With midterm elections happening across the country, Americans are once again debating the value of voting for “lesser evil” candidates, or candidates who are not quite satisfactory on all issues. The country is certainly polarized, with opposition to Trump at a crescendo, as we continue to be outraged, daily, at his policies, his nominees, his whole vulgar persona. And there is something invigorating about the outspokenness of candidates running on an anti-Trump and anti-Trump Administration platform,.
One in particular, Texas’ Beto O’Rourke, has endeared himself to many because of his unambiguous support for NFL athletes taking a knee during the national anthem. His answer is exemplary of a politician with integrity, not trying to please everyone by hedging, avoiding a direct answer, and being intentionally vague and formulaic.
Interestingly, O’Rourke showed the same directness when asked about Israel. In that he emphatically, unambiguously, and fully supports Israel. A friend of mine, Austin, TX-based Palestinian American activist Haithem El-Zabri, sent O’Rourke an email inquiring about his “views on the Israel/Palestine issue,” and received the following letter, which he shared with me:
“Thanks for reaching out. Beto is a proud advocate of Israel. He believes that Israel is critically important to the United States, because it is the home of the Jewish people, because it is an exemplary democracy that shares our values, and because it is a crucial contributor to our national security objectives in the region.
Beto has voted for and will continue to support foreign aid for Israel. He cosponsored and then voted for a resolution in the last Congress to encourage the Obama Administration to quickly finalize a robust and long-term Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Israel. The resulting agreement will last 10 years and provide Israel $3.8 billion per year.
This Congress, Beto supported the Taylor Force Act, which prohibits certain foreign aid from being made available for the West Bank and Gaza unless the State Department certifies that the Palestinian Authority is taking steps to end acts of violence. In October, Beto cosponsored the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act, and he has voted in favor of the same bill each of the last three Congresses. He co-sponsored the Iran Ballistic Missiles and International Sanctions Enforcement Act. He opposes efforts, economically and diplomatically, to boycott or delegitimize Israel. So long as he is an elected official, Beto vows to stand as an advocate of security and peace in Israel.
The letter is deeply disturbing, showing little understanding of the reality on the ground and could have been written by any rabid Zionist. Indeed, it may well have been written by an Israel lobbyist, who offered it to “Team Beto.” O’Rourke, like so many other Democrats, has been chastised then “prepped” by AIPAC after showing some slight hesitation over rushing unconditional financial aid to Israel during its 2014 assault on Gaza, following which he took the apparently requisite Zionist-lobby sponsored trip to Israel in 2015. Beto travelled to Israel on a J Street sponsored trip, and is a J Street endorsee. It is interesting indeed that many of the more liberal US candidates are buoyed by J Street rather than AIPAC, albeit with the same goal: military support for Israel, two-states, opposition to BDS. Washington state’s Pramila Jayapal is another J Street endorsee, who has also been on a J Street sponsored trip to Israel, following which she called on Palestinians to “show restraint” in their protests against the violation of their human rights, even as she refuses to endorse BDS, that most restrained form of protest. Today, the Zionist lobby in Texas is trumpeting that O’Rourke has “an outstanding record on Israel.”
With “Team Beto’s” letter being so extreme, and likely a form letter sent to anyone asking O’Rourke about his views on Palestine, the debate is naturally very intense in Texas—O’Rourke is running against Ted Cruz, and has a chance to win. The consensus seems to be that progressives should of course vote for the opponent to Cruz, regardless of that opponent’s views on the one issue of Palestine.
But as we approach a turning point, with electoral victories that will hopefully weaken the current administration’s grip on the nation, it is absolutely critical that we keep in mind all the damage that centrist Democrats have done, long before Trump ascended to power. We must not forget how uncomfortable we were with the Obama Administration, which waged wars on many countries, and bailed out the 1%. We must keep in mind how much we disliked Hillary Clinton, not because she is a feminist, but because she is a neo-liberal imperialist whose feminism is restricted to the 1%.
And so, as it comes down to O’Rourke vs. Cruz, the choice may well be obvious to some. Others, however, feel differently, namely, they feel that a “lesser evil” is still evil, and is what has led us to the present dystopia. There are enough of us who are so thoroughly disenchanted with the system that we will not vote for “Progressives for Israel,” even if we support their positions on other issues. Indeed, El-Zabri has posted an Open Letter in which he responds to O’Rourke’s problematic letter, taking him to task over his opposition to BDS—a particularly problematic one as O’Rourke rightly supports taking a knee during the US national anthem. “Efforts to boycott or delegitimize Israel are constitutionally protected forms of free speech,” El-Zabri informs O’Rourke, adding, “So you’re willing to stifle free speech and compromise our own constitution in order to shield a foreign country from legitimate criticism of the crimes that it commits?”
The Open Letter concludes with “it is urgent that you adjust your position and support Palestinian rights, otherwise you are going to lose the votes of Palestinian-Americans and our allies, which are growing in number. We realize that Ted Cruz is no better on this issue, but as a matter of principle, we will not give our vote to someone who will throw the Palestinians under the bus.” It has been shared widely, with many reposting it with a preface indicating they will not vote at all, rather than vote for a pro-Israel politician.
Candidates who hope to turn this country around must understand that we are not only rejecting Trump and his administration. We want a break from the many evils that plagued the US before January 2107. Democracy is participatory, and many potential voters are not participating because there is little to entice us to vote, and a whole lot that repulses us. We want candidates who are accountable to their own communities, and who understand that they cannot pay lip service to democracy at home, while supporting apartheid abroad. We are energized, motivated, willing to meet with them, share our concerns, our struggles, our yearning for an end to racism, militarism, sexism, and other social ills. We want candidates who listen to us, their constituents, not a political lobby devoted to a foreign country that represents all we are fighting against. If we do not have such candidates, Zionism wins, with its proud embrace of apartheid. If we do not have such candidates, Trump wins, in his myriad American manifestations.