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‘Our foreign policy has typically been a white supremacist foreign policy’: Meet the BDS proponent hoping to unseat a longtime Democratic congressman in Oregon

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Earl Blumenauer has represented Oregon’s 3rd congressional district since 1996, but he’ll face two primary challengers in 2020. Charles Rand Barnett, who ran against Blumenauer in 2018, and Albert Lee. Lee is the dean of Portland Community College’s Business and Computing division and running on a progressive platform that includes support for the Green New Deal and Medicare For All. Unlike many Democrats, he also advocates for a progressive foreign policy that aims to challenge the Washington consensus on U.S. hegemony. Lee spoke with Mondoweiss on BDS, the occupation of Palestine, and whether his campaign is pushing Blumenauer to the left on these issues.

Mondoweiss: There’s been much discussion and debate among progressives over the last few years regarding which Democratic lawmakers to primary. What led you to believe your district was in need of change?

Lee: Well, first of all I believe that democracy requires choice and we simply haven’t had choice here for at least a generation. We have an incumbent that’s been in office for twenty-three years in a heavily Democratic district, I believe we’re +24 on a Cook Partisan Voting Index, which means effectively that no Republican or Third Party challenger will ever have a shot at providing choice for the people. Which means that you really need primary challengers in order to provide choice and with that choice comes accountability for our elected officials.

Now our current Representative Earl Blumenauer has a pretty decent vote for the most part but he typically comes late to the game when it comes to a lot of different issues. Case in point, he voted for and was a proponent of the Defense of Marriage Act [the federal law that defined marraige as the union of a man and a woman, and allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages], now of course he’s an LGBTQ champion. In the past he’s been against Medicare For All, now he has moved forward to sign on to the Medicare For All resolutions. Same thing with climate change. I believe that in order to ensure that our representatives are working for us and not for corporations you’ve got to have a choice, you’ve got to have a legitimate challenger, so I’m trying to bring that legitimate challenge and I’m trying to make sure that we maintain a progressive district and one that will actually move further to the left, actually do more work for the people.

The progressive Jewish group IfNotNow has been confronting Democratic candidates on the campaign trail and asking them about the occupation of Palestine and if they’d pressure Israel to stop it. How would you answer that question as a potential member of congress?

First of all, I think the occupation is illegal. I think we have a series of international laws that are being violated going back to 1948. There was supposed to be a two-state solution and since that time we’ve had an erosion, we’ve had a promotion of one-state over the other, and the rights of one set of folks over the other. I am a proponent when it comes to Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) when it comes to the state of Israel. In fact, I believe that our current Representative has now moved to the left on that as well. While not being a proponent of BDS, he was one of the 16 Democratic votes against H.Res. 246, with the caveat that he is not a BDS supporter.

That actually leads right into my next question. There’s been a growing debate about BDS in recent months as a result of this anti-BDS resolution that was passed overwhelmingly in the House and the bill that Rep. Ilhan Omar has introduced that affirms Americans’ right to boycott. You just stated what your position on BDS is, but what do you think of this legislation we’re seeing targeting BDS at a state and federal level?

I think you’re referring to the House Resolution 246 when it comes to criminalizing BDS. I think that’s clearly unconstitutional. It goes against a lot of different issues including First Amendment, free speech issues. I’m a proponent of Omar’s House Resolution 496. Long story short, BDS is just one of the various tools that we have in the way of international law. Because when you’re talking about international law you’re talking about the law between sovereigns. Right? So one sovereign can’t tell another sovereign what to do. And really the only way that you can effect change is by persuasion. And one of the tools of persuasion is to use these types of things like [BDS] in order to encourage them to do the right thing because you cannot force a sovereign to do the right thing.

I feel like many of our readers probably believe Rep. Blumenauer has been really good on these issues, especially compared to the rest of Washington. He was one of just 16 Dems to vote against the anti-BDS resolution, he’s a cosponsor of Omar’s boycott bill, and he’s also a cosponsor of the Betty McCollum bill that would prohibit funding for the detention of Palestinian children. What do you think about his record on the issue of Israel/Palestine and do you think local pressure from the left has influenced these moves?

