Information about her trip was not posted on her website or Twitter feed but was announced via social media by both Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and Yair Lapid, another prominent Israeli politician.
Katherine Franke, a professor at Columbia Law School, was among the first to express concern.Harris’ office did not respond to questions from The Electronic Intifada regarding whether or not she addressed Israel’s human rights abuses and violations of international law during her trip.
Palestine News Network did report on Harris’ brief visit with 10 female students at Al-Quds University in the occupied West Bank.
She told the students she had driven by Israel’s separation wall en route to the university and inquired whether it posed “a real barrier” to their movement. The unanimous answer was yes. Students then told her about other restrictions Israel inflicts on them.
The publicized meetings with Israeli officials, for their part, appeared friendly. Netanyahu stressed “the potential for deepening cooperation in water management.” Israel is known to be stealing water from Palestinians living under occupation.
Looking the other way
We do know from a June 2016 Jewish News of Northern California questionnaire – published before Harris won her US Senate seat in November last year – that Harris has a strong tendency to look the other way when it comes to Israeli human rights abuses. Knowing something about the wall and doing something about it are two very different things.
Referring to a previous Middle East trip, Harris stated: “Israel’s supreme court is a beautiful monument to a government founded on the highest of human ideals. The beauty of the architecture and spirit of design left a lasting impression – the straight lines in the building represent the immutable nature of truth, while the curved glass and walls were built to represent the fluid nature of finding justice.”
This propaganda – or ignorance – is disturbing. And it puts Harris increasingly at odds with grassroots Democrats who support economic sanctions against Israel – or more serious action – for its settlement activity. Though illegal under international law, such activity has been enabled by Israel’s courts.
Her comment also disregards the dozens of laws discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Later in the same questionnaire, Harris rejected the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
She asserted that the “movement is based on the mistaken assumption that Israel is solely to blame for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
She added: “The BDS movement seeks to weaken Israel but it will only isolate the nation and steer Israelis against prerequisite compromises for peace. At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise – especially in Europe – and the Middle East is growing increasingly unstable, I believe we should not isolate Israel, the only democracy in the region.”
No Democratic candidate who made a similar argument today against boycotting apartheid South Africa or Jim Crow segregation in the American South would stand a chance of winning the presidential nomination – or representing the state of California.
Harris certainly does not make a similar case opposing boycotts of American states that legislate discrimination against transgender people.
In fact, she has been a leader in challenging such bigotry.
Yet when it comes to equal rights – and doing anything about the lack of rights for Palestinians – she proposes an exception for Israel. Polling suggests this will put her out of step with liberal Democrats who are expected to be the main driving force in the 2020 Democratic nominating process.
Harris does not appear to have always held such anti-Palestinian views. They are seemingly a more recent creation of her run for the US Senate.
In 2012, The Electronic Intifada reported that Harris – then California’s attorney general – “rejected a request by a Zionist group to prosecute a professor at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) for ‘misuse of state resources’ because he uses university servers to host a website on which he campaigns for the boycott of Israel.”
Zaid Jilani with The Intercept has examined Harris’ track record regarding Palestinian rights.
When questioned in June by Jilani about how Israel had disenfranchised Palestinians in Jerusalem, Harris gave an evasive reply.
Jilani further noted that Halie Soifer, foreign policy adviser to Harris, was previously a speechwriter for the Israeli ambassador to the US. This job would have required defending occupation, racism and numerous human rights violations.Jilani also highlighted Harris’ non-answer to a question from The Jewish News of Northern California. Not once did she refer to Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank, while responding to a question specifically asking whether she would characterize such settlements as illegal. She did, however, voice her support for Israel as a “Jewish state” in her response. “Lasting peace can only be found through bilateral negotiations that protect Israel’s identity, ensure security for all people and include the recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”
Israel’s “right to exist as a Jewish state” by definition relegates Palestinians to an inferior status as Harris would presumably recognize if asked a similar question regarding whether the US should be a “Christian state” or a “white Christian state.”
Additionally, “bilateral negotiations” is a code word for allowing Israel, the more powerful party, to continue to do what it wants regarding illegal settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Wrongly applying family history
Perhaps the saddest aspect of that speech was her reference to her own family history.
Harris stated: “Look at my own life where a daughter of a South Asian mother and a Jamaican father concluded her own interfaith wedding with her husband breaking a glass and everyone yelling mazel tov.”
Harris should know that Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza have, in effect, been banned from marrying citizens of Israel. She should also learn about the discrimination faced when people of different faiths marry within Israel.
Most Americans would find it abhorrent for the government to block relationships between people of different faiths or different races. Yet Israel has been going down this apartheid path by castigating such relationships and legislating against them.
Consequently, organizations such as Human Rights Watch have roundly condemned Israel for its position.
Harris is either oblivious to such criticisms or simply does not care.