On July 9, at the DoubleTree Hotel in Orlando, Florida, the 187-member Democratic Party Platform Committee considered an amendment to the draft platform’s Middle East plank. Submitted by Maya Berry of the Arab American Institute and championed by Cornel West, the amendment sought for the Democratic Party to acknowledge ― finally ― Palestinian suffering and territorial concerns alongside lengthy mention of Israel’s security concerns and traumas. It sought for Democrats to recognize, officially, what every U.S. administration has in recent memory: that a military occupation exists in the West Bank, and that settlements are an impediment to Palestinian sovereignty.
It read (in part):
Palestinians deserve “an end to occupation and illegal settlements so that they may live in independence, sovereignty and dignity.”
As Berry noted during her explanation of the amendment, passing it should neither have been controversial nor contested. For not only has President Obama recognized Israel’s military occupation and Palestinian suffering, so too has Hillary Clinton. Indeed, she wrote this in 2014:
Despite Clinton’s past words and beliefs, Berry knew better than to think consideration of the amendment would be anything but contested. After all, AIPAC had already enlisted black leaders to help Clinton defeat a similar motion when the draft platform was being created. It did so via a letter written by Bakari Sellers and signed by over 60 black leaders – a letter intended to counter West’s support. (See my recent investigative essay exploring this in depth.) It was a letter which also mirrored testimony given on Clinton’s behalf by Robert Wexler, President of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, who argued Democrats should not include mention of the occupation or settlements in the party’s platform.
Indeed, before debate on the amendment even commenced, Governor Dannel Malloy – for the first time while chairing proceedings – acknowledged that things might get heated, and reminded everyone that, should there be a close vote, delegates from U.S. territories would have their votes count proportionally rather than fully.
He knew what he was talking about. After passionate words from West, Clinton delegate Mayor Stephen Benjamin of Columbia, South Carolina, who has long been associated with AIPAC, rose to oppose. He argued that adopting the amendment would overturn the hard work of the Drafting Committee, upon which West sits, despite the fact that such is the nature and purpose of amendments.
Although he said little substantively, it didn’t matter. Clinton and AIPAC had won before the debate began, and the amendment failed 95-73. The Democratic Party would deny the occupation through omission, refusing to recognize its existence and the horrific abuses it levies against Palestinians. It would also explicitly oppose Palestinian civil society’s nonviolent movement, Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS), denying a recognition of Palestinian suffering while also denying them nonviolent recourse.Protests and cries immediately erupted. The anger among party progressives was clear as security stepped in.
Little did everyone in Orlando know that, days later on June 11 in Cleveland, Republicans would mirror Democrats on Israel, explicitly denying the occupation and opposing BDS in its party platform:
We reject the false notion that Israel is an occupier, and specifically recognize that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (“BDS”) is anti-Semitic in nature and seeks to destroy Israel
While the GOP platform on Israel is qualitatively to the right of Democrats, it shares the same basic formula — refusing to recognize the occupation and nonviolent opposition to it. The Democratic and Republican parties now share a refusal to recognize the immense suffering and violation of rights caused by Israel’s decades-long military occupation, a moral stain on both parties to be sure. In essence, the DNC and GOP are saying this: Palestinians should not only suffer invisibly, but have no recourse for opposing that suffering.
Yes, the Democratic Platform calls for a two-state solution and for Palestinians to live in “dignity” and “sovereignty,” and yes it doesn’t go as far as Republicans do in flat out denying the occupation, rather doing so through omission, such facts are little comfort to those who understand the significance of what the DNC has done under Clinton and with AIPAC’s help.
As West stated, the DNC’s refusal to treat Palestinian and Jewish lives equally echoes the moral failures of Democrats during Jim Crow:
If we are not able to deal with [Israeli and Palestinian suffering equally], then we are in the same condition that this party was in 80 years ago, when it didn’t want to deal with Jim Crow, didn’t want to deal with lynching, locked in a state of denial saying, Somehow these negroes are gonna make it through with this misery.
The fact that the Democratic Party Platform even partially mirrors that of the GOP on Israel and Palestinians should give every progressive pause, for it certainly signals not just a moral failure, but a political one as well.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published by Oneworld Publications (London).
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.