Yes. Well again I think that typically our current representative is late to the game and most issues. I think quite frankly that my entering into this race as a legitimate challenger has shifted him to the left on a lot of issues. Yes, we have a loud and vocal variety of groups here that continually add pressure to the representative and that’s one of the things that I find really sad. I find that oftentimes we have so many different groups that come to petition our elected leader and it shouldn’t be that way. Our elected leader should be listening to the people and and taking note and following their guidance because you know it’s supposed to be our representative and not a ruler. Now when it comes to some those recent moves, yes he’s moved further to the left. And again I think that’s been a combination of the fact that I’m in the race. And then secondly the added concerted efforts of many different groups here.

If elected to congress what would your foreign policy priorities be beyond the subjects we’ve already discussed? 

I’ll tell you flatly that our foreign policy has typically been a white supremacist foreign policy, one that has been focused on providing benefit to a select few with death and destruction to a lot of folks. I’ll give you a quick example. Recently we talk about Guatemalans on the southern border trying to get in for asylum. You can trace that whole issue back to the 1930s and 40s with United Fruit and they’re petitioning of our government to come and take care of their labor issues down in Guatemala which led to the destablization of a democratically elected government. The installation of right-wing fascist governments that carried on into the late 1990s which led to a civil war which led to continued destabilization of that country. And then you add on the fact that we’ve exported M.S. 13 down to Guatemala. And you have people who live in a country that’s been destabilized and are seeking some sort of respite, some sort of solution to that and that’s why you can find folks on the southern border from that country. 

Likewise you can look at our foreign policy when it comes to, say, Yemen. Yemen is a civil war which is effectively a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran which is in turn a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia. You know we’ve got to stop meddling in other folks situations, we’ve got to stop doing things that are going to benefit a select few people so that they can profit on the casualties of war.

Congress is supposed to be the leader when it comes to war. We’re supposed to be the ones who make that decision. But for far too long we’ve abdicated and we’ve given that decision over to the president. With the authorized use of military force and then it being reinstated again, that is an abdication of the powers of Congress. We should reassert our discretion over those affairs. And quite frankly we should take a deeper look at the series of unintended consequences that can happen with any action that is taken.

Michael Arria

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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31 Responses

  1. kylebisme on August 10, 2019, 6:02 am

    I think we have a series of international laws that are being violated going back to 1948. There was supposed to be a two-state solution

    That is a misconception. In reality the UNGA merely recommend partition, neither that nor anything else made a two state solution international law. As for international law, there was a proposal to take the matter before the International Court of Justice to determine among other things:

    Whether the United Nations, or any of its Member States, is competent to enforce or recommend the enforcement of any proposal concerning the constitution and future Government of Palestine, in particular, any plan of partition which is contrary to the wishes, or adopted without the consent of, the inhabitants of Palestine.

    But obviously Zionist realized they were unlikely to win such a legal battle an instead opted to establish their state by force.

  2. David Green on August 10, 2019, 12:22 pm

    “I’ll tell you flatly that our foreign policy has typically been a white supremacist foreign policy, one that has been focused on providing benefit to a select few with death and destruction to a lot of folks. ”

    Has Europe or the U.S. taken the trouble to try to dominate the global economy just in order to fulfill “white supremacist” values? Would global domination be OK if it just weren’t racist? Or has that supremacism been a post facto justification for such behavior?

    It seems like these are important questions if we are to understand exactly what needs to be done vis a vis global capitalism and Zionism.

    The same can be said about Zionism vis a vis the Palestinians. Did Zionists go to the trouble of dominating Palestine because they felt superior to those living there? Would “anti-racism” have prevented the Zionist movement?

    What world is anyone living in?

