top priority. Nevertheless, the advocacy of activists like West and Linda Sarsour, both Sanders surrogates during the primary, will help continue the conversation she and fellow progressive Arab and Muslim Americans want to have.

“And a movement like Black Lives Matter allying with the Palestinian cause, that’s huge. We’re with these groups. We’re all suffering from a structure of repression. I think what BLM did was really powerful, and seeing a presidential candidate in New York City [Sanders during a primary debate] say Palestinian lives matter,” still resonates, but not as loudly.

At a Brooklyn loft on Wednesday, some of the “Berners” I’d met during the primary held a watch party. These were some of Sanders’ most dedicated Brooklyn boosters during the primary, the ones who trudged out into chilly early spring weather and knocking on doors all day. They felt that the domestic focus was appropriate, or at least understandable.

“Foreign policy is way too complicated for most people,” said Brian Johnston, 36. “Noam Chomsky has a book called The Fateful Triangle that is this thick. Asking every American to understand foreign policy is like asking them to be astronauts or rocket scientists.”

It is indeed a science of rockets, foreign policy, deciding when to fire them. It’s also a divisive subject, and something the Democratic party doesn’t want to bring up, said Michael, a Sanders volunteer now working to get other Sanders-style Democrats elected.

“Foreign policy exposes divisions in the Democratic party between Bernie and the Clinton wing of the party. She’s hawkish. On Israel/Palestine it’s a similar story because the Democratic party is not interested in defending the Palestinians or criticizing the behavior of Israel,” he said.

Sherrie Gonzalez, a Bernie canvasser turned Jill Stein supporter, said that Sanders drifting away from a progressive foreign policy means voters who care about those issues should give Stein a second look.

“If you’re interested in BDS,” she said, referring to the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement that aims to pressure businesses not to invest in Israeli human rights violations.

There was a British guy there, Matthew, a member of the Labour party, who had an interesting outsider’s take. He said that even if Sanders had won, he would’ve found the brutal reality of the presidency a challenge to establishing a foreign policy based on the dignity of human beings, not realpolitik or imperialism.

“With regards to this foreign policy, if you go back to Jimmy Carter, he was this massive humanitarian. That doesn’t work in office where human lives don’t cost anything in the big bad world. So humanitarianism is expendable. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the harsh reality,” Matthew said. 

Grim. The foreign policy establishment and the military-industrial complex in the US basically keeps handing the president live grenades with the pins pulled, and he or she has to find somewhere to throw them, in Matthew’s view. Or hand them to someone else to hurl. 

“Meanwhile, Palestine is a massive touchy subject,” Matthew said. “My leader is Jeremy Corbyn, and he is massively backing Palestine. But you can’t do that without causing an uproar. In politics, sometimes you can’t do that.”

“I don’t think Sanders ever really wanted to win,” he added.

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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22 Responses

  1. Keith on August 26, 2016, 5:03 pm

    Historians may one day note the sudden bizarre appearance in the US in 2016 of a fundamentalist cult of diehards who worshipped a sheep dog who they fantasized had both magical powers and integrity. They continued to believe this even after the dog licked his masters boots as had been long predicted.

    • joemowrey on August 27, 2016, 10:03 am

      Yes. It becomes more clear every day (not there was ever any doubt in the minds of rational observers) that this flim flam man Sanders has had only one role and intention from the outset. As for those who continue to believe his con , despite overwhelming evidence of his duplicity, that comes as no surprise. There are willfully ignorant masses out there who still fawn over Obama. And then there are the Killary acolytes who will smile and drool as she takes us into WW III.

    • Stephen Shenfield on August 27, 2016, 10:08 am

      It seemed that he might be a bit different. Not all sheep dogs yap away about sheep rights like that.

      • echinococcus on August 27, 2016, 12:33 pm

        That’s sheepdogging 101 for you. Also, he only catered (openly) to the middle class –the liberals who know they are getting some crumbs from out imperialist and/or imperial wars.

  2. Rusty Pipes on August 26, 2016, 5:24 pm

    I went to one of the local Sanders watch parties; not only was Foreign Policy absent from his speech — it’s absent from the issues page at the Our Revolution site.

    After the presentation, one of our delegates told us some highlights of the convention. His retelling of the Panetta speech and “No More War” berniecrat chants got lots of laughs and cheers from the local supporters. There certainly continues to be support among Bernie’s base for a more cooperative, less belligerent foreign policy.

    I know many Leftists and Greens who crossed over to voter for Bernie who will be supporting Jill Stein. I have heard varying opinions from my Progressive Democrat friends about whether they will vote for Clinton or Stein. With Clinton polling in the double digits against Trump, some of those Democrats may feel safer voting for Stein at this point.

    • Marco on August 26, 2016, 9:15 pm

      If these Progressive Democrats really prioritize foreign policy and issues of war and peace, they won’t even consider voting for Clinton.

      The Sanders campaign and this election cycle in general demonstrates the left’s vacillating interest in anti-war activism. During most of the 1990’s anti-war sentiment was quiescent despite the Clinton administration waging multiple military interventions, expanding NATO and the military industrial complex despite the end of the Cold War, and crushing Iraq under a sanctions regime which softened up the country for the 2003 invasion.

