In the early morning hours of 25 June, while many Americans were asleep, Hillary Clinton allies on the Democratic Party’s platform drafting committee blocked a motion that called for an end to Israel’s military occupation and illegal settlement enterprise.
The vote came after several grueling hours of bickering between members named to the committee by Clinton and Democratic National Committee chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, on the one hand, and those appointed by Senator Bernie Sanders, on the other.
The video above shows highlights of the heated exchanges surrounding the vote.
Deeper struggles over Israel taking place within the party have been brought into the open since Sanders named prominent supporters of Palestinian rights to the committee that is writing the party’s general election platform.
Clinton, who appears likely to clinch the party’s presidential nomination after a hard-fought primary battle with Sanders, named members who back her staunch pro-Israel line.
Dark of night
Throughout the day, Clinton surrogates shot down motions endorsing universal health care, a carbon tax, stronger support for raising the minimum wage, forceful opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and a moratorium on fracking.
While these defeats took place during the day, committee organizers waited until the dead of night to deliberate on issues related to Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.
The vote appeared to be deliberately timed to garner as little attention as possible.
It was the very last section raised and by then it was nearly 1am. Ironically, holding votes in the middle of the night has been a Republican tactic for passing right-wing measures with as little public scrutiny as possible.
But if the purpose in this case was to suppress public debate over Israel, it doesn’t seem to be working.
End the occupation
Arab American Institute president James Zogby, a Sanders appointee, introduced an amendment to revise the language in the Israel/Palestine section of the platform.
Zogby proposed deleting a drafted pledge to oppose so-called delegitimization of Israel at the United Nations or by the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
He also proposed removing a reference to Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided” capital.
Zogby pushed for wording that called for “an end to occupation and illegal settlements so that [Palestinians] may live in independence, sovereignty and dignity,” “an international effort to rebuild Gaza which the UN warns could be uninhabitable by 2020” and recognition that Palestinians, like Israelis, “deserve security, recognition and a normal life free from violence, terror and incitement.”
Sanders “had direct input” in crafting the amendment, Zogby said, arguing, “the term occupation shouldn’t be controversial.”
Indeed, there was nothing radical about the amendment, which left the pledged US commitment to subsidizing Israel’s military machine and the reference to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” intact.
Even the supposedly liberal pro-Israel lobby group J Street did not object to the word occupation. Although the memo it circulated to members of the platform committee urged them to adopt language opposing BDS.
Champions of occupation
Clinton appointee Wendy Sherman, a lobbyist who effectively sells access to government officials, accused BDS and the UN of “creat[ing] anti-Semitism.”
Former congressman turned lobbyist Howard Berman framed opposition to Israel’s occupation as “one-sided” and suggested that Palestinians bear some responsibility for Israel’s illegal conduct.
Bonnie Schaefer, former joint-CEO of the jewelry chain Claire’s Stores, didn’t even bother addressing the issues raised in the amendment. Instead, she engaged in pinkwashing.
“As a gay Jewish Zionist, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, as we all know, the only place in the Middle East that I can walk down the street with my wife hand in hand and not be afraid,” Schaefer said.
A Clinton supporter and major donor to the Democratic Party, Schaefer was named to the committee by the DNC.
“Tell the truth”
Zogby fired back, while “you can go and walk down the street of Tel Aviv holding the hand of your wife, I can’t get in the airport without seven hours of harassment because I’m of Arab descent.”
“We have to be able to call it what it is. It’s an occupation that humiliates people, that breeds contempt, that breeds anger and despair and hopelessness, that leads to violence,” Zogby added.
Civil rights activist and celebrated public intellectual Cornel West, an outspoken supporter of BDS appointed by Sanders, expressed outrage.
“When the IDF [Israeli army] kills innocent people, over 500 babies in 51 days, no matter how many shields they say Hamas uses, it’s wrong,” said West, referring to Israel’s summer 2014 attack on Gaza.
The “Democratic Party must tell the truth,” West implored. “We can never fully respect the Palestinians unless we can name … the boot on their necks.”
“I come from a people who’ve been hated,” West added, drawing an analogy between the long history of denying the horrors inflicted on African Americans and the refusal to recognize the oppression of Palestinians.
The motion was nonetheless defeated in an 8-5 vote, with Sanders’ representatives being the only committee members to back it.
That vote, combined with other defeats throughout the day, prompted West to abstain from approving the platform altogether.
“[If] we can’t say a word about [Trans-Pacific Partnership], if we can’t talk about Medicare for all explicitly, if the greatest prophetic voice dealing with impending ecological catastrophe can hardly win a vote and if we can’t even acknowledge occupation as something that’s real in the lives of a slice of humanity … it just seems to me there’s no way in good conscience I can say take it to the next stage,” West said.
“I have to abstain. I have no other moral option, it would be a violation of my own limited sense of moral integrity and spiritual conscience,” he added. “That’s how I roll.”
West’s and Zogby’s advocacy for Palestinian rights has been so insistent that the Clinton wing of the party has attempted to neutralize them through the most cynical form of identity politicking.
“Concerned that Zogby and West’s viewpoint may be gaining traction at least in the public narrative, Bakari Sellers, a former South Carolina representative and now a CNN commentator, sent a letter signed by 60 African American politicians around the country to the co-chairs of the platform committee last week urging them to stick to the traditional language on Israel,” CNN reported.
This move was meant as a “counterpoint to West, a prominent member of the Black community.”
“Even though ending Israeli military occupation and settlement building have been explicit US policy goals since the early days of the George W. Bush administration, and even though Hillary Clinton as President Obama’s Secretary of State tried to advance these goals, Clinton appointees to the Democratic National Committee’s platform drafting committee outvoted Sanders appointees to exclude these very same goals from the Democratic platform,” Josh Ruebner, policy director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, told The Electronic Intifada.
“As Dr. Jim Zogby, a Sanders appointee, noted in the debate last night there is a fundamental disconnect between official US policy and the unwillingness of the Democratic Party to back it,” Ruebner added.
The US Campaign is calling on activists to urge both the Republican and Democratic parties to support Palestinian rights in their platforms.