A man displays a Palestinian flag amidst delegates holding up signs during the 2016 Democratic National Convention. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP)
Does the Democratic Party’s platform actually matter? In April, I asked Arab American Institute co-founder James Zogby exactly that. He was part of Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns in the 80s and was a member of Bernie Sanders’s committee to draft the Democratic Party platform in 2016.
“There are two measures that I look at historically. One is where public opinion is and, for that, I turn to polling. The other is where the balance of forces are in the actual political debate within the two major parties. For that, you look at the platforms,” Zogby told me.
So, let’s apply The Zogby Test to the 2020 Democratic Party. Before we get to the platform, let’s start with the polling. A 2019 Center for American Progress poll found that 56% of American voters support conditioning U.S. aid to Israel if the country continues to expand its settlements or annexes portions of the West Bank. Apply that to just Democratic voters and the numbers go way up: 71% say they want aid to be conditioned.
Data for Progress also polled voters on the question of conditioning aid last year. They didn’t end up with numbers as high as the Center for American Progress did, but their survey also found that a majority of Democratic voters support the policy.
What about BDS? Since the campaign began in the mid-2000s, it’s been derided by many as a foolhardy endeavor that will never make a dent on mainstream society. Last year, Nation columnist Eric Alterman wrote an op-ed for the New York Times mockingly titled, “Does Anyone Take the B.D.S. Movement Seriously?”
It turns out an increasing number of Democratic voters take it seriously. A University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll from January asked 3,016 people about BDS and found 49% of them had heard of the movement. Of the Democrats who had heard of it, 48% said that they “strongly or somewhat” support BDS. 80% of the Democrats surveyed said that they opposed anti-BDS laws. Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, summarized the polls findings when it was released. “For a few years now, the polls have consistently shown a majority of Democrats wanting to take action against Israeli settlements, including imposing sanctions, while Republicans and independents wanted to do nothing or limit opposition to words. But until this fall, I had not asked directly about the BDS movement, as it was not on the radar screen of most Americans. However, the recent debates in Congress and elsewhere have raised the profile of the issue,” he wrote.
So, that’s the base of the party. Broad support for conditioning military aid to Israel and an increasing awareness about BDS that is leading to more and more support for the movement.
Now let’s look at the platform. “Where the balance of forces are in the actual political debate within the two major parties,” as Zogby says. On Monday, the Democratic National Committee rejected a motion to condition aid to Israel and add the word “occupation” to the platform. The vote wasn’t even particularly close. It failed 34-117, with five delegates abstaining.
The amendment was introduced by Bernie Sanders delegate, and executive director of Our Revolution’s Illinois chapter, Clem Balanoff. “At a time when hundreds of thousands of Americans have been marching in our streets – and many of you on this call – for equality and civil rights, it is unconscionable for the Democratic Party not to speak truthfully to the Palestinians efforts to secure those same rights,” he said.
During the meeting, former US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, and former undersecretary of state for political affairs, Wendy Sherman, both made remarks opposing the amendment. Sherman declared that the $3.8 billion that Israel gets from the U.S. every year is “a mutually beneficial investment, one that protects Israel against very real threats and helps promote security and stability in a region where we know all too well the cost of insecurity and instability.”
Shapiro spoke of the need to speak with one voice during the meeting. After the vote he tweeted, “We’re a diverse party, and many views are heard, but Democrats are unified around these principles.”
Who is possibly buying this? Every poll on the subject shows that the Democratic establishment is completely out of step with the people who actually vote for them. Not just on the issue of Israel, but on a score of others. Motions endorsing Medicare for All and one calling for the federal legalization of pot were also voted down, despite being widely popular among the Democratic electorate.
As Josh Ruebner reports at our site, Balanoff’s proposed amendment was actually a watered down version of a much stronger motion authored by Palestinian-American delegates. This one included conditioned aid, an end to the occupation, an end to settlement expansion, Palestinian rights to Jerusalem, and an assertion of equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.
“Their amendment language was duly submitted to the DNC by a Sanders delegate to the platform committee but was not brought up for a vote. It is unclear what happened to this amendment language, as determinations about amendments happen behind closed doors, but its omission from the process further reinforced the marginalization of Palestinian-American voices,” explains Ruebner.
None of these developments are particularly surprising, but as the disconnect on this issue grows deeper, the Dems are about to nominate a presidential candidate who finds the very concept of conditioning aid “outrageous.” The polls currently look good for Biden (although who knows what the Trump administration is capable of this November), but 2021 won’t look like 2009. He’ll be presiding over a country with a stronger BDS movement, a two-state solution consensus that’s obviously cracking, and population whose support for Israel continues to dwindle.
