We try to keep up on the mainstream US discourse of Palestine, and this week there have been some positive and negative developments. The latest two Democratic progressive stars to win primaries were reported to have disappointing records on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS). While both the New York Times and NPR have run stories that were positive about BDS.
First those pols. Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, last week shocked the establishment by winning the Democratic primary in the Florida governor’s race.
Endorsed by Bernie Sanders, Gillum is a progressive except for Palestine (PEP). Says a Palm Beach paper:
Gillum has espoused unabashedly liberal policies, such as boosting Florida’s corporate income tax to 7.75 percent to fund education, raising the minimum wage to $15, abolishing the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and introducing single-payer health care.
But Gillum joins in with the McCarthyite suppression of BDS. From the Orlando Weekly:
Gillum has remained largely silent when it comes to Israel and Palestine, a highly polarized — yet bipartisan — topic many view to be a critical factor in weighing support for politicians and candidates. With an unapologetically progressive campaign, the Tallahassee mayor’s discreet but fervent support for Israel and objections to Palestinian dissent, based on a campaign position paper shared with Orlando Weekly, come as a surprise to his left-wing base but a nod to some of Florida’s Jewish voters — a coveted campaign-season demographic.
Gillum’s 413-word platform on the issue outlines his belief in a two-state solution, support for former President Barack Obama’s 10-year, $38 billion military aid package to Israel, and endorsement of strong anti-BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) policies that go as far as to include a bill preventing Florida “from investing in or doing business with” companies that protest Israel.
“I will continue to support anti-Boycott, Divest and Sanctions [BDS] legislation passed last year with overwhelming support in both houses of the legislature,” Gillum said, referring to Florida’s Senate Bill 86, which prevents the state from working with companies that protest Israel. The bill passed unanimously in the Florida senate in 2016 and requires the State Board of Administration to maintain a database of “scrutinized companies” boycotting Israel.
“At the hands of this administration, we now have even incited more violence by recognizing Jerusalem to be the capital and also to locate the United States embassy there, again just adding more fuel to the fire,” Gillum said. “I think it was a provocation by the president that was unnecessary and has been costly from a human toll.”
In a measure of what Gillum is up against, the Republican in the race has seized on those comments as “radical”.
His opponent, Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, said in a statement that the comments are “anti-Israel” and “consistent with Gillum’s radical, far left-wing ideology.”
Then there’s the Boston congressional primary that Ayanna Pressley, a Boston city councilwoman, just won against incumbent Rep. Michael Capuano. Pressley is known for saying “Change can’t wait,” for advocating for poor women and girls in Boston, and for wanting to end ICE. But she avoided the BDS question. The Globe:
The Massachusetts Peace Action also pressed the two candidates for their positions on the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Pressley said she supports a House bill that would require the American government to ensure that none of its military aid to Israel would be used for reported “detention and mistreatment of Palestinian children.” …
The group’s questionnaire also asked the two candidates if they support a controversial House bill that would make it a felony to support a movement to boycott Israel and Israeli companies over the country’s treatment of Palestinians.
Capuano said he opposes the bill “on First Amendment grounds,” even if he is personally against the boycott movement.
“I do not support BDS, but I believe others should be free to advocate for it,” he wrote.
Pressley declined to provide a yes-or-no response on the anti-boycott bill question.
The Intercept reported that Capuano’s loss was a potential setback for anti-interventionists.
Capuano has been a forceful voice against U.S. involvement in foreign wars, while Pressley — as a municipal officer — is a relatively blank slate with respect to international affairs. In a questionnaire provided to both candidates by Massachusetts Peace Action, Pressley declined to answer whether she would vote to end military intervention in Afghanistan or support legislation prohibiting military forces from being stationed in Syria. Capuano answered yes to both.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the first big star of the Democratic progressive season for her defeat of a long time incumbent congressman in Queens/the Bronx, was outspoken about Israel’s “massacre” in Gaza but has been careful about not taking a stance on BDS.
Money is surely an issue in all these candidates’ tackings. Read Stephanie Schriock of Emily’s List and JJ Goldberg on the “gigantic” and “shocking” role of Jews in financing Democratic races. Schriock:
I started as a finance director… in the 90’s… And I would come on a congressional race… and you thought about where you are going to go to raise the money that you needed to raise to win a race. And you went to labor, you went to the choice community, and you went to the Jewish community. But before you went to the Jewish community, you had a conversation with the lead AIPAC person in your state…
Now let’s move to the press. Both the New York Times and NPR ran stories that were supportive of BDS in the last week.
