Last weekend, supporters of non-candidate-elect and Hillary Clinton endorser Bernie Sanders begged the Democratic Platform Committee to do something—anything—positive for Palestine.
Not a chance. Despite a scathing plea from the one principled high-profile figure of this election season, Cornel West, support for colonialism made it through the Committee basically unscathed.
The final text directly rejects the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, BDS, Movement, and rips into Hamas as a “terrorist group.”
In disallowing non-violent pressure in the form of BDS and violent pressure in the form of Hamas or other armed groups, such a platform basically embraces the traditional Democratic Party stance on Palestine: Ask Israel.
Israel’s stance on Palestine is to reject even minimal Palestinian national rights. And Israel is a valuable ally of the United States, with what the draft text refers to as “common values,” and common “strategic interests” between the two—subjugating the global South and making money for the elite in both countries. For that reason, the entire U.S. political elite eagerly embraces Israeli rejectionism on Palestine.
The text also codifies all the ways Israel does and does not respect Palestinian lives. It enshrines Israel’s right to render hundreds of children “collateral damage,” a right that in U.S. political language is called Israel’s “right to defend itself.”
It also supports Israel’s right to continue to play a crucial role in promoting regional weapons sales. That right is known as Israel’s “qualitative military edge.” That “edge” means what whatever gewgaw the United States sells to Saudi Arabia, it must either sell or “give” a more advanced version of that same gewgaw to Israel. And remember, “military grants” to Israel are in fact gifts from the U.S. taxpayer to Boeing and Lockheed Martin. And Israel’s right to a military edge turns into the right of U.S. arms exporters to keep making money off the maelstrom of U.S. war and preparation for war in the Middle East.
Similarly, the Committee rejected an amendment to support rebuilding the razed Gaza Strip, where cancer rates are the highest in the world. One Clinton nominee noted that it would “undermine the ability of next president to lead the effort to negotiate an end to the conflict.” Again, once has to translate the term out of the dialect of the United States and Israel, where “negotiate an end to the conflict” has a meaning similar to what the rest of humanity means by “colonially subjugate.”
The presence of West matters (James Zogby, identified as a supporter of Palestine, is a defender of Rahm Emanuel and of the Saudi aggression into Bahrain, and is irrelevant).
West put on a bravura performance, noting that Palestine was becoming “an issue of our time,” and “for the younger generation it is becoming more and more what Vietnam was to the 60s or what South Africa was for the 80s.” Increasingly, younger people have little sympathy for the Israeli destruction of Palestine and want their politicians to reflect this.
Sander’s selection of West reflects that unease, and the Sander’s campaign too-late and too-little attempt to respond to it. Still, no candidate can present themselves as a progressive economic populist in the United States without at least making a few gestures of support for Palestine—due to the surge over the past decade of support for Palestine. The presence of West was not from the goodwill of Sanders but from the changes in popular opinion that are the fruit of grassroots activism.
100 Years of the Sykes-Picot Agreement
In any case, the draft text is not merely bad on Palestine—although that section is extreme in its firmness in rejecting liberation, and its refusal to even use the proper noun, “Palestine.” A bit of fancy rhetoric and a lot of sidestepping the core demands of the resistance movements mark the text’s approach to other issues important to Democratic Party constituencies. For example, on Black Lives Matter, the draft touches on a fact which the movements have made unignorable: “Something is profoundly wrong when a quarter of the world’s prison population is in the United States.”
Indeed, the document goes one further, acknowledging the popular movements even while sidestepping or actively running again some of their core aspirations: “We have been inspired by the movements for criminal justice that directly address the discriminatory treatment of African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and American Indians to rebuild trust in the criminal justice system.”
Perhaps needless to say, many people do not aim to “rebuild trust” in the criminal justice system. As Ajamu Baraka writes, “we cannot afford any illusions regarding the nature of the state, the role of its police forces and the impossibility of a racist, capitalist state to render justice to a captive, colonized population.” But the rhetoric reflects Democratic Party ambitions to attempt to absorb social movements of all kinds.
One thing the debates on Palestine, the presence of West, and other such events do not signal is what Phyllis Bennis calls “The limits of party politics while corporate and military interests dominate both parties.” Those limits are not “while” those interests dominate the parties. Those interests are the parties.
Given the absence of a genuine pro-worker, anti-imperialist, pro-Palestine or anti-racist party, the fight is in the streets, where Palestine is increasingly part of the broader anti-racist movement. As Kristian Davis Bailey of Black for Palestine notes, “the fight for Palestine is not just a fight for a physical territory—but also a fight for the survival of humanity against systems of dehumanization—against capitalism, colonialism, militarism, and racism, everywhere.”
Meanwhile, prisoners’ rights groups like Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network have stated amidst the most recent round of police murders and peoples’ resistance to them, “We stand with and join in the struggle against mass incarceration in the United States, and to dismantle the system of policing and the prison industrial complex that targets Black lives and supports the suppression of all oppressed peoples and communities in the U.S.” It is there, and not in continuing to analyze the micro-currents of Democratic Party politics, that the fight lies, now and for the foreseeable future.