Speaking of shifting opinions on Israel, actor and comedian Seth Rogen went on Marc Maron’s podcast this week and said a bunch of things that you don’t often hear from celebrities. Rogen and Maron are both Jewish and their conversation touched on their experiences with Judaism and their views on Israel. Here’s a portion of it:
Rogen: And I also think that as a Jewish person, like I was fed a huge amount of lies about Israel my entire life. You know, they never tell you, that oh by the way, there were people there. They make it seem like it was– just sitting there. Oh the fucking door’s open!
Maron: Ours for the taking.
Rogen: Yeah. Literally they forget to include the fact to every young Jewish person: Basically, oh by the way, there were people living there.
Maron: They want to make you feel frightened enough about your own survival that when you are old enough, you will make sure money goes to Israel, that trees are plants, that you always speak highly of Israel. And Israel must survive no matter what.
Rogen: I don’t understand it at all. I think for Jewish people especially who view themselves as progressive and who view themselves as analytical and who view themselves as people who ask a lot of questions and really challenge the status quo — Like, What are we doing?
“Thank you, Seth Rogen, for using your platform to educate folks on the true history of Israel’s theft of Palestinian land,” tweeted the antiwar group CODEPINK.
Phil Weiss did a post on the whole episode at our site.
Odds & Ends
🇵🇸 Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan tweeted about the murder of Ahmed Erekat. “It has been over a month since Ahmad Erekat was killed by the Israeli military, and they refuse to return his body back to his family. The Israeli government’s attack on Palestinian human rights has gone on too long. #BringAhmadHome #BringThemAllHome,” tweeted the congressman. He also linked to a Middle East Eye article on the subject.
On June 23, Ahmad was killed by Israeli security forces at a military checkpoint outside of Bethlehem. He was on his way to pick up his sister for her wedding later that day. Ahmad was the cousin of the activist and author Noura Erakat. “What we understand is that Ahmed lost control of his car or was confused while he was in his car. That was all it took to have a knee-jerk reaction, for the car to jerk a little bit and immediately to cause the soldiers to open fire on him multiple times. Note that these soldiers, who are fully armed at this checkpoint, are behind barriers, are not actually out in the open, and then left Ahmed to bleed for one-and-a-half hours,” she told Democracy Now.
As Pocan points out, Ahmad’s family is still fighting to have his body returned to them.
🗳️ Tom Perkins has a piece at Mondoweiss about the money pro-Israel groups have donated to Rep. Ilhan Omar’s primary opponent, Antone Melton-Meaux. Perkins found that pro-Israel PACs have spent around $2 million on the race. “Among the Melton-Meaux campaign’s largest super PAC donors is the Pro-Israel America PAC, which has contributed over $350,000. It funnels money from the lobby’s individual donor network and is run by two former AIPAC staffers. Similarly, NORPAC has sent about $150,000 from its donors to Melton-Meaux,” he writes.
Last year, Omar was condemned by Republicans (and many members of her own party) for suggesting pro-Israel lobby groups have an impact on political races.
🇨🇺 California Rep. Karen Bass is apparently being vetted for Biden’s VP slot, so she had to release an official statement apologizing for the fact she referred to the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro as “Comandante en Jefe” in 2016. ““I have talked to my colleagues in the House about that, and it’s certainly something that I would not say again. I have always supported the Cuban people, and the relationship that Barack Obama and Biden had in their administration in terms of opening up relations,” said Bass. We are living in the dumbest timeline, as they say on Twitter.
🇨🇳 There’s a long history of Democratic presidential candidates running to the right of their GOP opponents on certain foreign policy issues and this election is no different. Biden’s team keeps trying to hit Trump over allegedly being soft on China, whatever that means. The Daily Beast reports that a number of Republican hawks are being welcomed into Biden’s circle.
📰 The New York Times has a piece about the damage Kenneth Marcus did as the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Chief. “We have a long road ahead to undo the damage that he and the rest of the administration have done,” Palestine Legal staff attorney Zoha Khalili told the paper.
🇺🇸 The Trump administration has eased restrictions on exporting armed drones, bypassing an existing international arms control ban. Naturally there’s concern about Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates using the weapons to attack Yemen, as the U.S.-backed bombings have already killed more than 8,700 civilians.
Earlier this month, Shireen Al-Adeimi, a Yemeni activist and assistant professor at Michigan State University, went on Democracy Now and talked about the bombing campaign:
All of this is happening, and the U.S. is still helping the Saudis and the Emiratis drop bombs in Yemen. Two days ago, you know, 16 people were killed in an airstrike, and mostly women and children. Two days before that, 11 people were killed in an airstrike. And so, the airstrikes are still ongoing. The blockade is still ongoing. And this is in the middle of a pandemic. And, you know, I can’t imagine a country that has it worse than Yemen currently. It was the world’s worst humanitarian crisis before COVID, and because of the U.S.’s intervention, and now it’s even worse than that.
Stay safe out there,