    Is it possible that it is high time for some clear, materialist-informed thinking on these issues? No, not if such questions are asked only to self-impressed woke liberals/progressives.

    Some basic David Harvey anyone? Some basic critiques of neoliberalism anyone? Some self-criticism anyone?

    • Talkback on August 11, 2019, 5:41 am

      David Green: “Would “anti-racism” have prevented the Zionist movement?”

      Of course.

      • David Green on August 12, 2019, 3:23 pm

        How would it have prevented the belief that Jews were simply returning to their “home”? How would it have prevented the belief that Palestine was a “land without people”? One has to put the colonialist horse before the racist cart that has followed, especially if one is serious about actually helping the Palestinians struggle for self-determination.

      • Talkback on August 13, 2019, 4:50 am

        DG: “How would it have prevented the belief that Jews were simply returning to their “home”?”

        This belief in itself is racist and isn’t based on civic rights. Besides that the exile has never been proven even by Israeli academics.

        DG: “How would it have prevented the belief that Palestine was a “land without people”?” Again, this is just another racist belief. They knew that the bride was taken. But it is racism that is the core of this hoax, too.

        DG: “One has to put the colonialist horse before the racist cart that has followed, especially if one is serious about actually helping the Palestinians struggle for self-determination.”

        Without racism no settler colonialism which is just violence against a native population.

      • MHughes976 on August 13, 2019, 5:41 pm

        There may be some question about what anti-racism means. But if it means or implies rejection of any claim, at least by any large group, to political rights solely on the basis of ancestry – or of something in which ancestry plays an essential part – then it contradicts Zionism. Had anti-racism in this sense been prevalent and overriding there would never have been and wouldn’t now be an Israel, or at least no Israel that disfranchises the Palestinians (wrong ancestry) over whom it exercises sovereign power.
        Of course anti-racism (in this or any sense) may not be overriding for everyone. Some might say that considerations related to religion are more important, as I think Melanie Phillips in effect does.

    • Mooser on August 11, 2019, 1:26 pm

      ” Some self-criticism anyone?”

      Okay, okay, I give up! It’s true, I answer ultimately to a occult drug and banking cartel centered in the City of London.

      • oldgeezer on August 11, 2019, 4:41 pm

        @Mooser

        Wow! We have royalty amongst us!

      • RoHa on August 11, 2019, 8:39 pm

        I always suspected it.

      • Mooser on August 12, 2019, 4:18 pm

        “I always suspected it.”

        You should. There’s always good reason to be suspicious of royalty.

    • Keith on August 11, 2019, 4:01 pm

      DAVID GREEN- “What world is anyone living in?”

      A world where most are ignorant about the power dynamics of the global political economy and are more than happy to remain so.

      • David Green on August 13, 2019, 12:58 pm

        Very well proven by Talkback’s response: “Without racism no settler colonialism which is just violence against a native population.” Just shockingly naive; but, then again, this is Mondoweisss.

      • annie on August 13, 2019, 2:40 pm

        Just shockingly naive; but, then again, this is Mondoweisss.

        how’s your perch today david? you open your critique of Albert Lee in this thread volleying 10 questions (with more to follow) and then lob insults at responders (in a patronizing manner “one is serious about actually helping the Palestinians struggle for self-determination”), answer with even more questions, never once actually making a counter argument why Lee, talkback, or keith are wrong.

        perhaps “such questions are asked only to self-impressed woke liberals/progressives”, or not, who knows. carry on.

      • Sibiriak on August 13, 2019, 4:01 pm

        Keith is right.

      • Talkback on August 14, 2019, 3:31 pm

        David Green: “Just shockingly naive; but, then again, this is Mondoweisss.”

        I accept your intellectual capitulation.

      • Keith on August 15, 2019, 4:53 pm

        DAVID GREEN- “Just shockingly naive; but, then again, this is Mondoweisss.”

