Democratic clash over Palestine signals changing party

Allies of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders sparred at the Democratic platform drafting committee’s first round of hearings on 9 June over the issue of Palestinian freedom and Israel.

The clashes point to deeper struggles over Israel taking place within the party.

Sanders’ backers called for elevating Palestinian rights and acknowledging Israel’s military occupation in the party’s general election platform.

The video above shows highlights of the exchanges.

Those requests from Sanders allies were roundly rejected by Clinton supporters, who recycled platitudes about Israel’s security, apparently disputed the existence of Israeli military occupation and attacked the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

The 15-member drafting committee includes five members chosen by Sanders, among them grassroots activists and at least one BDS supporter.

The other ten, appointed by Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, mostly include lobbyists and establishment insiders.

Sanders has said he is using his leverage ahead of next month’s Democratic convention to push for the most progressive platform in the party’s history.

By making Palestinian rights a central component of his fight for a more inclusive and open Democratic Party, Sanders is forcing a long overdue public conversation about the most contentious issue in American politics.

BDS “must stop immediately”

Robert Wexler, a former congressman from Florida and staunch Clinton advocate, opened the discussion on Middle East policy by outlining the party establishment’s blueprint for the region.

Wexler, now president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, a nonprofit pro-Israel advocacy group, was present to give testimony as an expert.

Democrats “have a long-standing record of friendship with Israel” and “Clinton will continue that commitment,” Wexler said.

“While some proponents of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement may hope that pressuring Israel will lead to peace, the truth is outside forces will not resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he added.

“Particularly when anti-Semitism is rising throughout the world, Democrats must condemn efforts to isolate and delegitimize Israel … The delegitimization of Israel must stop immediately,” Wexler said.

That Wexler felt compelled to attack BDS is a testament to the success of Palestine solidarity activism which up until a few years ago had been dismissed as a fringe movement.

“Unbelievable misery”

Civil rights activist and celebrated public intellectual Cornel West, an outspoken supporter of BDS appointed to the committee by Sanders, responded to Wexler with a plea for equality and justice.

Israel’s security “can never be predicated on an occupation of precious Palestinians” who have been “wrestling with occupation for 50-some years, demeaned, devalued, dominated, exploited,” West said.

“For too long the Democratic Party’s been beholden to AIPAC, that didn’t take seriously the humanity of Palestinian brothers and sisters,” West said, referring to the powerful Israel lobby group.

West strongly denounced anti-Semitism, but warned that the ongoing struggle against that form of bigotry “cannot be the excuse of in any way downplaying the unbelievable misery that we see in Gaza and West Bank and other places.”

“So my first question would be, would you argue for the use of the word occupation in the platform?” West asked Wexler.

He also asked how Wexler would respond to the assertion that “for so long the United States has been so biased toward Israeli security and not accented the humanity of Palestinians that to talk about even-handedness is always a version of anti-Semitism as opposed to a struggle for justice.”

Occupation denial

Wexler was unequivocal: “No, I would not support and would in fact oppose the use of the word occupation for the very reason that it undermines our common objective,” the former congressman claimed.

The Democratic Party’s primary objective, he explained, is the “creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state” alongside “a Jewish-majority democratic state of Israel.”

When Arab American Institute president Jim Zogby, another Sanders appointee who has defended BDS, challenged Wexler on Israel’s settlements built illegally in the occupied West Bank, Wexler accused him of “undermin[ing] the whole equation that supports a negotiated two-state outcome.”

“How much is this going to cost?”

Deborah Parker, a Native American activist appointed by Sanders, expressed opposition to more wars in the Middle East and the cost of US military spending in the region, especially “as we sit here and listen to the amount of homelessness and infrastructure, education needs” in the US.

“How much is this going to cost us?” she asked.

Instead of addressing Parker’s question, Wexler paraphrased Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“One point Netanyahu always makes is that Israel is our one ally that never, ever has asked, and I can’t imagine would ask, for an American to do their fighting for them. Israelis fight for themselves,” said Wexler.

But they fight “with our money!” a person in the audience shouted.

The heckler was right. Israel is the largest recipient of US military aid, accounting for 55 percent of the total, to the tune of $3.1 billion a year.

President Barack Obama is currently negotiating a new deal that his administration vows will be the biggest military aid package to any country in history.

Fracturing party

The tension between the Sanders and Clinton backers over Israel is part of a wider battle over the direction of the Democratic Party.

Clinton represents the establishment and corporate wing, which is determined to prevent the party’s increasingly young and progressive base from gaining any power.

This new generation of voters strongly supports Sanders’ message of economic justice, a trend that corresponds with a dramatic ideological shift to the left that will likely endure after his campaign.

