Is this election cycle really over? Do we get even a slight respite to recharge before the 2020 Presidential election campaign begins? Well, maybe a month or two, before “politics” starts up again for real in January 2019. According to David Axelrod on CNN Tuesday night, Sen. Barack Obama, in office only two years, convened his brain trust and decided to run for President the day after the 2006 midterms. To all those who couldn’t bear to watch, whose main feeling about the 2018 midterms was anxiety, go out and smell the roses – or if you live in Northern climes where roses don’t bloom until Spring, take a walk – because you don’t have much time before it all begins again.
Politics, of course, had become a spectator sport, an entertainment, even before Trump made it over in his image. It had come to rival sports, movies, and television as means by which we amused ourselves. But as we have learned anew these last two years, politics is and has always been a very serious business which, as my father used to say, often determines who lives and who dies, who gets rich and stays poor, who lives with human rights and dignity and who lives under the yoke of oppression.
This was an election cycle in which few words were heard about Palestinians or Palestinian rights, other than in a few Congressional districts in which Muslim women were elected, including Rashida Tlaib in Michigan, the first Palestinian-American woman ever elected to Congress, and one in which Mexican-Palestinian-American Ammar Campa-Najjar went down to defeat. It was an election in which liberal Democrats again stayed silent, or worse.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J) is just one prominent example. He wasn’t running for reelection but seems about to toss his hat into the ring for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Having posed with Palestinian advocates – with a big smile on his face — and a sign saying, “FROM PALESTINE TO MEXICO, ALL THE WALLS HAVE GOT TO GO” at the New Orleans NetRoots Nation conference in August 2018 , this “progressive” said the next day he didn’t realize the sign had anything to do with Israel, and then, for good measure, later came out in favor of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. For the sake of his electoral ambitions, Sen. Booker ended up throwing both the Palestinians and the United States Constitution under the bus.
But as we kiss the 2018 midterm election goodbye, there is an argument to be made that it could be good for the Palestinians – that it might be a harbinger of good things to come.
First, more than 100 women were elected to Congress yesterday. Most of the problems in this world can be traced to an imbalance of power, and American women finally had to confront, in the election of Donald Trump in 2016, what their lack of power has cost them, on the job – in unequal wages and opportunity for promotions and a culture of sexual harassment – and elsewhere. There has been a clearly discernible shift since then in political engagement in this country, as women in American cities and suburbs – where most Americans live — have come to realize that they must empower themselves, and that such empowerment will not only be good for them, but for the country. We will see in the next two years, in a divided Congress, in a nation still deeply divided, what the initial fruits of that new engagement will be. But once engaged, people rarely permit themselves to become unengaged again.
Moreover, this shift is not just about gender. In addition to the two newly-elected Muslim representatives, Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, in Minnesota, Sharice Davids in Kansas and Deb Haaland in New Mexico will be the first two Native American women elected to Congress. Davids identifies as lesbian, and Jared Polis will be the nation’s first openly gay governor in Colorado. There will be more people of color in the Congress, and in the Democratic caucus. And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York is one of two 29 year olds who will be the youngest members of the House of Representatives, heading a wave of energized young people who came out in surging numbers in this election. More than 3.3 million 18-29 year olds voted early, a 188 percent increase over those who voted early in 2014, and five times more in Texas and Nevada.
It is unfortunate that Campa-Najjar lost to Republican incumbent Duncan Hunter, who ran a vicious anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican campaign, accusing Campa-Najjar of terrorism, while Hunter himself, along with his wife, was under federal indictment charging misuse of campaign funds.
But the Booker photo, and the sign that he held up in New Orleans, had a message that just might transcend that defeat if it takes root in the House of Representatives, now filling up with those who came to realize their own powerlessness, and got engaged to do something about it. “FROM PALESTINE TO MEXICO, ALL WALLS HAVE GOT TO GO.” It is the message of intersectionality, which powers the BDS movement, on which the hopes and dreams of oppressed Palestinians ultimately rest. It is the message that a black American politician, who as mayor of Newark, tried to help African Americans stuck behind the ghetto “walls” of that city, might be able to feel the pain and therefore seek common cause with the Palestinians stuck behind the ghetto Wall in Israel-Palestine, not just with Mexican immigrants who cope with discrimination every day, and white women in corporate America who were sexually harassed or trained the men who got promoted in their place. Booker later disavowed it, but that is, or should be, the message of the Blue Wave that, in two years, will hopefully displace Trump, McConnell and all they stand for.
If our new politicians can empathize not just with their own, but with all those who are marginalized because of their color, race, religion, national origin, gender and sexual orientation, here and abroad, the political gains in this election might indeed be good — for the Palestinians, for the Jews, and for all of us.