The liberal advocacy group J Street is pressuring the Democratic Party to include anti-occupation language in its party platform before their convention this summer. 230 Jewish clergy and other community members have signed a J Street letter calling on political parties to update their platforms to “make clear what a comprehensive Israel/Palestine foreign policy looks like under a future administration, which includes a commitment to security, democracy, and human rights.”
A number of College Democrat chapters have already endorsed the organization’s call. “College students are absolutely committed to defeating Donald Trump in 2020 — and to making sure that the next president is prepared to take action to oppose annexation, confront the occupation and lead the way towards Israeli-Palestinian peace” J Street U national president Matan Arad-Neeman said in a statement, “This campaign is about demonstrating that strong support for Israel can and should go hand-in-hand with an unapologetic commitment to Palestinian rights. It is imperative that party leaders reflect that consensus.”
The subject of Israel has come up numerous times during the Democratic campaign, as young activists from groups IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace have confronted candidates about the occupation. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has even floated the idea of conditioning aid to Israel in an effort to curb the country’s abuses against Palestinians.
During the 2016 election, the Democratic Party adopted two-state language in its platform but rejected attempts to add any mention of the occupation. Arab American Institute co-founder James Zogby served on Bernie Sanders’s committee to draft the Democratic Party platform during that election and fought for the occupation and Israeli settlements to be mentioned. He told Mondoweiss that pro-Israel groups have fought hard against any such efforts.
“We never know where pro-Israel groups – AIPAC in particular – will draw their red lines,” said Zogby. “In ’88 when I was representing Jackson in the platform fight, they wouldn’t allow the ‘P’ word. I was told that if we raised it, ‘you will destroy the Democratic Party.’ We pushed back and had a debate from the podium calling for ‘mutual recognition, territorial compromise, and self-determination for both.’ Not controversial by today’s standards, but they went crazy over it. In 2016 we were set to raise a number of issues and never expected that AIPAC would draw the line at mention of settlements and occupation.”
Zogby said that he welcomed the J Street letter, but pointed out that it doesn’t go nearly far enough: “I’m glad that J Street is pushing back, but two thoughts come to mind: settlements and occupation & even annexation ought to be no brainers. The issue is what are we willing to do to stop Israeli land grabs, displacement of Palestinians, and violations of their rights. What should be debated are sanctions and withholding or diverting aid.”
After Joe Biden’s decisive primary wins on Tuesday, there’s a clear path for him to win the Democratic nomination. Bernie Sanders’ movement has turned out a significant number of Muslim voters and many in his progressive base support the cause of self-determination. Biden has been a staunch supporter of Israel for decades and has even referred to himself as a Zionist. It seems likely that another battle over platform language will develop, but it remains to be seen what it will ultimately look like.