Draft Democratic platform fails to endorse justice for Palestinians

Draft Democratic platform fails to endorse justice for Palestinians

More than 12,000 Palestinian children have been detained by the Israeli army since the year 2000. At a time when hundreds of thousands of Americans are calling for equality and civil rights, will the Democratic National Committee platform recognize Palestinians’ efforts to secure those same rights? (Photo)

Palestinian rights are becoming mainstream, and support for Israel is declining – especially among Democrats. But you’d never guess it from the Democratic Party platform, which refuses to use the word “occupation,” endorses $38 billion to Israel, and opposes BDS, the international human rights campaign that “upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.”

by Kathryn Shihadah

(For a thorough investigation of Joe Biden’s views and actions on Palestine, go here.)

The DNC says it wants voters to be part of the process, and provides a site where you can upload a short video describing what they want. If you participate, please also send it to us. Please try to keep your videos to 1 minute or less. For files up to 20 MB, you can email them directly to videos @ ifamericansknew.org. For larger files, try uploading them here and sending us the link.

A small team of Democrats, the Platform Drafting Committee, is hammering out the Democratic National Committee (DNC) 2020 platform at this very moment. When they’re finished, the document will come to a vote by the full Platform Committee.

Rumor has it that advocates for Palestinian rights fought to get the word “occupation” in the document, but failed.

Nevertheless, the platform has been hailed as “the strongest-ever reference to Palestinian rights and first condemnation of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, as well as opposition to Netanyahu’s annexation plan.”

How strong can the statement be, though, when its authors were afraid to use the word “occupation”? And when they support massive aid to Israel even when most Americans don’t, while opposing the growing movement to boycott Israel over its human rights violations?

To what extent is the DNC supporting Palestinian rights when it declares support for the U.S.-Israel alliance and security funding for Israel – but acknowledges no alliance with the Palestinian people or assistance of any kind for them?

(As an aside, to what extent could Democratic – as well as Republicanpoliticians have Palestinians’ interests in mind, when so many reside in the pockets of pro-Israel lobbyists and PACs, and take free trips to Israel?)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is greeted by members of Congress as he arrives to speak during a joint meeting of the United States Congress in the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is greeted by members of Congress as he arrives to speak during a joint meeting of the US Congress, March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Do the “representatives” represent the people?

Polls show that Israel’s popularity among Americans has been slipping. Yet somehow, in 2019 alone, Congress entertained more than 50 bills favorable to Israel and/or affording it special status, and more in 2020 (this has been the practice for years).

According to a Pew Research poll in 2018, just 27% of Democrats say they sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians. Pew also found that only 41% of Americans view the Israeli Zionist government favorably.

According to polls by IRMEP, just 25% of American adults consider themselves Zionists (defined as “a person who believes in the development and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel”), and a mere 22.5% support anti-BDS measures (see below for more on BDS – the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement).

The fact of the matter is that while Democrats – and Americans in general – are unimpressed with Israel, the Democratic leadership by and large still worships at the altar of Israel.

Will the DNC platform reflect the will of the people, or of the politicians and their pro-Israel sugar daddies – or will the party finally part ways with the Never-Say-No Republicans?

While the DNC platform draft has not been made public, those who have seen the Israel plank have shared some tidbits with the rest of us. Direct quotes from the draft DNC platform, together with remarks from people in the know, give us a pretty good idea of where the party is headed on the issue of Israel/Palestine.

Let’s take a look.

“Occupation”? No can do

According to the International Court of Justice, the West Bank is an occupied territory. Even the Israeli Supreme Court agrees. Oddly, the Israeli government officially disagrees, preferring the word “disputed.”

But within the US, “occupation” has been the accepted descriptor ever since the occupation began in 1967. That is correct: Israel has been occupying these Palestinian territories since 1967, but the word has never appeared in the party platform. (Before 1967, Israel controlled the Palestinian territories since 1948 and even earlier.)

At least a dozen organizations have been pressuring the DNC to use the word “occupation” in the platform for the first time – not because it’s a new concept or controversial label, but because it’s accurate.

