Israeli apartheid’s Democratic champions

August 13, 2014

Ashley Smith documents the Democratic Party's enthusiastic support for Israel's ongoing war on Palestine--including the wing of the party that claims to be progressive.

ISRAEL'S OPERATION Protective Edge has killed almost 2,000 people in Gaza, the vast majority of them civilians, and laid waste to schools, hospitals, mosques and factories.

The savagery of the slaughter was met by growing international opposition to Israel and solidarity with Palestine. Even in the U.S., recent opinion polls showed a growing minority of Americans, including Jews, rejecting Israel's war on Gaza. That minority includes a strong majority of people aged 18 to 29.

This global shift in opinion has been underway for some years. People are being swayed to support Palestine by Israel's apartheid-like behavior, from building a separation wall in the West Bank, to turning Gaza into an open-air concentration camp, to conducting regular military assaults on the occupied territories.

Thanks to the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign--called for by Palestinians and mobilized by solidarity activists around the world--more and more people understand the reality that Israel is an apartheid state, and the cause of Palestinian liberation is simple justice.

Clockwise from top left: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders
Clockwise from top left: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders

But one political institution in the U.S. has stood completely unswayed by this evolving consciousness of the oppression of the Palestinians by Israel, with the support of its main international sponsor, the U.S. government.

That institution is the Democratic Party--including its liberal wing. Like their counterparts in the two-party U.S. political system, the Republicans, the Democrats never hesitated during the massacres in Gaza to reaffirm their unwavering support for Israel's colonial project.

THERE CAN'T be any doubt about the leaders of the party. Barack Obama has explicitly talked about Israel's "right to defend itself" and repeatedly condemned Hamas and the Palestinian resistance to occupation. His vice president, mighty mouth Joe Biden, proudly declares, "I am a Zionist."

When the Obama administration was finally forced to voice an explicit criticism at the end of July after Israel blew up another United Nations school-turned-shelter, its actions spoke louder than its words. The White House press secretary called the shelling "totally unacceptable and totally indefensible," but that didn't stop the administration from restocking Israel with munitions to carry on its war on Palestine. And under orders from the White House, U.S. diplomats cast the sole vote in the UN Human Rights Council against an investigation of charges that Israel was committing war crimes in Gaza.

Obama certainly isn't alone in his party. Every single Democrat in the Senate joined Republicans in passing a unanimous 100-to-0 resolution in support of Israel. That resolution--reportedly drafted by the Zionist lobbying group AIPAC--states: "1) reaffirms the United States' support for Israel's right to defend its citizens and ensure the survival of the State of Israel; 2) condemns the unprovoked rocket fire at Israel; 3) calls on Hamas to immediately cease all rocket and other attacks against Israel; and 4) calls on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the unity governing arrangement with Hamas and condemn the attacks on Israel."

Democrats in the House also came out for Israel and against Palestine. In another unanimous vote, they joined House Republicans to pass a similar resolution. "The United States is the only one true friend that Israel has," said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "We must always stand up for Israel's security, and we must state plainly that Israel is not alone."

Meanwhile, Obama's former Secretary of State and likely Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton recycled talking points that could have come from the speechwriters for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

Israel has a right to defend itself. The steps Hamas has taken to embed rockets and command-and-control facilities and tunnel entrances in civilian areas, this makes a response by Israel difficult. Of course Israel, just like the United States, or any other democratic country, should do everything they can possibly do to limit civilian casualties. We see this enormous international reaction against Israel. This reaction is uncalled for and unfair.

During the latest Israeli onslaught against Gaza, most other prominent Democrats followed Clinton's example. Some appeared at pro-Israel rallies. Others dutifully issued press statement backing Israel's war.

Then there's California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who--in a stunt reminiscent of Lyndon Johnson's infamous interruption of television coverage of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party's attempt to be seated at the 1964 Democratic National Convention--apparently timed a Senate floor speech championing Israel so that C-Span would break off its live coverage of testimony by Tarek Abu Kdheir, a Palestinian victim of Israeli police brutality, and switch to Boxer's boilerplate defense of Israel.

The Democratic Party enforces support for Israel in a manner that would be familiar to the apparatchiks of the former Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe.