And that shift includes Palestine.

In the last two years alone, support for Palestinians among liberal Democrats has nearly doubled.

Support for Palestinian rights is also growing, especially on US college campuses, where recent polls show that 43 percent of students favor boycott as a means to pressure Israel to respect Palestinian rights and 44 percent – almost half – view Israel as an apartheid state.

Deeply rattled, pro-Israel groups are desperately pouring resources into suppressing BDS.

So when Sanders appointed West to the platform committee and signaled his intention to push the Democrats on Palestine, the political establishment went into an all-out panic.

War on BDS

Concrete action came early this month when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order requiring state agencies to divest from companies and institutions that back efforts to boycott Israel in support of freedom and equality.

The state will enforce the provision after drawing up what amounts to a political blacklist of accused boycott supporters.

Civil liberties groups slammed the decree as a McCarthyite violation of constitutionally protected speech.

While there is little doubt Cuomo would have supported the measure anyway, the likely motive behind the timing went largely unnoticed.

Cuomo, a staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton, may have fast-tracked the decree to shore up the Democratic Party’s support for Israel and to counter Sanders’ influence on the party platform.

During his speech announcing the executive order, Cuomo alluded to Sanders’ criticisms of Israel’s attacks on Gaza, warning,“You now have aspects of the Democratic Party that are being critical of Israel.” Cuomo then insisted, “I still think the Democratic party and the leadership of the Democratic party and the candidates of the Democratic Party are far and away stronger supporters of Israel than any other party.”

Clinton was gearing up for a war on the Palestine solidarity movement as early as last July when she vowed “to make countering BDS a priority” of her presidency.

A lot has happened since then.

Sanders rose from relative obscurity to rock star status and he has used his prominence to snub AIPAC, slam Israel’s military assault on Gaza as “disproportionate” and challenge Clinton to treat Palestinians with respect and dignity on a national debate stage.

And he did it all while remaining competitive, demonstrating that speaking up for Palestinians doesn’t have to be a career killer.

“Turning point”

Cuomo’s anxieties over the rise in support for Palestinian rights in the party were best distilled by Congressman Jerry Nadler of New York, also a Clinton surrogate.

Speaking to Politico after Cuomo’s announcement, Nadler complained that “a small minority … led by Bernie perhaps, or led by Cornel West, could generate a debate that makes the Democratic Party look, during the debate, not good, or anti-Israel.”

“It could cost us a lot of votes against Trump,” Nadler added.

New York Senator Charles Schumer, another Clinton supporter, said he planned to introduce national legislation similar to Cuomo’s state-level decree.

“One state is one thing,” Schumer said, “but to do it in the whole country would be much better.”

These are the declarations of an establishment that is losing the argument and sees its best option as using state power to quash political speech.

But so far, this strategy has not worked, and civil liberties defenders have said that such measures are bound to invite legal challenges on First Amendment grounds.

Symbolic as it may be, Sanders’ appointment of West to the platform committee signals a major crack in the Democratic Party’s allegiance to Israel.

The groundswell of support for Palestinian equality is inching its way up from the grassroots.

“We’re at a turning point now and of course it’s going to be a slow one in the Democratic Party, but some of us are working outside the Democratic Party to make it quicker,” Cornel West told fellow members of the platform committee. “That’s why I support the BDS.”




What is the difference between antisemitism and islamophobia?


If this is a rhetorical question and implies there isn't a difference, then it's premise is inaccurate. The former is a contempt for the peoples of the middle east in general, although the word has been misappropriated and is commonly understood to be a hatred of Jews.
The second is literally a fear of the Islamic faith but has come to mean a hatred of Muslims.
In both cases ignorance of the targets for discrimination leads to a misunderstanding of them.
So I guess you're right, there is no difference.


Perhaps those who advocate censure of BDS have forgotten the
censure of critical speech under National Socialism or in other
authoritarian countries.

Criminal nations, oppressive nations, those who commit
massacres, murders, dispossession deserve condemination.

Palestine was in the main an area populated by Muslims with a few
Christians and others. Those others never proposed to control
exclusively where they were living. Nor did they ever justify
the use of force to accomplish an "endziel".

It is a tragedy that those who support Clinton want to forget
the crimes of her "allies".

One does not condemn "Jews" but Zionists. These are not the
same thing by a long shot. Not all of easy are so easily fooled
by this deception.

----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA


According to a piece in the World Socialist Web Site, the Democratic Party platform is a meaningless document that has no impact on policy.
In his speech at the People's Summit, Sanders called on his supporters to focus on "defeating Donald Trump" obviously by electing Clinton. The Summit itself was aimed at co-opting Sander's supporters to get on board the Clinton campaign.
The question is: Will they fall into the DNC trap or will they bolt the Party and turn to an independent candidate?