Daniel Estrin of NPR reported on Israel’s deportation of BDS supporters trying to enter the country and offered a sympathetic portrait of a BDS backer.
In April, a pro-Palestinian activist named Emily landed in Tel Aviv and was taken to a room with three officers who started asking questions.
[Emily’s voice:] “And they turned directly to asking me if I support BDS.”
BDS is Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. It refers to various global campaigns to boycott Israeli institutions and businesses. Proponents say it’s a nonviolent way to promote justice for Palestinians. But Israel says their goal is to undermine Israel’s right to exist. Last year, Israel passed a law banning entry to foreigners who advocate a boycott. Emily says the Israeli officers accused her of working for boycott organizations.
Estrin goes on to quote Emily on her last encounter with Israeli officials before she was deported.
He looked at my paper and told me it was because I hated Israel. I responded that I don’t hate Israel. I just believe in peace and human rights, and I don’t support the Zionist-Israeli regime.
So an anti-Zionist is featured in the mainstream press in a positive light!
Meantime, in The New York Times, Joseph Levine penned a column for their philosophy blog, on the question of whether the BDS movement fosters “hate.” Levine identified himself as a “strong” supporter of BDS and said its goals are “reasonable” ones that deserve a public hearing. But that it is being smeared by those supporting anti-BDS legislation.
In my home state of Massachusetts, for example, where a hearing for one of the many state bills aimed at punishing B.D.S. activity took place in July 2017, those who testified in favor of the bill, along with their supporters in the gallery, wore signs saying “No Hate in the Bay State.” They took every opportunity to compare B.D.S. supporters to the alt-right activists recently empowered by the election of Donald Trump. (Full disclosure: I am a strong supporter of B.D.S. and was among those testifying against the bill.)
The aim of this activity is to relegate the B.D.S. movement, and the Palestine solidarity movement more generally, to the nether region of public discourse occupied by all the intolerant worldviews associated with the alt-right. This is an area the philosopher John Rawls would call “unreasonable.” But to my mind, it is the anti-B.D.S. movement itself that belongs there.
Notice Levine’s dismissal of Zionism!
[I]t seems obvious to me, and I bet many others when they bother to think about it, that claims to land stemming from a connection to people who lived there 2,000 years ago is extremely weak when opposed by the claims of those who currently live there and whose people have been living there for perhaps a millennium or more.
Levine says it is the anti-BDS argument that ought to be marginalized as unreasonable. He quotes Senator Chuck Schumer’s speech to AIPAC in which he said there’s no peace because the Palestinians “don’t believe in Torah” and don’t recognize the Jewish claim to the land.
Mr. Schumer then appeals to the Torah to justify the Jewish claim against them. But this is a totally illegitimate appeal as a form of public reason, no different from appealing to religious doctrine when opposing abortion. In fact, I claim you can’t find any genuine argument that isn’t guilty of breaching the limits of the reasonable in this way for the alleged right to establish the Jewish state in Palestine.
This almost certainly explains why opponents of B.D.S. are now turning to the heavy hand of the state to criminalize support for it. In a “fair fight” within the domain of public reason, they would indeed find themselves “delegitimized.”
Right; it’s not a fair playing field.
Finally, I can’t conclude a roundup on the discourse without mentioning economic correspondent Paul Solman’s report from Palestine for the PBS News Hour last week that offered the usual misrepresentation of violence in the occupied territories, the kind of misrepresentation that distorts US perceptions of the conflict.
In Gaza, the sometimes violent Palestinian protests of last spring still reverberate.
In April and May, more than 100 Palestinians were killed, many thousands wounded. Just last week, Israel closed the northern border crossing for several days after violence flared again, here, Palestinians launching flaming kits into Israel.
All those people were killed by Israeli forces. Imagine leaving that part out and characterizing Palestinians as “violent”! Jeez.
The piece overall was a “co-existence” piece: why can’t these people get along. It featured a business bootcamp organized by Israelis in Ramallah to make Palestine part of start-up nation. The program is Called Our Generation Speaks, sponsored by Brandeis University (Solman’s alma mater) and led by Ohad Elhelo, who also spoke at J Street this spring.
Solman said that the partnerships are vigorously opposed by some Palestinians.
Arab-Israeli collaboration is so charged, however, that many of the Brandeis fellows wouldn’t speak on camera, for fear of reprisal back home.
Maybe he should have explained why many Palestinians oppose normalization efforts, when the essential relationship between the two parties is still discriminatory, and Palestinians have been promised political freedom for 8 decades and gotten nothing.
H/t Adam Horowitz and Donald Johnson.