Activism

Meet the Muslim, Palestinian-rights advocate who is trying to upend an 85-year political dynasty

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The Dingell family has controlled Michigan’s 12th district for 85 years. Rep. Debbie Dingell has held the congressional seat since 2015. Before that it was her late husband’s, and his father was the representative prior to that. Challenging a political dynasty this entrenched is obviously a daunting task, but a 27-year old medical student named Solomon Rajput says he’s up for it.

In addition to backing progressive policies like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, Rajput is also a BDS supporter and has entire section of his campaign website dedicated to the subject of Palestinian rights. Rajput spoke to Mondoweiss’ Michael Arria, Israel/Palestine, and his wider foreign policy vision.

 

Arria: You’re taking on one of the longest dynasties in our political history. What motivated you to challenge it?

Rajput: I am running because I feel like the establishment has totally failed us. All our current representative knows how to do is to think small. But that small thinking is what’s gotten us into this status quo catastrophe that we’re currently in. We’ve begged and pleaded with our politicians for a long time to go and fight for the big changes that we need to do, and we’ve been doing that the same thing with this political dynasty that we’re taking on.

They refuse to do what we need to get done, and at some point we have to realize that we can only beg for so long before it’s clear that these people are never going to do what we need to get done when it comes to health care or the environment, when it comes to the cost of college. And if we want to get it done, we gotta go do it ourselves, because at this point, we’re done waiting.

So for me, I was taking a look at what our current representative is supporting in terms of various different policies. And she is not on the progressive side of many policies, including the Green New Deal, including getting big money out of our political system, including making college free, including single payer, Medicare for All, health care. And she also is not the strongest advocate for the human rights of the Palestinian people. And so when I was thinking about that and thinking about how progressive our district was, I realized that we need someone who is a progressive champion. And unfortunately, our current representative is not that person.

To your point, there’s a whole section on your website about the human rights of Palestinians, which you obviously don’t see on most people’s campaign pages. Could you explain why you’re passionate about this topic?

In our district, we have Dearborn, Michigan, which is the biggest Muslim population center in the United States. And I’m also someone who’s a Muslim American. So for me, when I’m thinking about the human rights of oppressed people, whether they’re Muslim people or any other group of people, I believe that a strong, powerful group of people should not be oppressing a less powerful people. It’s an issue that people in my district care a lot about because we do have such a big Muslim community in our district.

You mentioned in that same section on your website that you’re supportive of a nonviolent methods to advance Palestinian self-determination, including the BDS movement. We’ve seen numerous bills recently (at state and local levels) that target the movement and even aim to penalize people for supporting it. What are you thoughts on this trend?

When we think about BDS we need to ask what are the tools for a group of citizens in a nonviolent means to protest the actions of a government? In our country (the United States), boycotting has been taking a very prominent role in many movements, including the civil rights movement. And then we think about it in terms of divestment, it’s something that was huge in the anti-apartheid movement with South Africa. If you aren’t boycotting, divesting or implementing sanctions, then what are the other nonviolent means by which you can actually protest a foreign government? So I think honestly, any any group that is trying to silence the BDS movement is trying to silence a nonviolent protest and they’re doing it not because it’s in good faith, but because they are being influenced by lobbyists, essentially.

You also mentioned the Betty McCollum bill in that section. The topic of conditioning military aid to Israel is something that even Democratic nominees have brought up on the campaign trail. What kind of steps do you think Congress can take to make conditioning aid a reality?

The first step is that people become can become co-sponsors of H.R.2407, which is a bill that has a very simple goal. And that says that we should not provide funding to the Israeli military to detain or interrogate or abuse the children of Palestine. It’s a very simple goal. I think a lot of people can get behind it because it really it’s just a matter of human rights, because, for God’s sake, these are children. Right? And I believe that the first thing that people can do is put their name on this bill. And unfortunately, this is a bill that Congresswoman Dingell, who is our representative in the 12th District of Michigan, put her name on and then actually rescinded her support and took her name off of it. That was something that sent shockwaves throughout the community in this district, especially the Dearborn community, which does have a large Middle Eastern and Muslim population. So I think that the work of a congressperson is pretty simple. You just put your name on the correct bills and then they can get passed and become laws. So I think that that is the first step.

Can you identify some other examples beyond Israel/Palestine, where you believe that to your district could use new leadership as it relates to foreign policy?

Absolutely. So when it came to the potential of us going to war in Iran, I absolutely came out strongly, immediately against the potential of forcing a war. We absolute should not go to war with Iran because we don’t need another useless war where we spend decades spending trillions of dollars for no strategic objective, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people, sending Americans to go die for the destabilization of the region.

I think a lot of people in our district, and a lot of people across this country, understand that another war in the Middle East is the last thing we want. In contrast, a lot of centrist Democrats were not able to come out in full swing saying that we should not go into war with Iran. And Congresswoman Dingell never made a statement to the best of our knowledge, saying that we should not be going to war with Iran. She made a statement saying that the president should have asked for congressional approval first. That’s not the same thing. That [frames it as] a procedural matter and that if only the president had gone to Congress first, any action he committed would have been OK. It clearly was not OK. It was a clear act of war. And thankfully, Iran chose not to  further escalate the matter in hugely concerning ways. Killing ranking officials in another foreign country brought us to the brink of war. So I think we need to be clear and strong. And our message is that this is unacceptable and it’s not just a procedural concern. It’s a matter of moral clarity.

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Solomon’s campaign is an excellent example of how important it will become to push for BDS, for anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a human rights advocate.

Also in Michigan, another electoral campaign is showing the same thing:

“Anti-Israel activist and environmentalist running for Ann Arbor council”, at:
https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2019/12/anti-israel-activist-and-environmentalist-running-for-ann-arbor-council.html