In a UN Security Council debate in 2016 on the situation in Israel and Palestine, former UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon said, “As oppressed peoples have demonstrated throughout the ages, it is human nature to react to occupation.”

The DNC platform drafting committee apparently took the word under consideration, but rejected it.

The organizations released a statement that said in part,

Condemning the Israeli occupation by name should be the bare minimum for any leader of the Democratic Party.

We urge the [Democratic National Committee] Platform Committee to have the courage to correctly name the situation on the ground — a necessary precursor to taking meaningful action that can hold the Israeli government accountable for ongoing violations of human rights and international law.

Josh Orton, former advisor for Bernie Sanders and part of the 15-member DNC platform drafting committee, added:

Bottom line: the fact that Palestinians live under occupation is not a matter of serious dispute. It’s important to acknowledge this, because people living under occupation are afforded certain rights, and those rights must be upheld and protected.

[E]nding the occupation is an issue of racial justice…At a time when hundreds of thousands of Americans have been marching in our streets for equality and civil rights, it is absolutely necessary for the Democratic Party to speak truthfully to the Palestinians efforts to secure those same rights.

Israeli soldiers standing guard in March at a protest against Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Israeli soldiers standing guard in March at a protest against Israeli settlements in the West Bank. (Majdi Mohammed/Associated Press)

What about annexation?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been talking for a long time about annexing parts of the Palestinian West Bank where Israelis are living illegally in settlements. He had plans to start the process this month. Here’s what the DNC has to say:

Democrats oppose any unilateral steps by either side — including annexation — that undermine prospects for two states…

“Opposition to annexation”? Underwhelming. Annexation violates international law. Even some Republicans appear to oppose Israel’s annexation plans. Opposition is meaningless without consequences. Just 13 Congress members want to see Israel pay a price if it follows through. They would fight to “ensure non-recognition of annexed territories” and “ensure that U.S. taxpayers are not supporting annexation in any way.”

That’s probably at least 12 more than would have spoken up four years ago, so this is progress. Perhaps the most steadfast supporter of justice for Palestinians is Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN-4), who last year told Vice News,

The right-wing, extremist government of Benjamin Netanyahu and its apartheid-like policies are at the core of what is alienating Democrats and a growing number of Americans. What has changed is that there are now members of Congress who are not willing to ignore the Israeli government’s destructive actions because they are afraid of losing an election.

Two-state solution?

The DNC platform draft says,

We support a negotiated two-state solution that ensures Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state with recognized borders and upholds the right of Palestinians to live in freedom and security in a viable state of their own…

Support for a “two-state solution” is becoming obsolete. Israel is finding it harder and harder to hide the fact that it will never allow a “viable,” robust Palestinian state. The best Palestinians could hope for in a two-state arrangement would be a cluster of de-weaponized “Bantustans” on, at most, around 20 percent of mandatory Palestine (and probably far less) completely at the mercy of Israel – much as they are now. The possibility of living “in freedom and security in a viable state” is remote.

“Jewish and democratic state”? 20% of Israel’s population are non-Jewish, mostly Muslim and Christian, and have de facto second-class citizenship because of their religion. Israel can be truly Jewish by deporting 1.9 million of its residents; it can be a true democracy by giving its citizens of all religions full equality. It can’t be both. The phrase “Jewish and democratic state” is meaningless.


To quote the DNC platform draft,

We believe that while Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations, it should remain the capital of Israel, an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.

Jerusalem as “a matter for final status negotiations” and “the undivided capital of Israel” are mutually exclusive characterizations. Regardless of the geopolitical future of the region, Palestinians expect Jerusalem – at least East Jerusalem – to be their capital someday.

But Israel has (illegally) annexed East Jerusalem and also ethnically cleansed it of a large portion of its non-Jewish population, replacing them with Jews. Israel controls the city, including checkpoints where Muslims and Christians may or may not be allowed to visit their own holy sites.

How could Democrats rationalize this triple seizure of Jerusalem – as a future capital, an historically Palestinian neighborhood, and a holy city for non-Jewish as well as Jewish faiths?

If the DNC wants Jerusalem to be negotiated by the relevant parties, the DNC might consider remaining neutral, rather than taking Jerusalem off the table – basically repeating Donald Trump’s move in December 2017.

Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The DNC platform defers to Israel's designation of the city as the undivided capital of Israel.“Singling out Israel”?

Again, quoting the DNC platform draft:

[We oppose] any effort to unfairly single out and delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement [BDS], while protecting the constitutional right of our citizens to free speech.

The Democratic platform elsewhere supports former President Obama’s promise to single out Israel for a staggering $38 billion in military aid over 10 years. (There is currently bipartisan legislation in Congress to make Obama’s non legally binding MOU into federal law – and increase the amount.)

United States laws on the books single out states that commit gross human rights violations (GHRV) by discontinuing their military aid. Israel is guilty of GHRVs.

Does the Democratic Party really have no tolerance for Americans who, in the face of our own government’s failure to hold Israel accountable, choose to nonviolently boycott Israeli products, just as we did with South Africa?

Does the DNC really oppose the global community’s similar efforts, while the most powerful country in the world is steadily complicit in Israel’s GVHRs?

Settlement expansion?

Here is one issue on which the DNC apparently took a stand that matched up with the American people. Jewish Insider reports:

The platform’s Israel plank also expresses…opposition to “settlement expansion.”

Great – but a little healthy skepticism may be in order. After all, Obama, perhaps the president most sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, said the same thing. His administration, however, saw a wave of settlement expansion comparable to that of the younger Bush years (unlike George Bush Senior, as well as Reagan, who took a stand). Granted, Obama’s final act as president was to meekly snub Israel at the UN – by abstaining from a vote to condemn settlements. (For a history of US presidents and Israel see this.)

So, DNC platform committee, pardon those of us who lack enthusiasm. We’ll believe the “opposition” when we see it.

The Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit in the occupied West Bank.
The Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit in the occupied West Bank. (AFP)

Revisions ahead

In the weeks to come, the DNC platform drafting committee will debate the final language of the platform. Virtual voting by convention delegates will take place in early August, after the language has been finalized.

Supporters of justice for Palestinians are counting on pressure from the grassroots, including Bernie Sanders allies, to score a modification in the Middle East policy plank, perhaps even the inclusion of the word “occupation.”

Time to celebrate?

And what if That Word gets into the final draft of the platform? Would it be time to break out the champagne?

Yes and no. It would be the first time Palestinians would be recognized by the DNC as being under occupation. Ever. That’s a big deal.

But the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is 53 years old. And if we’ve learned anything from Obama’s “opposition to settlements,” it is that words don’t magically produce justice. Sometimes they give a false sense of progress.

Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Joe Biden, begging the question, will the DNC platform favor Israel?
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a joint press conference with United States Vice President Joe Biden at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on March 9, 2016, during Biden’s official visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

Not a priority for Biden

Joe Biden has called the occupation “a significant problem,” but does not seem inclined to address it in his platform. Huffington Post suggests,

The former vice president is wary of controversies that Trump could exploit (as he has tried to do over Israel by saying Democrats are abandoning the country) or angering important backers [many of them Israel partisans] ― and in his own decades of working on foreign policy, has attempted to ensure he does not appear overly critical of Israel.

If this is correct, Biden is doing what every president has done since the creation of Israel in 1948: selling out justice for Palestinians for political reasons.

Isn’t it time Americans put a stop to this kind of political expediency that contradicts what our country stands for – liberty and justice for all?

Democratic politicians need to line up with Democrats, not Israel.

Adding the word “occupation” to the DNC party platform isn’t enough. But it’s a start.

(If you disagree with how the DNC is handling the issue, remember: you can be part of the process – the DNC is inviting your input! Go to their site to upload a short video describing what you want the platform to look like. If you participate, please also send it to us. Please try to keep your videos to 1 minute or less. For files up to 20 MB, you can email them directly to videos @ ifamericansknew.org. For larger files, try uploading them here and sending us the link.)

UPDATE: JULY 23, 2020 – Jewish Insider reports: “DNC advances the 2020 platform, including a pro-Israel plank, by unanimous consent.” The draft document can be seen here. The full platform committee will vote on it July 27.

Kathryn Shihadah is staff writer for If Americans Knew. She blogs at Palestine Home


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