Many people have analogized Palestinian conditions to the Jim Crow South. Rep. Rashida Tlaib did so. So has Jimmy Carter, who grew up in segregated Georgia. Alabama native Condoleezza Rice also did so. And just last week Angela Davis said in Birmingham that Palestinians were an inspiration to black people in the civil rights struggle.
So it’s a little odd to hear Senator Kamala Harris using the segregated south as a basis for– her love for Israel! That’s what she did, in a private discussion with the Israel lobby group AIPAC last year, saying that the famous civil rights march in 1965 across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, was a guide to her to build a bridge with Israel supporters — “building the coalition, and building the connection between all of us to fight together and that’s on the issue of Israel, it’s on the issue of so many challenges that we face as a world.”
Here’s the context. At a town hall in Bettendorf, Iowa, yesterday, an audience member called on the presidential hopeful to release her private comments last year to AIPAC, the leading Israel lobby group. Senator Harris responded with a bland endorsement of the two-state solution–
I believe that Israel is America’s friend, and that we should support Israel, and I also believe very strongly in a two-state solution and the need for doing everything we can to encourage that the leaders in that region move toward that end.
The audience member kept at it, and Harris later released a transcript to Huffington Post of the meeting with pro-Israel students at the AIPAC conference in Washington, on March 5, 2018.
The remarkable element of the appearance is when Harris connects the civil rights struggle in the South, which her parents had participated in — “I grew up surrounded by a bunch of adults who spent full-time marching and shouting about this thing called justice” — to support for Israel.
AIPAC’s moderator asked Harris where her support for Israel came from, and the senator brought up the famous attempted civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, en route to Montgomery, in March 1965.
It was always part of my life. I grew up ― we, and maybe many of you, I don’t know if anyone is still doing this with the vigor with which we would do it, but we would have our little boxes where we were raising money to plant trees for Israel. (Laughs) And we would go around with our box, and you know, I actually never sold Girl Scout cookies, but I raised money to plant trees in Israel. So it was just, it’s always been, it’s always been there. I’ve been to Israel three times, most recently in November of last year. I promised friends and myself that I would go before the end of my first year as a United States Senator, and it is just something that has always been a part of me. I don’t know when it started, it’s almost like saying when did you first realize you loved your family, or love your country, it just was always there. It was always there. But I will also say something that connects to the earlier point that you made. So this weekend, in fact late last night, I got back from Selma, from Alabama. And I was there with a bipartisan delegation of members of Congress to commemorate, not really celebrate, but commemorate the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which occurred 53 years ago, and was highlighted because it was a notoriously awful day in what was called Bloody Sunday. Which is when a group of people that were black and white and brown and every color under the rainbow, a group of people that were ministers and rabbis, people of all ages, from all areas of the country, 25,000 in number by the third day that they tried to take that walk across that bridge, who marched together hand in hand to fight for everyone’s civil rights, and in particular the right of African Americans to vote, at that time.
And I would encourage us all to remember every aspect of our history as an indication again of who we are, and what we must always recommit ourselves to be. Because the stories of what happened in those days, for those marchers, and again the incredible diaspora [likely transcription error] of who we are as a country, is a story of going to that bridge. Mostly [the] movement was by students, students. That movement was student-led. A young John Lewis, who faced troopers who were on horses and those horses were trampling these young people who were marching for justice. They faced mobs, Klan members, Ku Klux Klan members who were telling them they didn’t belong, and they marched hand in hand. And I actually gave a speech over the weekend while I was there, and I said you know, the thing about the recognition of this bridge crossing is that, the bridge crossing, they were crossing that bridge also while they were building bridges. And that gets back to our collective mission as leaders. We will cross bridges, we will fight, we will go arm in arm to make sure that we will always be a loud voice against bigotry and hatred and anti-Semitism. We will always march together, proudly, against all of those forces that may seem more powerful sometimes. Look at Charlottesville and that awful moment when we had to see people marching with torches and swastikas, but we will always remember. We will be strong in the face of that kind of hatred. It is not new, it will revisit itself, but we will stand together proud and in the process of standing up and fighting for equality and fairness and justice, we will also commit ourselves to building bridges. And that means building the coalition, and building the connection between all of us to fight together and that’s on the issue of Israel, it’s on the issue of so many challenges that we face as a world and the challenges we face as leaders. Building bridges, very important.
Harris also said that it’s important to keep Israel “not even a bipartisan issue but a nonpartisan issue.” She has not succeeded in that goal; it’s coming up in the Democratic presidential primary already. Which is the last thing AIPAC or the Democratic Party leadership wants. Though Harris voted earlier this month against a bill that would penalize supporters of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), thereby bucking AIPAC and the Israel lobby.
Harris spoke to AIPAC in 2017 and said her contributions to those little blue boxes had helped Israel make the desert bloom.
Years later when I visited Israel for the first time, I saw the fruits of that effort and the Israeli ingenuity that has truly made a desert bloom. I soaked in the sights and sounds and smells of Jerusalem.
The JTA has wondered why Harris grew up hawking those blue boxes. “No mention why Harris was a blue box girl growing up.” Though Harris’s husband Douglas Emhoff is Jewish.
Thanks to Adam Horowitz.