Here's the link: "The “People’s Summit” in Chicago: Democrats, pseudo-left groups prepare new trap for workers and youth" --


To fjwhite...

The convention platform committee is indeed meaningless.

I hope "The Summit" had nice hotel rooms. Dreams and illusions
of grandeur (like revolution etc.) may satisfy some.

I can never vote FOR HRC. But from my point of view
the Senator of Vermont never had a chance. The US is not
a nation on the verge of "revolution" but rather on the verge of

To repeat what I have written elsewhere, I strongly suggest that
the Vermont Senator put all his energy into fighting the military-
industrial-civilian complex, reduce US (and bribed "allies")
spending on arms (including Vermont, Israel, Mideast Nuclear Free
Zone, predator drones (manufacture and use), financing by US.

I don't expect immediate success but this would be an
admirable focus for his energies. (There are others areas...)

The issue of "jobs" should be addressed by providing
meaningful and well-paid work not in private
defense contractors but in national (quasi-private ?)
corporations to build hospitals in unserved areas.
invest in infrastructure (eg railroads) etc.

Forget intellectual collective mourning about the revolution
that never was such as "The summit".

---Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA


Please continue to fight the apartheid nation of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and stop the bleeding of U.S. tax dollars (3.1 billion proposed) to support their military agenda. Let them fund it themselves. I am tired of this argument - what has Israel actually done for us except manipulate and exploit us with the terror threat they themselves exacerbate through their policy and actions. At the same time the middle class is crumbling, along with our infrastructure, our healthcare and education and social security needs are ignored and we are burdening our children and their children with trillions in debt for wars that only serve the interests of a global elite - who want to control the central banks and economies of these countries at any cost - in lives, or homes or liberties.


"One point Netanyahu always makes is that Israel is our one ally that never, ever has asked, and I can’t imagine would ask, for an American to do their fighting for them. Israelis fight for themselves,” said Wexler."

Yeah except for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, etc.


No, I think the US was plenty happy to start wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without Israel's encouragement. You cannot blame Israel for every ill in the Middle East. The Russians and Iranians are far more to blame for the situation in Syria than either Israel or the US. The situation in Syria is not at all to Israel's benefit - a stable, quiet border has become incredibly volatile, a situation Iran is taking full advantage of to smuggle weapons to Hezbollah. So to claim that the US is fighting a war in Syria (?) on Israel's behalf is simply ludicrous. It's also hard to see what Israel would gain from a war in Afghanistan or Libya. Your post is absurd.


I know it's late and I'm not sure this post evens deserves a reply but this comment section is a rare thing; it's generally rational and civil and I just hate to see chat room quality belligerence go unchallenged.
Israel is certainly not to blame for every ill there and nobody implied that but lets go to your claim that the Russians and Iran are to blame for Syria's woes. Let's remember that these are Syria's neighbors and it seems fairly natural that they would be concerned about their neighbor's elected governments being toppled by insurgents supported by distant governments, with a history of colonialism, quid pro quo installation and support of dictators and regular doses of sabre rattling behind agendas that are usually driven by Israel, members of Congress, advisers to the President and pro-Israel lobbyists who at various times in their careers belong to any or all of the aforementioned groups and oft times enjoy US/Israel dual citizenship.
And as for Israel's not benefiting by Syria's meltdown; if that means Israel must not have thrown a wrench in the works, then we agree. And I also agree that the destabilization of Assad's Syria was never in Israel's interest. But to say that this means "the US is fighting a war in Syria (?) on Israel's behalf is simply ludicrous" is a non sequitur because the US has resisted getting involved, to any great extent, for years. In fact, it could be said that US policy there has been de fact support of the Assad regime, which would lead one to conclude that the US was 'not fighting a war' precisely because Assad's continuance as Syria's leader was in Israel's interest.
Of course, you would probably blame our inaction in Syria on Obama's timidity. Okay, if that makes more sense to you, run with it. And I do also agree with you that Afghanistan and Libya don't belong in the wars for Israel column.
But to conclude that the notion is absurd is wrong and as the heckler said Israel does fight its wars with our money.


Glad that finally this tragedy in the Middle East is being discussed!!


Wexler is completely wrong. The only way to stop the brutal occupation is for the US to withdraw funding for genocide. Finally the supporters of Israel who are in complete denial and complicit in Israel's crimes are challenged to confront Israel's wall of lies and over 60 years of ethnic cleansing . Bravo to all who speak truth to power.

Rania Khalek

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Rania Khalek is an independent journalist reporting on the underclass and marginalized.