The Democratic primary race for president is effectively over following Bernie Sanders’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton.
But the battle over Israel and Palestine within the party is just getting started and will likely spill over into the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia next week.
Throughout the platform writing process, those appointed to the drafting committee by Sanders shattered the illusion of lockstep Democratic support for Israel, first in Washington, DC, then in St. Louis and finally in Orlando, where the drafts were voted on by the full platform committee on 9 July.
In Orlando, Sanders delegates proposed calling for an end to Israel’s decades-long military occupation and rebuilding Gaza in the platform.
Despite the platform being nonbinding, Clinton delegates once again voted down the measures, prompting “the loudest boos of the day,” according to CNN.
The video above shows highlights from Orlando, including the chaotic aftermath.
A humanitarian plea
The amendments, both sponsored by Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute, would have added language to the platform to “provide the Palestinians with an end to occupation and illegal settlements so they may live in independent sovereignty and dignity” and “an international effort to rebuild Gaza, which the UN warns could be uninhabitable by 2020.”
The introduction of these amendments prompted jubilant cheers. And their defeat, though expected, provoked outrage from audience members and delegates alike.
“This is a humanitarian plea to do the right thing,” Berry argued. “It merely suggests that we have a heart and compassion and we’re capable of applying it to both Palestinians and Israelis.”
Young people traveled from all around Florida to show their support for Palestinians that day.
Albert Kishek, co-president of Students for Justice in Palestine at Florida State University, was one of them.
Before the delegates voted on the Palestine amendments, Kishek and his friends tried to persuade Clinton delegates to support Palestinian rights. But they had little luck.
“When I was advocating for Palestine, they were like, ‘I’m a Hillary delegate so I’m not going to vote yes,’” Kishek told The Electronic Intifada.
Indeed, in the Democratic National Committee’s livestream of the vote, Clinton-appointed platform committee member Wendy Sherman, a lobbyist who effectively sells access to government officials around the world, could be seen instructing Clinton delegates to vote no on the proposal to rebuild Gaza.
After the amendments failed, Kishek and his friends expressed outrage and walked out in protest.
“Issue of our time”
The most passionate pleas came from civil rights activist and celebrated public intellectual Cornel West.
Appointed to the platform committee by Sanders, West served as a powerful, adversarial voice on a number of issues during the drafting process, from healthcare, to the campaign for a living wage, to Palestine.
Since Sanders endorsed Clinton, West has thrown his support behind Green Party candidate Jill Stein, writing in The Guardian that Clinton’s “militarism makes the world a less safe place.”
The oppression of Palestinians “is a moral issue, it’s an issue of our time,” West said. “And for the younger generation, it’s more and more becoming what Vietnam was for the ‘60s or what South Africa was for the ‘80s.”
“Democratic Party, you been in denial for too long. Palestinians ought to be free!” West asserted to thunderous applause.
“During the attacks just a few years ago, over 2,000 were killed, over 500 babies were killed and not a mumbling word from any of our political elites,” West added, referring to Israel’s military assault on Gaza in 2014.
“What is going on in this country? What’s going on among our elites? Are we so paralyzed, are we so debilitated by the money flowing or indifference in our hearts?” he continued.
If the Democratic Party can’t even acknowledge when the Israeli army kills innocent people, West argued, then “we are in the same position this party was in 80 years ago when it didn’t want to deal with Jim Crow, didn’t want to deal with lynching.”
He charged that at the time, the party had been “locked in a state of denial, saying, somehow these negroes are gonna make it through with this misery. We refuse, I refuse to reach that conclusion. That’s why we ought to be concerned about Gaza.”
Activists in the audience as well as Sanders delegates stood, clapped and cheered in approval.
Opposition to Palestinian freedom
Instead of engaging in moral arguments, those arguing on Clinton’s behalf portrayed the amendments as obstacles to peace.
Nancy Soderberg, former deputy national security advisor to President Bill Clinton, argued that calling for an end to Israel’s occupation “would undermine the ability of the next president of the United States, Hillary Clinton, to lead the effort to negotiate an end to this conflict.”
Steven Benjamin, the mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, offered a similar talking point.
On top of being a Clinton supporter, Benjamin is an “African American Outreach activist” for AIPAC, the most influential Israel lobbying group in the nation’s capital.
In speeches to AIPAC, Benjamin had argued that the people of Israel are the “protectors” of Christian religious sites in historic Palestine and thus must be supported unconditionally.
Marc Stanley, a Clinton delegate from Texas and past chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council, an Israel lobbying group, also opposed the amendment, arguing that acknowledging Gaza’s suffering was one-sided.
“If you open up Gaza, for instance, and talk about people suffering, you’re not talking about the other side,” Stanley said to loud boos.
But not all Clinton supporters were united against Palestine. Amol Shalia, a Clinton supporter, tweeted that he voted in favor of the amendment to end the occupation.
Ignoring the base
The Republican Party’s platform is slightly more right-wing on Israel.
It explicitly denies that Israel is even engaged in an occupation, removes previous language that favored a two-state solution and refers to Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital, putting Republicans more in line with Israel’s ruling Likud Party.
That said, Republicans are at least reflecting the will of their base, which is overwhelmingly supportive of Israel, as recent polls show.
Democrats, by contrast, are ignoring and suppressing growing support for Palestinian freedom within the party to please pro-Israel donors, like billionaire media mogul and top Clinton campaign contributor Haim Saban.
This contradiction is unsustainable. Establishment Democrats cannot continue to promote racial inclusiveness in the US while unconditionally supporting a belligerently right-wing state that denies basic human and civil rights to millions of Palestinians.
The amendment on ending Israel’s occupation was defeated 95 to 73 in the larger platform committee. And the second amendment that called for rebuilding Gaza was voted down 95 to 72.
Liberal support for Israel is deteriorating rapidly. The tension that broke out during the Democratic primary is just the beginning.
- Democratic primary
- Democratic Party
- Bernie Sanders
- Hillary Clinton
- Cornel West
- Maya Berry
- 2016 US presidential election
- Jill Stein
- Green Party
- Florida State University
- Students for Justice in Palestine
- Nancy Soderberg
- Steven Benjamin
- Marc Stanley
- National Jewish Democratic Council
- Amol Shalia
- Haim Sbitan