Sanders and The Platform Fight
The writing had been on the wall for awhile, but Bernie Sanders has now formally dropped out of the presidential race. Bernie wasn’t fantastic on the Palestine question, but he consistently called Netanyahu a racist and was the only candidate who broached the topic of conditioning aid to Israel. He even brought up Gaza’s humanitarian crisis during a debate to great applause, a small moment that seemed impossible just five years ago. “Bernie Sanders would not have liberated Palestine,” tweeted Palestinian-American activist Nooran Alhamdan, “But I truly believe that conditions for organizing in America and the rest of the world for Palestinian liberation would have been the best they possibly could have been for us under a Sanders Presidency. The fight continues.”
I received a mass email from DMFI President Mark Mellman yesterday morning, celebrating the Sanders news and taking partial credit for the Vermont Senator’s departure. You probably know that DMFI is a pro-Israel lobbying group that was created by Democratic donors and insiders at the beginning of 2019. Their expressed purpose is to quash any pro-Palestine sentiment that might develop within the party. They repeatedly insist that politicians like Sanders do not line up with mainstream Democrats on the subject, even though there’s now mountains of data showing that most Democratic voters are to the left of their party on Israel.
There’s a multitude of reasons that Sanders lost (as there would be with any unsuccessful race), but the DMFI victory lap certainly seems a little humorous. The group’s big move was spending over $800,00 on a bunch of attack ads before the Iowa caucus. Sanders won the popular vote in that state and DMFI’s failed effort resulted in his campaign raising $1.3 million in a single day.
Speaking of fundraising, that was the reason for Mellman’s email. Now that the Sanders is out, the group has zeroed in on its next battle. Sanders campaign members can’t be allowed to add any language about Palestine into the party platform. Any wording about ending the occupation, or stopping settlement expansion, must be fought. “History is clear: on big issues, party platforms matter,” writes Mellman, “As a career political professional, I will tell you that if Democrats adopt an anti-Israel platform this year, the vocabulary, views, and votes of politicians will shift against us dramatically. We simply can’t afford to lose this battle.”
Last month, I spoke with Arab American Institute co-founder James Zogby about the looming platform battle. Zogby fought it as a representative of Jesse Jackson in 1988, then was on Sanders’s committee to draft the platform in 2016. “We never know where pro-Israel groups – AIPAC in particular – will draw their red lines,” Zogby told me, “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.”
I also asked Zogby about J Street’s recent calls to include anti-occupation language in the platform. “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,” he responded, “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.”
We will see who wins out this time around.
COVID-19 and Gaza
This morning our Bethlehem-based correspondent, Yumna Patel spoke to Dr. Medhat Abbas, the Director General of Primary Care for the Ministry of Health in Gaza about the COVID-19 crisis in Gaza. The talk also featured Jewish Voice for Peace Health Advisory member, Dr. Alice Rothchild. You can watch it on YouTube.
ISM and The FBI
There was a fantastic report in The Intercept last weekend from journalist Chip Gibbons. Through documents acquired via the Freedom of Information Act, Gibbons shows how the FBI targeted The International Solidarity Movement (a nonviolent pro-Palestine org) with multiple terrorism probes. “Throughout the documents, the political beliefs of ISM members and other Palestinian solidarity activist were treated as though they were synonymous with terrorism,” writes Gibbons, “The approach is of a piece with the FBI’s long history of using its intelligence and national security powers to track domestic dissent.”
Odds & Ends
📚 Last week, we published a list of ten books on Palestine to read while social distancing. We also did a list of 5 movies. Check them out at the site and add your own recommendations in the comments.
✉️ Palestine Legal, the Council on American-Islamic Relations-San Francisco Bay Area chapter, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights wrote a letter to UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, asking the school to take action against anti-Palestinian harassment on campus. The letter documents multiple physical and verbal attacks.
Chag Pesach Sameach and Happy Easter. We’re all in this together,