Biden stays right on Israel, scrubbing ‘occupation’ from platform

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Here is shocking/disappointing political news: The Democratic Party’s platform committee has come up with draft language on Israel/Palestine that refuses to use the word “occupation.” Progressives reportedly will try to reinsert this factual term in the next ten days.

Biden’s campaign has adopted a rightwing position that even liberal Zionist groups disapprove of. Biden is clearly worried that Trump will attempt to win Florida by painting Democrats as anti-Israel, as Biden’s Jewish outreach aide, Aaron Keyak, has warned. And there is surely also a battle between the parties for rightwing Jewish donors.

Jewish Voice for Peace and a coalition of other progressive orgs are outraged:

We and other progressive groups are outraged that the @DNC platform fails to even name Israel’s illegal military occupation. The base is ready to end Israeli oppression of Palestinians and to stop funding it. When will party leadership catch up?

Huffpo reports that the word occupation has never appeared in the platform; and a battle between base and party leadership will unfold over the weeks to come.

[T]he Democratic National Committee’s platform drafting committee voted to advance the language for the platform on Wednesday. It has not yet been made public. But a draft platform viewed by HuffPost does not mention “occupation.” A report in Jewish Insider also suggested the term was not used.

Jewish Insider says the draft language was approved unanimously by the 15-member committee and includes condemnation of annexation and settlement expansion but also states that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel. The Jerusalem plank had prompted rage inside the Democratic base in 2012, when a “livid” Barack Obama muscled it through in the face of a floor demonstration at the convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Jewish Insider quotes a Sanders’ delegate saying he hoped that opposition to “occupation” would be added “in the final draft ahead of the July 27 vote by the full 187-member platform committee.”

The Biden campaign just can’t be too right on Israel. It has said that it will compromise with Sandersites on other major issues, such as climate change and immigration, but not yield on a conservative pro-Israel position.

The progressive coalition critical of the omission says naming and condemning the occupation should be “the bare minimum for any leader of the Democratic Party.”

“We urge the [Democratic National Committee] Platform Committee to have the courage to correctly name the situation on the ground — a necessary precursor to taking meaningful action that can hold the Israeli government accountable for ongoing violations of human rights and international law.”

The platform does make progress over the 2016 version by acknowledging the constitutional right of all American citizens to free speech in the context of criticizing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign and efforts to delegitimize Israel. It thereby offers BDS supporters a pass it did not grant before. And the platform draft opposes “settlement expansion;” and the word settlements was stripped from the platform in 2016.

In a statement critical of the draft language, J Street praises the opposition to more settlements.

J Street is very pleased to see that the apparent first draft of the party’s platform looks set to include significant improvements on the 2016 platform — including the first ever articulation, in the platform of a major American political party, of support for Palestinian rights alongside affirmation of support for Israel’s security, and opposition to settlement expansion and unilateral annexation.

Though J Street says that leaving out the word occupation is glaring at a time when racial justice is the concern of the hour.

This omission would be particularly unfortunate in the midst of our current societal moment, as the party seeks to make absolutely clear its commitment to the fundamental human rights of marginalized peoples in this country and around the world.

Americans for Peace Now have also expressed disappointment at the failure to call out “occupation.”

The Biden campaign’s deference to rightwing opinion is clearly an effort to hold Florida, where Jews can be a decisive bloc, and to hold Jewish donors. Deference on Israel is inscribed in the Democratic Party due to near-legendary belief in Jewish influence: Jimmy Carter’s top political aide said in 1978 that 60 percent of large Democratic donors are Jewish; the late Hyman Bookbinder of the American Jewish Committee said the anecdotal figure is “Democrats get half their campaign funding from Jewish sources,” per J.J. Goldberg’s book Jewish Power (1996). And Goldberg said in 2016 that Jewish donors have a “gigantic” role in the Democratic Party. He spoke at a forum at which Stephanie Schriock of Emily’s List said the first step for congressional campaigns was to get a policy statement from the rightwing lobby group AIPAC so as to raise money.

During the 2016 race, Hillary Clinton tailored positions on Israel to please major donors; and made a point to distance herself from then-President Obama on the issue.

MI Rep. Elissa Slotkin warned last year that Trump was seeking to raid Jewish donors from Democrats. “We have, what I believe is a full-on attempt by the Republican Party to grab a different community and bring them into the fold, and I will just be very honest, right, they are not looking for our votes because we are a relatively small community; they are looking for our donors, right?… They are looking for our donors, and they are trying to sway us.”

And of course it is widely perceived that Jewish donors are pro-Israel. With flacks for Israel saying that 95 percent of Jews are Zionists.

On a related note, Biden’s new Jewish outreach director, Aaron Keyak, has evidently endorsed the challenger to Rep. Ilhan Omar in Minnesota in the August primary. JVP Action finds that “reprehensible.” Rep. Omar has gotten Nancy Pelosi’s endorsement and has herself endorsed Joe Biden.

Challenger Antone Melton-Meaux has raised “an eyepopping” $3.2 million in the last quarter, far more than Omar, including from pro-Israel groups. Melton-Meaux’s “global affairs” policy page consisted only of a vigorous backing of Israel for most of this spring (now it includes South America/Central America and human rights).

The fact that Keyak can keep his job and endorse is yet more testimony to the transcendent role of the Israel lobby in Democratic politics. It’s the same reason the lead Democratic Party thinktank could fawn over Netanyahu after the prime minister had sought to submarine Barack Obama on the signal foreign policy achievement of his eight years in office, the Iran deal– the thinktank wanted to land a big donor. The same reason that Chuck Schumer could ascend to the highest position in the Democratic Party in the Senate after defying Obama on the Iran deal. Schumer could not be punished for the betrayal because the party needs the lobby– or more important, thinks that it does.

Correction: I originally said that Melton-Meaux was a Republican challenging Omar. He’s a Democrat. Apologies for that mistake.

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Attention Joe Biden!! For your edification re “occupation.” “It used to be permissible for a state to acquire sovereignty over territory by right of conquest on the termination of a state of war. The right was abolished when the League of Nations was established in the aftermath of the First World War. The abolition of conquest extends to a prohibition of the acquisition of any territory by a state in actions of self-defence. The vexed… Read more »

(cont’d) Professor McHugo: “We have also drawn attention to the abolition of the right of conquest in international law. Any suggestion that Israel could retain some of the territories would have been illegal. Can it be seriously suggested that the Security Council would have attempted to overturn this principle?” (“Resolution 242: A Legal Reappraisal…,” p. 860) As Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban revealed at the time, he understood that Resolution 242 calls for Israel’s complete withdrawal:… Read more »

ERROR CORRECTION: Ilhan Omar’s primary opponent, Antone Melton-Meaux, is a Democrat, not a Republican. So, Philip, this piece needs an edit to remove the assertion that Aaron Keyak has endorsed a Republican.

Why is it so difficult for Joe Biden to insert the “against occupation and illegal settlements” clause in the Democratic platform. Isn’t that part of the US policies anyway? By not adding it in there, is he sending a signal that he approves of all that? It is very disappointing. It is disheartening to see that unwavering support for Israel flowing. This will result in some discord between the Biden faction and the progressives. I… Read more »

Melton-Meaux is running in the Democratic primary.