Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein on Wednesday night provided an alternative vision for U.S. policy with Israel that questioned whether Washington was doing “Israel any favors” by dumping money into warfare and occupation.
Stein was answering a question at a CNN Green Party town hall from an audience member who wondered why Stein chose to “single out” Israel for a boycott even though Israel is “a democratic ally to us.”
“Why don’t you do the same for other middle eastern states which are committing horrific crimes and abuses of people?” voter MariaChristina Garcia asked.
Stein’s answer showed that terms like “democratic ally” don’t amount to a hill of beans when that country is pursuing policies that violate human rights, and that the U.S. under a Stein presidency will not ignore the rights violations of Saudi Arabia or Israel. The logic stems from an understanding that the U.S., in its pursuit of war in the middle east, has also violated human rights of others.
“We are turning over a new chapter in this, because we have been as guilty as any of our allies,” she said.
“If we turned the White House into a Green House, our foreign policy will be based on international law and human rights, so when we say to Israel we will not continue to give you to $8 million dollars a day when the Israeli army is occupying territory in Palestine,” Stein said to applause.
“We’re not going to do it for the Saudis either. Nor for that matter does Egypt get a free pass as well. We’re giving them billions of dollars as well,” she said.
“Have you advocated to boycott Saudi Arabia?” Garcia asked?
“Yes,” Stein said, to further applause.
All of it was getting a bit too real for CNN moderator Chris Cuomo. His brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a chief Clinton ally, has been a vocal opponent of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement that Stein has shown sympathy towards. The effort aims to isolate Israel, as many worldwide did to South Africa during Apartheid, to try to force it to recognize the civil and human rights of Palestinians living under occupation and also Palestinian citizens of Israel.
“Another follow on this is that Israel is not Saudi Arabia or Egypt,” Cuomo reminded the audience. “It certainly occupies a special alliance with the United States and supporters would argue faces an existential threat that others do not. Do you see Israel being a special ally and in a unique defensive position in that part of the world?”
Stein replied by saying she herself is Jewish and has family who live in Israel “part time.”
“Well I happen to be of Jewish origins so yes I have a special connection to Israel…I don’t think we are doing Israel a favor by condoning a policy that makes Israel very insecure, that makes Israel the target of hostility from its neighbors.”
Stein gave fellow Jewish American Sheldon Adelson, owner of the most read Israeli newspaper, as an example of someone meddling in Israeli affairs to the detriment of all involved.
“He’s not even living there. I don’t think that’s good for someone to be influencing Israel’s policy when they don’t have to live with the consequences,” Stein said of Adelson.
Cuomo fired back with a “yes or no” question about whether Israel has a special relationship to the U.S.
“I understand you have family relations there…Do you believe they’re a special ally, yes or no?”
It was a meaningless and childlike question from Cuomo, and it received an appropriately meaningless and pedantic answer.
“I believe all our allies are special allies. Israel and all of them. We are all members of the human family. I think we have responsibilities to everyone to create a world that works for all of us. And by sponsoring a very hostile military policy that violates international law, that doesn’t do us any favors,” she said.
“There are people in Israel who are really working for human rights, who are actually building community with the Palestinians. There are human rights groups that are building trust, building community and building confidence. These are the groups we need to be lifting up to create a middle east that’s going to work.”
Cuomo and Stein were asking questions that came from different universes, practically. Stein’s assumptions were that human rights should guide American foreign policy, while Cuomo fixated on whether Stein appreciated the existential dread that Israelis have of Palestinians and their Arab neighbors. Cuomo asked her twice about how special Israel is to the U.S., when she had already answered: Israel was not more or less special than any of our allies. It’s also remarkable how easily Cuomo glossed over Stein’s family ties to the country, and her own Jewishness, in questioning her policy position.
For average Stein voters, however, it appears the candidate’s overall suspicion of militarism is the biggest draw.
Sherrie Gonzalez, a Brooklyn Bernie Sanders canvasser I met during the primaries, was an audience member at the town hall debate. She’s planning on voting for Stein.
“It sounds like she just wants to stop funding death and respect human rights for everyone involved,” Gonzalez told Mondoweiss.
Although she said she isn’t an expert on Israel/Palestine affairs, Gonzalez said Stein’s focus on cutting back military spending is what draws her to the candidate. That money, she feels, could better be spent at home and not financing Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, or Saudi Arabia’s campaign against Yemen.
“For me, one of the most jarring points she made was about the number of military bases we have in comparison to the rest of the world. Like, take a guess as to how many bases the world has? It’s 30 [total]. 30 for everyone else. Russia has the most at 8. We have 800. It costs us over $100 billion a year to fund these. We could cut them in half and have $50 billion available for things here like rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure or I don’t know, a public [health care] option?”
“I agree so much with her that these interventions and coups cause more trouble than they solve and they account for something like 50% of the tax money I pay a year,” Gonzalez said.
But how to unravel this irrational and byzantine system of alliances based on their level of specialness, as Cuomo calls it, remains a mystery. It’s like Stein is walking into a big meeting of a neighborhood mafia, and telling everybody they will no longer be dealing in protection rackets, nor will they be selling guns, drugs or people. Everyone is going to have to go legit!
There isn’t space in this post for a full discussion of how this would happen, if it ever does. Gonzalez admits she doesn’t have the answers, either.
“How do we dismantle our Mafia empire?” I asked Gonzalez.
“I guess the biggest issue with our current situation is that we’ve developed an economy around it,” she said.
“Why is that a problem?”
“Because it’s an economy of death and oppression.”
“I’m aware that just completely pulling out of situations can cause chaos but the outcome doesn’t change whether we do it now or 20 years from now,” she said. “I think if I had answers, I would be running for office. I vote for as minimal suffering as possible if I can help it.”