Incumbent Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz defeated challenger Tim Canova, a law professor, in a primary election this Tuesday, disappointing some Berniecrat-boosting voters who want to see the Vermont senator’s policies on Capitol Hill.
Wasserman Shultz defended her place in Congress as a proxy for her staunch party ally, Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state, and the Establishment Wing of Democratic Party politics. The presidential primary challenger Clinton stopped, Bernie Sanders, had endorsed Canova and sent mailers on his behalf during the primary, but never showed up on his behalf. This was the first time in 24 years that Wasserman Shultz had faced a primary challenger, the Miami Herald reported. Observers expect her to win against her Republican opponent in November.
The winner of the primary had been the chair of the Democratic National Committee, until emails leaked days before the party’s convention began showed her colluding with party cadres to undermine Sanders. One email, not sent by Wasserman Shultz, showed one party member wondering how to paint Sanders as an atheist. In her victory speech, Wasserman Shultz made reference to her Jewish heritage saying Tikkun Olam, the repair of the world, motivated her in politics.
Canova, asked for a response to the likely loss Tuesday night, had few kind words for Wasserman Shultz, suggesting that the bitter battles of the primary season still rumble.
“I will concede Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a corporate stooge,” he said, refusing to entertain the idea of working for her in the future, the Miami Herald reported. “She’s never asked for my help, she’s never given me the time of day. She’s never given the time of day to her constituents as far as I’m concerned.”
While they differ on many issues, on Israel the two see nearly eye-to-eye, although Canova has been critical of the Iran nuclear deal. But DWS, in office in Florida for two decades, just had more friends and street cred in the Peninsula. Canova’s attempts to outflank Wasserman Shultz from the right on Israel ultimately didn’t translate into the votes necessary to defeat her. Mondoweiss wrote about this earlier in August.
Canova and Wasserman Shultz are both Jewish, and they were vying to represent a South Florida district which is home to a large Jewish community. The candidates’ opinion of Israel was a factor for Democratic voters, even those who donated to Canova from out of the state. While they disagreed on many other topics, both candidates steered clear of any progressive talk on Israel, with Canova even scolding Sanders for his primary debate appeal to neutrality in Israel/Palestine negotiations. Wasserman Shultz did the same, and accused Canova of being to her right on Israel/Palestine. Canova boasts of his time on a kibbutz, just as Sanders himself does.
So why did Canova lose 43 percent to 56 percent?
Sanders, Canova’s absentee patron, was never popular in the Florida district, and Sanders didn’t show up in person to campaign for him. Perhaps it would’ve been gauche after mending rifts with the Democratic party leadership following his insurgent campaign. So that didn’t help.
“So many folks are pissed that Bernie didn’t come out hard for him lately,” said Diane Almquist Bedlin, a Bernie Sanders activist I met in Philadelphia during the DNC protests.
Canova has been active on social media, even talking to one of his donors directly about Israel/Palestine. Jennifer Valencia, 36, an activist and lawyer who supports Berniecrats like Canova, spoke to the professor in March and asked him about Israel/Palestine in terms of Wasserman Shultz being the worse option. Valencia lives in New York, not Florida.
“I wish I was a Florida resident! Good luck. I will donate again because I am for an end of the occupation in Palestine and that will never happen with DWS,” Valencia wrote Canova on Facebook.
Canova responded: “I’m for a two-state solution and I think the only way to get there is to have regional disarmament.”
Valencia replied: “That’s good cause Israel does not need nukes. No one does.”
And then Canova replied with a big blue thumbs up.
In an interview on Tuesday, Valencia summed up how she felt about the exchange.
“Very annoying,” she said. “Just because I couldn’t decipher if he really agreed or was just placating me with a graphic.”
More than that, Valencia felt that Canova was both uncreative and vague, but probably would have been a better congressional representative just because Wasserman Shultz’s anti-Israel cred is established, so to speak. Valencia still wishes Canova had won, because Wasserman Shultz clearly had a role in drafting a Democratic party platform that was silent on occupation, by literally not mentioning it.
And Canova’s talk of disarmament in the middle east is like proposing banning drugs from Burning Man or Bonnaroo, big music festivals full of high people. All one can hope for is that they use these items responsibly.
Even though Canova deftly but obviously dodged her essential question on Israel’s nuclear stockpile, the Tuesday loss for the more progressive democrat is still a disappointment for Valencia.
“It’s disappointing because as much as I am wavering about him…ultimately she is much worse for Palestine and much worse for the anti-Establishment movement. She is so pro-Israel and no doubt had a hand in moulding one of the most pro-Israel DNC platforms in history.”
Valencia has done humanitarian work in Israel/Palestine, and says she feels frustrated by the Democratic party’s insistence on adhering the the mantra of the Two State Solution, as though saying lots of times will make it so. Valencia believes that the expansion of settlements, which Canova has said he wants to stop but hasn’t said anything about removing, makes the Two State Solution impossible.
Reflecting on Canova’s knee-jerk Two States response, Valencia said:
“Settlements have made two state solution impossible,” she said. “Anyone with an understanding of Palestine knows that. So I wonder what he isn’t getting.”
Valencia is pessimistic about near term change in U.S. Israel policy and feels that a generational shift needs to happen before real dialogue on Israel/Palestine can begin. She said that when Millenials become the majority of American voters, then their pro-Palestinian views will have an impact in Washington. According to a Gallup poll, half of Millenials thought Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza was unjust, Mint Press reports.
“It’s still older Democrats voting,” Valencia said. “Older Democrats are very reliant on the mainstream media. They very rarely look to independent sources. And don’t feel comfortable questioning their world view. Another reason is money. The politicians are financially beholden and to AIPAC and J Street, and most of their voting constituents are ignorant on the subject.”
“In the long run, I’m optimistic, but that’s hard to accept…It won’t be in the next five years like we all want,” she said of significant change on Israel/Palestine.
How could politicians like Canova and Wasserman Shultz get a better perspective on Israel/Palestine? She advised them to go see how Palestinians live under occupation or siege.
“To go spend a week in the West Bank and Gaza and to bring their children; to have to protect their children from settlers or cross the checkpoints with pregnant and elderly people; to have to worry about getting bombed or not having clean water,” she said. “They need a reality check.”
The race between Canova and Wasserman showed how Israel/Palestine is sacred political territory for all Democrats. But for voters like Valencia, the status quo on Israel/Palestine is dangerous, since it has lead to horrific human rights abuses.
Valencia described her fears with just a few words: “I’m afraid of another 2014 happening under Hillary.”