There were two Democratic debates this week with the 20 candidates split between back-to-back nights. The debates lasted two and a half hours each and featured a variety of questions on important subjects like health care, climate change, and criminal justice. However, none of the candidates were asked about Israel or Palestine.
In 2016, the United States government signed an agreement to give $38 billion in military assistance to Israel over the next decade. This fact should presumably generate at least one debate question on the subject (especially since both featured discussions about how to pay for social programs) but the omission feels especially egregious occurring at this specific time.
That’s because last week the House of Representatives passed three pro-Israel bills. H.R. 1850, the Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act of 2019,was passed via voice vote without any debate or discussion. It slaps sanctions on foreign states that support Hamas. H.R.1837, the United States-Israel Cooperation Enhancement and Regional Security Act also passed by voice vote. This AIPAC-backed bill enhances U.S. assistance to Israel and includes a provision that authorizes the president to send Israel weapons without congressional approval in emergency situations.
H.Res.246 was a resolution condemning the BDS movement. Despite the fact it passed easily with just 17 NO votes, it attracted a large amount of media attention because it allegedly pointed toward a greater rift developing in the Democratic Party over the subject of Israel. The resolution’s critics contended that its passage would merely pave the way for more severe anti-BDS legislation and their concerns were validated right away. Republicans immediately began citing the resolution while calling for a House vote on a bill that would allow states to penalize BDS supporters more readily. The resolution was also seemingly the inspiration behind a new resolution introduced by Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar that affirms the right of Americans to boycott foreign countries.
CNN’s Jake Tapper questioned Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib (the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress) about her opposition to H.Res.246 shortly after the vote, but as a host during the debates he didn’t ask about the movement or the many pieces of legislation that have been introduced to combat it. However, CNN did have him essentially ask Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren why she wouldn’t preemptively nuke another country.
There’s a good chance that the lack of such questions was welcomed by Israel’s government. “I’m sure the Israeli government was happy to be left out, given that any questions in this kind of format would likely focus on BDS or Israel’s misdeeds,” Israel Policy Forum’s Michael Koplow told Jewish Insider. “I’m certain that as the field narrows and foreign policy becomes more of a focus, Israel will be a topic of discussion, and I anticipate nearly every candidate will support two states, oppose BDS, and call for a recalibration of U.S. policy away from the turn it has taken under President Trump.”
The Wilson Center’s Aaron David Miller told the publication, “When [foreign policy] did come up, it revealed among front-running [Democrats] an approach to [the] left of Obama. Lucky for Netanyahu, Israel didn’t come up. Two candidates on stage — Beto and Bernie — both described his policies as racist and Warren isn’t far behind.”
It’s not as if Israel and Palestine were the only foreign policy issues not discussed. The entire subject was barely mentioned save a handful of questions about the Iran nuclear deal, North Korea, the occupation of Afghanistan, and the aforementioned nuke inquiry. Joe Biden’s Iraq War vote also came up during the second debate, but there wasn’t a real attempt to connect that war with the wider “War on Terror” issues that still plague this country and, by extension, the world.
During the Iraq War discussion New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to bring up the Trump administration’s current Iran policy. “Let’s talk about Iran. We didn’t talk about Iran!” he said, There’s a march to war in Iran right now and…”
“Please the rules, please follow the rules,” said Don Lemon as he cut him off and moved to the next question.