Why the Democratic party platform matters

Party platforms reveal the balance of forces of political debate within the major parties. So, what does the Democratic Party platform tell us about the party in 2020?
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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.

This was an excerpt from our weekly politics newsletter, The Shift, where Michael Arria takes you to the front lines in the battle over Palestine in the United States. Sign up below to receive the newsletter in your inbox every Thursday.

Subscribe to The Shift, a weekly newsletter from Michael Arria tracking the politics of Palestine in the U.S.

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