News reports from the state party convention in Sacramento over the weekend were dominated by the likely (pending a painstaking review) close victory of machine guy Eric Bauman over insurgent Kimberly Ellis for state party chair. Overshadowed by those fireworks, though, Palestinian rights supporters steered to passage a groundbreaking resolution that puts California Democrats far ahead of the national and other state parties.
The resolution starts by decrying the fact that despite occasional criticism of Israel’s ongoing occupation, successive U.S. administrations have failed to take “actual steps to change the status quo and bring about a real peace process.” It warns about inflammatory moves by the Trump administration and notes that they are encouraging even more illegal settlement building and anti-democratic measures by Israel’s government.
Notably, the resolution does not pay lip service to the “two-state solution” mantra. Nor does it set a tone of symmetry in the existing relationship between Israel and Palestine, or prescribe better behavior by both sides equally.
Instead, it puts California Democrats on record as favoring “a U.S. policy that would work through the United Nations and other international bodies as well as with Israel and the representatives of the Palestinian people for a just peace based on full equality and security for Israeli Jews and Palestinians alike, human rights and international law.” And it quotes from Bernie Sanders’ 2016 message to AIPAC: “Peace also means security for every Palestinian. It means achieving self-determination, civil rights and economic well-being for the Palestinian people.”
Finally, the resolution tackles the spate of campus crackdowns on Palestine rights advocates and federal and state legislative measures aimed at stigmatizing and suppressing criticism of Israel, especially through demonization of boycott and divestment campaigns: The party now “rejects any effort to restrict or discourage open public discourse on issues surrounding Israel and Palestine; disavows conflation of criticism of a country’s policies with hatred of its people; but also opposes anti-Semitic or Islamophobic language brought into the debate and opposes any attempt to restrict or penalize those who exercise their right to express their views through nonviolent action to effect change.”
The clunky construction with inclusion of the italicized phrase exemplifies the outcome of hasty negotiation during the party Resolutions Committee meeting at the convention. Israel-aligned forces easily recognized the reference to BDS and objected to the entire clause, arguing that boycotts are all about anti-Semitism. We pushed back, noting that when occasional anti-Semitic incidents occur on campuses, Palestinian students are invariably the first to condemn them, while pro-Israel students and especially outside groups reflexively – and without evidence – blame them on proponents of divestment resolutions. In the end, we agreed to condemn anti-Semitic language, insisting that Islamophobic be included too – and the rest of the original paragraph remained, virtually unchanged.
Time will tell whether the new resolution can become a model for other Democratic Party institutions, and more importantly, whether it will help accelerate a shift in the party’s stance on Israel-Palestine. Evidence of change has occasionally bubbled up in recent years, notably with the infamous voice vote (Not!) recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital at the 2012 national party convention; the boycott of Netanyahu’s 2015 appearance in Congress; defiance of AIPAC on the Iran nuclear agreement; Bernie Sanders’ sometimes excellent (though other times terrible) statements; the public platform fight in Philadelphia; and a near 50-50 split over this year’s congressional declaration condemning President Obama’s failure to veto a UN Security Council resolution critical of illegal settlements.
Of course Democrats still come up with embarrassing klunkers, like the recent unanimous Senate letter to the UN bemoaning how it picks on Israel. But 100 to 0 utterances are not nearly as common or as automatic as they have been in the recent past.
These spurts of feistiness among Democrats are likely a function of the passing of older generations that aligned the party and mainstream U.S. labor from 1948 on with Israeli government policies, invoking a potent combination of Holocaust guilt and perceived moral and political affinity. In fact, willful blindness about ethnic cleansing, discrimination and renewed colonization after 1967 was not all that cognitively dissonant for a party that embraced the Cold War, brought us Vietnam, has backed bloody despots around the globe and mostly gone along with the so-called “war on terror.”
Though focused more on fighting Wall Street, racism, sexism and chauvinism at home, younger Democrats (with some of us veteran progressives), are increasingly recognizing the links to U.S. policies of domination abroad and taking seriously the idea that all peoples deserve freedom and equality. Sanders was able to take a markedly, if limited, progressive turn on foreign policy thanks to the backing of his mostly young minions, and to the extent he went out on that limb, its support grew stronger.
A similar phenomenon occurred last weekend. The convention swarmed with California “Berniecrats,” many of them newly active and most elected in a January sweep of local caucuses held to choose about a third of the delegates. (Another third come from county party committees, a mixed bag politically; and the rest are mostly more conservative elected officials and their generous quotas of appointees, a sore point for the progressives. Votes are not secret, so appointees mostly vote as the officials who chose them dictate.)
The progressives were galvanized primarily around the Ellis campaign for party chair, in alliance with the powerful nurses and several other unions that broke last year for Sanders. Around 500 Berniecrats gathered for a dinner on opening night, and their presence in the convention hall was loud, accented visually with the nurses’ red and Ellis’ pink T-shirts, and festooned with thousands of signs, banners, buttons and stickers.