        I think the points you raise in your initial comment are worth pursuing. Unfortunately, you seem more interested in expressing your frustrations with Mondoweiss. To a degree, I can sympathize, however, your approach will hardly lead to a discussion regarding the overall political economy and the structural factors which limit and guide our actions. Pity. We are at the end of the hydrocarbon era and about to undergo catastrophic change, yet how many truly understand neoliberalism and its relationship to our private debt-money financial system? And while racism informs our foreign and domestic policy, it is not the driving force any more than patriarchy or religious intolerance. Big topics somewhat difficult to discuss in the Mondoweiss comments section.

  3. Greg Burton on August 10, 2019, 2:15 pm

    ‘Our foreign policy has typically been a white supremacist foreign policy’.

    I suppose the U.S. being at war in the Middle East and elsewhere, the entire eight years that Obama was President, would not count in Mr. Lee’s equation; despite Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize. And there is that well documented Obama support for ISIS, while running a drone execution campaign on same.

    Almost all of the Neoconservatives who’ve been running U.S. foreign policy are white, many are Jewish, but there is Condoleeza Rice, an African American lady.

    As I have come to believe Zionism was, first and foremost, a concocted political system of the British Imperialists, a means of conquering the ME for oil and for greater Israel; many of these people are white, some Jewish, except for the Arabic GCC. I don’t think the Saudis would qualify as being ‘white’, do you?

  4. Nathan on August 10, 2019, 2:22 pm

    House Resolution 246 does not criminalize BDS. I would suggest taking out two minutes of precious time in order to read the resolution. The House of Representatives “opposes the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) targeting Israel…” Opposing the BDS movement does not mean that the House means to prosecute you and to give you a criminal record. I would imagine that the editors of Mondoweiss understand that the claim of criminalization was pure and simple propaganda, so shame on them for publishing the interview without commenting that this claim is untrue.

    Moreover, the House Resolution 246 urges the two sides of the conflict to return to negotiations, affirms the right of free speech and the right to protest, supports United States-Israel Strategic Partnership and calls for a negotiated two state solution of the conflict (a Jewish state and a Palestinian state).

    Can we just have some honest, balanced journalism? The House of Representatives opposes BDS, and that’s it. It is a political statement. You’re still free to avoid visiting Israel. No one will come knocking on your door, and no one in Israel will miss you either.

  5. David Green on August 17, 2019, 1:59 pm

    Keith:

    “And while racism informs our foreign and domestic policy, it is not the driving force any more than patriarchy or religious intolerance. Big topics somewhat difficult to discuss in the Mondoweiss comments section.”

    Insofar as these topics cannot be seriously discussed in the MW comments section, there will also be a lack of pragmatic political action regarding Israel/Palestine. That would entail focusing, as you persistently do, on USFP which underlies the rational support of Israel by our ruling class. Instead, enormous effort is expended on trying to prove that support for Israel is somehow not in U.S. “interest.”

    That’s basically why (although I find MW informative in many ways and extremely valuable on that level), I no longer take it very seriously as a political force; I can say pretty much the same thing for JVP and the various “Jewish values” groups that are popping up. In the #neverTrump era, they’ve joined with the progressives, and keep safely within the agenda of the Democratic Party, which is simply to get the Presidency back (for the “respectable” ruling class).

    It’s no longer respectable for many liberals to support the criminalization of BDS. That’s as far as they will go. Is this the best that the “movement” can do?

    Beyond that, to get back to my initial comment, the emphasis on support for “anti-racism” is just insipid. Good liberal Jews in my community who have no interest in the Palestinians are proclaiming their “anti-racism” right and left. See “Bend the Arc.”

    • Keith on August 17, 2019, 3:44 pm

      DAVID GREEN- “… I no longer take it very seriously as a political force….”

