Joe Biden’s running mate will be a woman. Each name on his VP short list has strengths of her own, but none of them has been extraordinary on the issue of justice for Palestinians.
It appears that the only VP candidates to have publicly shown any genuine concern for Palestinians are Elizabeth Warren and, to a lesser degree, Karen Bass. The rest seem focused only on what’s expedient for Israel.
by Kathryn Shihadah
Just a year ago, IAK reported on Candidate Joe Biden and where he stands on Israel/Palestine. In those days, he was one of a slate of 24, and his odds didn’t look great. But he has weathered every storm, and stands now as the presumed Democratic nominee for president.
It would be great if Biden’s running mate – he promised he’d choose a woman – makes up what he lacks in backbone vis-a-vis justice for Palestinians – but does anyone on his short list fit the bill? Let’s take a look.
CA Senator Kamala Harris
Senator Harris has become a familiar face to Americans. She is tough, smart, and articulate.
On Israel, however, either Harris is grossly uninformed or she knowingly defaults to pro-Israel talking points.
When asked whether Israel meets international standards of human rights, Harris answered, “Overall, yes.”
In reality, Israel is not a democracy – Israel is built on dispossession, discrimination, and violence toward Palestinians (and Jews of color). Israel was born in racism and ethnic cleansing, and thrives on dispossession, violence, and ongoing racism.
Regarding human rights, is it possible that Harris is unaware of Israel’s policies of sending snipers to kill unarmed civilians, including children, demolishing Palestinian homes to make room for Jewish-only settlements (a war crime), and detaining and torturing Palestinian children. Does she not know about dozens of discriminatory Israeli laws, especially the Nation-State Law that designates Palestinians as second-class citizens?
Her tone-deafness on Palestine has not gone unnoticed: the liberal pro-Israel lobby J Street, which endorses over half of Senate Democrats, has kept its distance from Harris.
Former national security adviser Susan Rice
Susan Rice served from 2013-2017 as Obama’s national security advisor, working with then-VP Biden on foreign policy. From 2009-2013, she was ambassador to the UN.
JTA says, “Rice got high marks from the pro-Israel community for defending Israel during her tenure as ambassador to the United Nations…and she has said that countering hostility to Israel took up the largest part of her time at the body.”
But Dennis Ross, former Middle East adviser to President Obama, complained about Rice’s “combativeness” toward Israel in 2013; she quickly adjusted her tone, staying silent in 2014 as Israel killed over 2,200 Palestinians. She also helped Obama create a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to deliver to Israel the single largest military aid package in US history: $38 billion over ten years. (Legislation to make this into law is currently before Congress.)
More recently – and while retired from public service – Rice took a Twitter moment to cry foul to both President Trump and AIPAC for misrepresenting the facts about Iran’s nuclear program:
— Susan Rice (@AmbassadorRice) October 14, 2017
It is disappointing that she was not forthcoming until now, and when she finally spoke up, she said so little.
FL Representative Val Demings
Val Demings, 63, an African-American congresswoman and former Orlando police chief, is also on Biden’s short list.
One anecdote should suffice to demonstrate where Rep. Val Demings stands on the Israel/Palestine issue.
In 2017, Demings joined a group of Congressional Democrats on a trip to Israel. The excursion was organized by the American Israel Education Foundation, an affiliate of AIPAC. (This is a very common occurrence.)
As always, the trip was carefully curated to show Israel in a complimentary light and to cover up its violence against Palestinians.
Upon her return, she described an Israeli family she’d met, whose son is in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). “The commitment, dedication, and service of the Israeli people were very impressive,” she exclaimed.
Demings, a practicing Christian, also enjoyed visiting the holy sites (one might wonder whether she was aware that Bethlehem is under occupation), and came away with the conclusion, “There is no doubt in my mind that there is no greater ally in the region than Israel.” In reality, Israel is not an ally.
Representative Karen Bass
Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA-37) is chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Her Israel-related actions were mostly typical.
Bass was among the 100+ House Democrats to sign a letter to President Trump, objecting to his so-called Peace Plan, and one of almost 200 Democratic Congress members who signed a letter expressing concern about Israel against its annexation plans. The letter underscored Israel’s interests:
Unilateral annexation would likely jeopardize Israel’s significant progress on normalization with Arab states…[and] could create serious problems for Israel with its European friends and other Biden partners around the world. We do not see how any of these acute risks serve the long-term interest of a strong, secure Israel.
But Bass’ initiative on H.R.326, a bill supporting the two-state solution, set her apart from the crowd: her amendment eliminated the one passage in the bill critical of Israel: “the United States has long sought a just and stable future for Palestinians and an end to the occupation, including opposing settlement activity.”
Like so many of her peers, Karen Bass sees the Israel/Palestine issue only from the Israel side: she supports whatever works for Israel, ignoring the impact that Israel’s policies have on Palestinians. For example, settlements are not only against international law, but also harmful to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. (Read more about settlements here.)
However, she is one of only 23 Senators to cosponsor a bill to protect Palestinian children.
