Every time I read great news, like Bernie Sanders’ supporter, Shaun King, declaring that Sanders is critical of “apartheid-like” conditions in Israel, a small voice sings within me, “we’re winning.” The voice was particularly true when I read that my Washington state governor, Jay Inslee, had announced that he was skipping next week’s AIPAC conference in Washington DC. “Finally,” I thought to myself, recalling the many meetings I and other Palestine-rights activists had had with him over the years, meetings that had always left us feeling disenfranchised, disrespected, because somehow, even in person, even in rooms full of Palestinians, he still would not commit to enacting solidarity. Only two years ago, Inslee, like every single other US state governor, had signed the AJC-sponsored letter denouncing BDS, but our persistent organizing seems to finally be bearing fruit in 2019.
“We’re winning,” the little voice rejoiced yesterday, when I read about seven Democratic presidential candidates declaring they would not attend the AIPAC conference.
That chirpy little voice, however, is almost immediately drowned out by the more persistent one, the one that reminds me of reality on the ground in Palestine, where it matters, where our activism is ultimately meant to make a difference. That same morning, I had read about four more young Palestinians being killed in the West Bank. I had pledged money for the medical expenses of a young boy in Gaza, shot in the legs during the Great Return March and, for World Water Day, I had donated to a small non-profit that builds rooftop gardens in refugee camps in the West Bank. Band-aids on a hemorrhaging wound, really: no amount of money I donate can stop the bleeding. We need to stop Israeli soldiers shooting at young children. We need to stop Israel’s theft of Palestinian resources.
The sober voice wants me to bridge the gap between claiming “we’re winning” because US politicians are skipping the AIPAC conference, and the reality on the ground, which Trump is now calling “Israeli-controlled,” rather than Israeli occupied. And of course I know that our activism here matters, and that getting US politicians to skip the AIPAC conference–and possibly even skip the AIPAC-sponsored trip to Israel that all first-year senators are bribed with –is a huge step towards achieving justice for an oppressed people two continents away, but I also want to make sure we all realize this is not about our victories here. Just like we need to always remember that the debate about the legitimacy of BDS is not a battle for the American right to freedom of speech. The latter is a necessary twist in the legal battle, but not what it ultimately seeks to secure.
We have made huge strides towards our goal. We have indeed changed the perception of mainstream Democrats and liberals, who finally no longer view Israel as an embattled bastion of democracy. This is clearly reflected in the fact that no politician who hopes to secure progressive votes in the 2020 US elections can get away with unbounded praise for Israel, and vacuous statements about a belief in “human rights for all” that somehow gloss over Israel’s egregious violations of both international law and the human rights of millions of Palestinians. When Beto O’Rourke answers a young girl’s extremely well-articulated question about Israel with meandering platitudes, we need to let him know we are watching, and dissatisfied. And when Democrats gang up against their brave and outspoken colleagues, Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, for pointing out Israel’s crimes, we need to let them know we support those who speak truth to power, rather than those, like Nancy Pelosi, who continue to pander to the bastion of settler-colonialism in the Middle East.
Our next challenge is to make sure our progressive politicians are not just skipping this year’s conference because of Netanyahu and Trump. If that is their reasoning, then things could go back to “business as usual” if Israelis elect a moderate prime minister next month, or at the election after that. We need to make sure our politicians who are finally expressing some criticism of Israel understand Netanyahu is not the problem. Zionism is, which makes fascism smell like democracy.