      You mean you once did? I was never that naive. My attraction to MW was that back in the day we used to have some very interesting discussions. Not that these had any measurable impact on the Palestine, but they helped to articulate and clarify my own thoughts. Nowadays, Mondo has become inundated with Zionist trolls who provoke a never-ending verbal food fight which I try to avoid, commenting less frequently and having moderation problems from time to time. Incidentally, I have concluded that the function of Mondoweiss is rather different from the articulated objectives.

      • David Green on August 17, 2019, 5:20 pm

        That too; but the fact that the trolls get fed at all is also of some interest.

        Beyond that, I participated in the “Lobby Wars” back in the day, I think to some benefit. I try not to miss Jeffrey Blankfort, but it’s hard.

      • Mooser on August 18, 2019, 3:22 pm

        “Incidentally, I have concluded that the function of Mondoweiss is rather different from the articulated objectives.”

        “The articulated objectives”, (which is so the name of my new prog-rock band) of Mondoweiss are to be found on the “About” page.

      • echinococcus on August 18, 2019, 5:13 pm

        “‘The articulated objectives’, (which is so the name of my new prog-rock band) of Mondoweiss are to be found on the “About” page.”

        Thank you, kind sir, for this 384th reminder. We simply cannot figure it out for ourselves.

      • Mooser on August 18, 2019, 5:40 pm

        “We simply cannot figure it out for ourselves.”

        Yes, I noticed that.
        Anyway, I await your VH1 special, “Mondoweiss: The Mishegos Behind the Moderation”.

      • Keith on August 20, 2019, 7:40 pm

        MOOSER- ““The articulated objectives”… of Mondoweiss are to be found on the “About” page.”

        Most mission statements are little more than PR. One usually must evaluate an organization’s consistent actions and from that infer actual objectives. Even the Mondoweiss comments policy excludes the most important criteria.

      • Keith on August 20, 2019, 11:41 pm

        DAVID GREEN- “That too; but the fact that the trolls get fed at all is also of some interest.”

        Birds of a feather flock together. And so-called anti-Zionism has much in common with Zionism. Two sides of the same sectarian coin says I.

      • Mooser on August 21, 2019, 7:45 pm

        “Keith”, before you write stuff like that, you might reflect that Queen Cleopatra died because somebody started casting aspersions.

    • MHughes976 on August 17, 2019, 5:17 pm

      If these liberal minded people are proclaiming their anti-racism while not having any concern for Palestine they are thinking of anti-racism in a rather peculiar sense or perhaps quite inconsistently. I have long supported MW because I think it stands for anti-racism in a very genuine form. If more people read it and pondered on these things some political effect would follow. I also think that !Mondoweiss has helped the transition of support for Palestinian rights in the West from being negligible to being noticeable. The next step, from being noticeable to being taken seriously, is still in progress. The appearance of the Zionist apologetics was and is an inevitable part of that progress.

      • David Green on August 18, 2019, 4:48 pm

        Yes, it does stand for anti-racism in a very genuine form. But anti-racism when lumped in with effectively non-existent anti-semitism and detached from geopolitical analysis is not very helpful, including for African-Americans, immigrants, etc. What it gets you is neoliberal identity politics, and what that will get us I’m afraid is Kamala Harris, or Mayor Pete.

      • MHughes976 on August 20, 2019, 7:12 am

        Something wrong, the assignment and denial of political rights on the basis of blood and ancestry, is being done in the Middle East and applauded in the West, despite the proclamations of anti-racist values which should make clear the wrongness of what is being done. We should keep on saying this in season and out of season. I can’t see that it is unhelpful to concentrate on the heart of the matter.

    • echinococcus on August 17, 2019, 8:50 pm

      Green,

      “Is this the best that the “movement” can do?”

      What movement? The only movement so far on and around this forum is the one you so accurately described: “In the #neverTrump era, they’ve joined with the progressives, and keep safely within the agenda of the Democratic Party, which is simply to get the Presidency back (for the “respectable” ruling class).” What else is moving?

      I agree with Keith: if this site did help a few of us train our thought and check facts, that’s already a lot. A “political force” it cannot be.

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