Senator Tammy Duckworth
Senator Duckworth (D-IL) is a combat veteran who lost her legs in Iraq in 2004. She too has followed the Democratic mainstream when it comes to the Israel/Palestine issue. JTA calls her a “solid AIPAC Democrat.”
But last year, she joined Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in introducing the Promoting Security and Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act.
As IAK reported last September:
The latest bipartisan legislation would enable American victims of political violence in Israel to work through the American court system to collect damages from the Palestinian government. (Notably, it would not afford American victims of Israeli violence, such as this 16-year-old, the same opportunity.)
As pro-Israel lawmakers lay this trap for Palestine, US laws are already on the books – for example, the Leahy Laws – that require limiting aid to countries practicing Gross Human Rights Violations (GHRV). These laws, however, have never been applied to Israel – in spite of its well-documented history of human rights violations (for example, see this, this, and this).
Another legislative irony lies in the fact that the new law would seek to hold the Palestinian government responsible for rogue members of its community whose acts the leadership roundly condemned; meanwhile refusing to hold the government of Israel responsible for illegal and immoral acts that the Israeli government and military openly and officially perpetrate.
Duckworth spoke at the 2019 AIPAC national conference, pandering to the audience.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms
In 2020, Mayor Bottoms has presided over a city shaken by civil rights protests and ravaged by the coronavirus. Her experience with the Israel/Palestine issue – and foreign policy in general – is limited.
In 2016, as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives, Bottoms voted against SB 327, a bill that would punish businesses participating in boycotts of Israel. (Read more about BDS here.) Although the ACLU has determined that such legislation is unconstitutional, 30 states have passed similar laws.
Bottoms’ Nay vote resulted in the questioning of her “fidelity to the existence and legitimacy of Israel.” She felt compelled to explain herself in an op-ed in the Atlanta Jewish Times:
Boycotts have been a critical part of social justice in American history, particularly for African-Americans. As the ADL notes, the origin of BDS is based in the anti-apartheid movement…[but] has devolved into a weapon of oppression and attack…
According to its website, GILEE
focuses on enhancing homeland security efforts through international cooperation and training programs. GILEE’s goal is to provide peer-to-peer professional training through the introduction of principles of community policing and best practices in order to enhance agency capabilities to better deal with threats to public safety and improve security.
Among the participating governments are human rights violators – including Israel. A number of pro-Israel donors support the privately funded program.
Senator Elizabeth Warren
IAK has taken a close look at Senator Warren, whose position on Israel/Palestine has changed over the years, growing incrementally less tolerant of Israel’s breaches of international law. Nowadays, she may be considered a bit ahead of most mainstream Democrats.
In 2019, she was among those candidates who skipped the AIPAC conference, spoke out against the annexation of parts of the West Bank, and opposed anti-BDS legislation (on a free-speech basis – she opposes BDS).
Warren disagrees strongly with Israeli PM Netanyahu’s treatment of Palestinians, and has said she would consider conditioning aid to Israel in order to get Israel to comply with international law. (This may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s not.)
Warren recently led a small group of Democratic senators in writing to President Trump, asking him to extend COVID-19 humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people. (Given that US military aid – to the tune of over $10 million a day – has contributed immensely to the humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories, this is not a big ask.)
Nevertheless, she considers Israel a “good friend.”
Warren is trying to have it both ways. She longs for better days for Palestinians, but can not bring herself to face the truth: Israel is not a friend, but a liability, an embarrassment, and possibly even a danger to the US.
Perhaps the generous donations from pro-Israel PACs are holding her back.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer
Governor Whitmer leads the state that is home to the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the US. The community works for Palestinian human rights and self-determination.
In November 2019, Whitmer took a trip to Israel at the invitation of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, in coordination with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The Arab American community responded to the news:
What is most disturbing about this trip is the governor’s decision to completely ignore the Arab American community…Michigan is home to tens of thousands of Arab American refugees and immigrants who have been adversely affected by the actions of the Israeli government. Despite all of this, our perspectives and experiences were completely ignored…[T]his is not the first time the governor has paid no attention to our concerns. Last year, during her gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Whitmer expressed her deep support for both the State of Israel and Michigan’s 2016 anti-BDS legislation…Unquestionably, this law violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The governor of the state of Michigan put the interests of a foreign nation over the constitutional protections afforded to her constituents…
The events of this week lead us to the conclusion that Gov. Whitmer refuses to acknowledge the importance of our community as an essential part of this discussion and us as constituents who deserve equal treatment. We are left to feel disrespected, discounted and disregarded.
Candidate Biden has a tough decision on his hands. Whichever way he goes, Palestinians will not be closer to justice, and Israel will not be closer to accountability.
It appears that the only VP candidates to have publicly shown any genuine concern for Palestinians is Elizabeth Warren and, to a lesser degree, Karen Bass, who was willing to sign on to the bill about Palestinian children.
Post-election, Americans have their work cut out for them: to convince their 2020 presidential administration – whoever wins – to advocate for a just peace for Palestinians.