The progressive wave wasn’t quite strong enough to outvote the old guard candidates, but its presence was very much felt in the room when the Resolutions Committee met. Several groups of activists had been collecting endorsements through Berniecrat and other progressive networks, preparing to force their resolutions to the floor if necessary by collecting at least 300 delegate signatures in a 20-hour window.
Other resolutions among the few the committee passed and sent to the floor that were pushed by progressive forces, mostly in mutual alliance with each others’ causes, included ones for rent control and curbs on evictions; for single payer healthcare; for abolition of money bail; and against corporate rights and the money/speech equation. Numerous others approved by the committee but not fast tracked will be considered by the party Executive Board in August.
Proponents of the Israel-Palestine resolution organized for weeks before the convention to line up delegate endorsements – around 220 by opening day – and let it be known that they fully intended to force it to the floor via petition.
There was hostile opposition, to be sure. A two-page flier, dripping with sarcasm and hasbara mythology, was aimed at persuading the Resolutions Committee to dump the proposal, or at least not send it to the floor. And an activist with Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles, submitted eight separate resolutions condemning – with heavy doses of anti-Arab, racist and Islamophobic buzzwords – every human rights violation he could think of in an atlas of Middle East/North African countries – except Israel, of course.
The committee pushed the Dems for Israel author to combine his resolutions into one, then withstood heavy pressure to include it among those going to the floor. Along the way, we were able to call attention to the fact that it would be religiously and/or culturally offensive to many delegates present.
The Israel-Palestine resolution’s initially recommended disposition by the committee was to “substitute” alternative language. Minutes before it came up on the agenda, we were handed two proposed replacements, one saying very much the opposite of ours, as a committee member noted, getting it cast aside. To our great surprise, though, the other, while it deleted some of the factual details we had included and eliminated an unambiguous call for ending U.S. aid to Israel, maintained the main principles and most of the language of our original.
After a quick huddle of co-authors and other supporters, punctuated by some testy, stressful negotiating, we decided it was best to accept a compromise resolution based on the substitute, with some of the points from the original added back in. These included “occupation of Palestinian lands” and “occupied territories” instead of “West Bank,” and “illegal” instead of “controversial” settlements.
In exchange for the amendments, we achieved not only approval but also a lot of good will from members of the staid, mainstream Resolutions Committee, along with a commitment that it would include the resolution among those sent to the floor and recommended for passage. Reverberating from that development, lots of other progressives in our Democratic circles, with whom we work on other issues but who had been hesitant to speak out on Palestine, agreed to support the resolution if it went to a floor vote. We continue to distribute copies of the original resolution, for educational purposes.
At the Sunday morning plenary we still expected someone to oppose the amended resolution, which would have triggered a floor debate and vote. We were prepared to deliver our three minutes of speeches in favor. But no one did. In a way, that was disappointing – we were relishing the opportunity to say our piece before 3,000 delegates, confident the resolution would have passed overwhelmingly.
Apparently, the Democrats for Israel crowd was resigned to this outcome and preferred to have the resolution proceed instead as part of the “consent calendar,” without debate, under the radar.
But Resolution No. 17.05.05, “Opposing Trump’s dangerous provocations; supporting peace, justice and equality for Israelis and Palestinians – and robust discourse in California,” is now the official position of the California Democratic Party. We’ll do our best to get it known … and prepare for the next round, where we can take that debate to the next level.
RESOLUTION 17-05.05 (PDF)
Opposing Trump’s Dangerous Provocations; Supporting Peace, Justice and Equality for Israelis and Palestinians — and Robust Discourse in California
WHEREAS for decades some members of both parties and Congress have expressed criticism of Israel’s now nearly 50-year occupation of Palestinian lands, while failing to back up that criticism with actual steps to change the status quo and bring about a real peace process; and
WHEREAS the new administration has indicated that it is likely to adopt an even more one-sided policy, threatening to provoke havoc and further instability by moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and appointing an ambassador (opposed for confirmation by all but two Democratic senators) who is an avid supporter of illegal settlements and opponent of Palestinian statehood; and
WHEREAS empowered by the new administration’s policy, the government of Israel has accelerated its construction of illegal settlements in the occupied territories and has adopted new anti-Democratic measures internally, denied entry into the country of representatives of mainstream human rights organizations and passed a law that would bar many visitors with critical views;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the California Democratic Party favors a U.S. policy that would work through the United Nations and other international bodies as well as with Israel and the representatives of the Palestinian people for a just peace based on full equality and security for Israeli Jews and Palestinians alike, human rights and international law, in line with the words of Sen. Bernie Sanders in his 2016 message to AIPAC: “Peace also means security for every Palestinian. It means achieving self-determination, civil rights and economic well-being for the Palestinian people”;
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the CDP rejects any effort to restrict or discourage open public discourse on issues surrounding Israel and Palestine; disavows conflation of criticism of a country’s policies with hatred of its people; but also opposes anti-Semitic or Islamophobic language brought into the debate and opposes any attempt to restrict or penalize those who exercise their right to express their views through nonviolent action to effect change.
Authors: David L. Mandel, AD 7; Murad Surama, AD 7; Karen Bernal AD 7