In late April, the platform committee for Nevada’s biggest county Democratic committee, in Clark County (Las Vegas), approved a platform that included three planks in support of Palestinian rights that were put forward by Bernie Sanders delegates: calls to end the blockade of Gaza, to support the right of return, and to repeal anti-boycott legislation.
Hours after the platform was published last Monday, county party leaders acted to strip the three planks, out of 500 lines in the platform. (Texts below.)
In leaked emails, the party leaders cited concerns expressed by members of the Jewish community. “…[T]here were many feedbacks from elected and former elected and from members of the Jewish community that these were anti-Semitic and asked me to remove it,” wrote Steve Horner, the platform committee chair. The chair of the party, Donna West, wrote: “I received strong feedback about 3 planks related to Israeli-Palestinian relations. The Platform Committee reconvened and unanimously voted to remove those three planks.”
West then asked all delegates to the Clark County committee to vote, virtually, on the platform, even as proponents of the pro-Palestinian planks sought to block the censorship through appeals to other Democratic authorities. They said that the platform committee was not unanimous in overturning its own decision, and that the top-down procedure violates party bylaws.
The vote is said to be continuing through May 8, and coronavirus has been cited as a reason to censor the plans. See op-ed below.
Horner has said that the planks divided rather than united Democrats and “We wanted a platform that all candidates could support.”
While it is just one county, the Clark County Democrats are the most powerful committee in the state; and official political views on Israel Palestine in Nevada tend to reflect the views of casino-owner Sheldon Adelson, according to Seth Morrison of Nevadans for Palestinian Human Rights. Thus the battle over the platform is likely to have important symbolic ramifications in weeks and months to come as similar planks are considered in many other places. Nevada’s battle anticipates the battle over the Democratic Party platform– and recalls the way in which support for Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem was imposed on the party by Barack Obama in 2012, in defiance of the rank and file.
What follows is an op-ed on the battle prepared by two delegates who support the pro-Palestinian planks: Gordon Brown of the Democratic Socialists of America and Judith Whitmer, a member of the Clark County party’s executive committee.
Democracy (It’s not for Democrats)
From bars to bookstores, courts to casinos, Nevadans have been asked to give up many things in the face of the Covid-19 crisis. On Monday [April 27], another sacrifice was added to the list: the democratic process.
For the past month, preparations for the Clark County Democratic Convention – representing over half a million voters in Southern Nevada – has been underway. Coordinating such a massive event is tough in the best of times, and for delegates juggling life under lockdown with their commitment to represent their neighbors, things have been almost impossible.
Despite how easy it would be to put politics on the back burner, hundreds of Clark County Democrats have worked tirelessly to advocate for the needs and values of their communities. Over the course of two CCDC platform hearings, hundreds of delegates spent hours constructing, amending, and debating a platform that would shape the direction of their party over the next four years. While the deliberations were at times fierce, the end result was a cohesive, unambiguous, resolute document that anyone of good conscience would be proud to stand behind.
It lasted for less than four hours.
The finalized platform was published by the Clark County Democratic Party platform committee on Monday morning [April 27]. No sooner had delegates breathed a sigh of well-earned relief than an email was sent from a party official. Additional changes were to be made to the document. Certain planks were to be removed after “feedback” they’d received (though feedback from whom was conspicuously absent from the announcement). The platform committee had taken it upon themselves to reconvene and eliminate key stances. No hearings. No discussion. Just a hastily-called meeting to circumvent the express will of the delegates.
Now in any normal situation, this would be enough to raise alarms. The Clark County Democrats are the largest political organization within Nevada, and regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, decisions made here will affect you in some way or another. This, however, is not a normal situation. It’s something far more insidious, and it has everything to do with the planks that were eliminated.
Of some 500 statements made within the platform, only three were suddenly declared as objectionable and tellingly, all related to the same issue: fair treatment for the Palestinian people.
“We support ending the blockade of the Gaza Strip.”
“We support the rights of the Palestinians to return to their homeland.”
“We support the repeal of SB26, which prohibits certain government entities from contracting with companies that boycott Israel, and we oppose any legislation prohibiting, limiting, or deterring individuals or businesses from the exercise of free speech.”
Are any of these points objectionable? Hardly. The 13-year siege of Gaza has been recognized by the UN as a human rights disaster and a form of collective punishment. Human rights groups – including many based in Israel – have called for an end to the blockade.
The same goes for the right of Palestinians to return to their former homes. In the very same section of the platform, the Clark County Democrats advocate the return of ancestral lands to Native Americans (multiple times, in fact).
As for boycotts – perhaps the most peaceful form of protest imaginable – these have been used by everyone from the heroes of the civil rights era to the campaign to end Apartheid in South Africa. If protesting the practices of a government isn’t being rejected here (and it isn’t) why is this exception being made? Because the Democratic party affirms over and over the rights of humans – regardless of race, religion, or nationality – just not for Palestinians.
Let us be clear. These supposedly unacceptable planks were submitted during committee hearings with no objection. They even received resounding support (and this, from a group of delegates that had an impassioned debate over wording surrounding charter schools). These points were entered in accordance with the rules set by the platform committee and locked into the final draft. Why aren’t they part of the platform now? For the simple fact that party officials took it upon themselves to violate their own bylaws, overreach with their authority, completely contravene their own process, and then stonewall their own membership.
The response from party officials (now that it’s finally arrived) has been confused, contradictory, and centered around a plea to special circumstances. Unsurprisingly, Covid-19 has been trotted out as the excuse for this shameless power-grab by party bigwigs.
“Normally, we’d have an in-person convention.”
“Normally, we’d have time for debate.”
“Normally, we’d stick to procedure and give our members a voice.”
Make no mistake. “We’re breaking our own rules because of the constraints of the virus” is just a way of saying “We’re breaking our rules because you’re not here to stop us.”
For a party harried by accusations of self-sabotage and corruption, this is just one more feather on a tarred reputation. It might not mean much to the donors dictating policy in closed-door meetings, but for the voters in this crucial election year, it’s nothing short of a slap in the face. Not only will the party break its own rules, but it will do so at the behest of bigots.
No, these are not normal circumstances. These are trying times. Uncertain times. Times that test our most deeply-held convictions. The challenges we face today are unprecedented – and the Democratic party, once again, has shown that it’s simply not up to the task.