      It was only with the latter war of imperial aggression that the left converted temporarily into an anti-war movement. And then under Obama anti-interventionism once again retreated to the margins of the left’s agenda to be replaced principally by identity politics.

    • Doubtom on August 27, 2016, 4:01 pm

      If more people simply voted their conscience instead of seeking a “safe” reason for doing so, we’d likely be closer to having a government of the people. Vote for Stein! Period!

  3. echinococcus on August 27, 2016, 1:23 am

    Why even feature a post about a passé Zionist, warmongering charlatan? He did his job, supposedly will collect in some form or other, and should remain where he is –in the used sheepdog retirement home.

  4. captADKer on August 27, 2016, 9:24 am

    now that bernie has returned to the tribe, we can fully embrace him and be grateful for the effort he put in so as to clarify while hardening hillary and the democrat platform position regarding israel. this then should carry her to the WH, punctuated by numerous photo ops of her and bibi breaking bread both here and in j’lem. thanks again to bernie.

  5. wondering jew on August 27, 2016, 11:14 am

    Palestine is not Bernie’s primary cause. Wealth distribution is. His secondary cause at this moment of time is defeating trump.

    On November 9th, if things go well, there will be a new day and room for a new secondary cause.

    • Citizen on August 28, 2016, 8:20 am

      @ yonah freeman
      Yes wealth distribution is Bernie’s primary cause. He wants much more wealth redistribution. He wants to heavily reduce the income gap trending. The war in Afghanistan has drained over one trillion dollars so far, yet it’s a war from which most Americans have gained nothing. The Taliban offered to give the US Osama Bin Laden, but the US ignored this offer and attacked anyway–dove right into that civil war, and we are still there, so many years later. Further, the 9/11 hijackers didn’t come from Afghanistan, they originally came from Saudi Arabia. We were fraudulently seduced into the war in Iraq by a handful of neocons, a few think tanks, most of them Zionist in POV–with the complicity of the corporate media. We had no good reason to wreck Libya either. How many trillions has this cost America?
      Bernie knows this; it’s very disappointing to see him not to continue to tie all this war spending in, by arguing we should forget this regime change crap and divert the war spending to greatly help funding of all the domestic programs we wants. That would be wealth (re) distribution, yes?

      • echinococcus on August 28, 2016, 9:22 am

        Bernie knows this

        I don’t believe that.
        If BS knew this, he wouldn’t have such a perfect record of support to every intervention and war (he never opposed any; he didn’t even really oppose the Iraq invasion because he voted the AUMF and the war budget, remember?) and every request of the MIC.

        it’s very disappointing to see him not to continue to tie all this war spending in

        That becomes perfectly logical once you realize that he only ever speaks for the “middle class”; he is in fact consciously defending a redistribution to the middle class of the crumbs that trickle down from the imperialist war profits.

      • wondering jew on August 28, 2016, 9:43 am

        Citizen- Is it that difficult to spell my name?

      • Mooser on August 28, 2016, 11:48 am

        “That would be wealth (re) distribution, yes?”

        I’m not sure, considering that a huge amount of the money spent on war is borrowed. So they won’t have to re-distribute the money, they just won’t have to borrow it.

      • Mooser on August 28, 2016, 2:20 pm

        “Citizen- Is it that difficult to spell my name?”

        This will help “Citizen” remember, and he knows the tune:

        “Y, O, single N, A,
        And an H spells “Yo-nah”
        Proud of all the pilpul that is in me!
        Divil a man who say’s a broch against me!
        F, R, E,D and MAN,
        Is the rest, you see.
        It’s a name that lasciviousness has never been connected with,
        “Yonah”, that’s me!”

      • echinococcus on August 28, 2016, 4:38 pm

        Spell your name?
        The devil of it, Reb Friedman, is that we don’t have names on this discussion group. Even if anyone came here with a “real”, Registry-conform name, we wouldn’t know it. So you see, Jonas, if you want respect for a non-required spurious authenticity, you should perhaps go where there is respect for that kind of sh|t.

  6. ckg on August 27, 2016, 11:59 am

    For once I agree with yonah.

    Bernie never gave a crap about foreign policy. He was all too happy to throw Zogby and West under the bus.

    • Citizen on August 28, 2016, 8:24 am

      Actually, too, it took a couple of BlackLivesMatter girls to take his microphone away before he really cared about their concerns. In the end, he did prove to be Hillary’s sheep dog–he’s no outsider, no Trump. Neither leopard will really change their spots. That’s why the neocons are jumping ship to Hillary, and why Sheldon Adelson’s cash is still sitting on the sidelines.

      • echinococcus on August 28, 2016, 9:12 pm

        Smart guy, that Adelson. It’s already in the bag, at least according to the predictive services he’s sure to rely on.
        So the Ogre got (he thinks, and probably he’s right) his government, crawling on all fours at his orders, by only showing his shadow. Without paying anything worth mentioning.

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