For example, the College Democrats of America (CDA) compelled two of its employees, Christopher Woodside and Evan Goldstein, to resign because they were critical of another CDA employee, Giovanni Hashimoto, for justifying the slaughter of innocent civilians and children in Gaza. As Woodside told Electronic Intifada, "by forcing these resignations, CDA has taken a clear position on this issue, one that is unquestionably pro-Israel while innocent women and children are being killed."

FOR ANYONE who knows the history of the Democratic Party, this should come as no surprise. The Democrats may be, in the words of author Kevin Phillips, "history's second-most enthusiastic capitalist party" behind the Republicans--they are surely second to none in their commitment to U.S. imperialism. During the 20th century, the Democrats started every U.S. war until 1991, when George H.W. Bush presided over the first Iraq war.

This explains the Democrats' unwavering commitment to the state of Israel. U.S. imperialism has, especially since 1967, used Israel as the main enforcer of its domination over the Middle East, the site of the world's most valuable energy resource.

In a 1951 editorial, Israel's liberal newspaper Ha'aretz explained that the country could be counted on to act as America's "watchdog" in the region:

There is no fear that Israel will undertake any aggressive policy towards the Arab states when this would explicitly contradict the wishes of the U.S. and Britain. But if for any reason the Western powers should sometimes prefer to close their eyes, Israel could be relied upon to punish one or several neighboring states whose discourtesy to the West went beyond the bounds of the permissible.

As a responsible administrator of U.S. imperialism, the Democrats have therefore backed Israel to the hilt. Even before its establishment, Woodrow Wilson committed the U.S. to Britain's Balfour Declaration, encouraging the Zionist colonization of Palestine. He declared, "Our government and people are agreed that in Palestine shall be laid the foundations of a Jewish Commonwealth."

During the Second World War, Roosevelt supported "the establishment of a National Home for the Jews in Palestine, and, despite the setbacks caused by the disorders there during the last few years, I have been heartened by the progress which has been made and by the remarkable accomplishments of the Jewish settlers in that country."

Since its establishment, each Democratic President has backed the Zionist state. Truman famously boasted, "I am proud of my part in the creation of this new state. Our Government was the first to recognize the State of Israel." John Kennedy declared, "Let us make it clear that we will never turn our backs on our steadfast friends in Israel."

Despite his famous concern for human rights and before his latter day conversion to at least sympathy with Palestine, Jimmy Carter celebrated the fact that the U.S. "has a warm and a unique relationship of friendship with Israel that is morally right. It is compatible with our deepest religious convictions, and it is right in terms of America's own strategic interests. We are committed to Israel's security, prosperity, and future as a land that has so much to offer the world."

As for Bill Clinton, he proclaimed "our common interest in a more stable and peaceful Middle East, a Middle East that will finally accord Israel the recognition and acceptance that its people have yearned for so long and have been too long denied...I believe strongly in the benefit to American interests from strengthened relationships with Israel."

Singing from the same songbook as this imperialist chorus, Barack Obama stated in a speech to a 2011 AIPAC conference:

A strong and secure Israel is in the national security interest of the United States.... It's why we've increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels. It's why we're making our most advanced technologies available to our Israeli allies. It's why, despite tough fiscal times, we've increased foreign military financing to record levels. And that includes additional support--beyond regular military aid--for the Iron Dome anti-rocket system...

So make no mistake, we will maintain Israel's qualitative military edge.

SUCH PROCLAMATIONS aren't restricted to just Democratic Party presidents and leaders. The self-proclaimed progressives or liberals of the party have almost universally either joined in the cheerleading of Israel, or kept their heads down, agreeing not to raise questions about Palestine solidarity. Thus, liberal Democrats at best betray Palestine when it matters--or advocated for Israel outright at worst. Their party's commitment to U.S. imperialism requires such behavior.

The behavior of liberal Democrats during Operation Protective Edge has proved the rule. The darlings of progressive activists, from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (a nominal independent who campaigns for Democrats and caucuses with them in the Senate), have made their commitment to Zionism clear. In the Senate vote on the pro-Israel resolution, none of the liberal stalwarts like Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken, Sherrod Brown and Bernie Sanders, made a peep in opposition. The same was true in the House.

Warren's position shocked her progressive supporters, who either had ignored or didn't know about her support of Israel. Despite her Native American roots, she sides not with Palestine's indigenous population, but with Israeli colonization. On her Senate campaign website, for example, she said:

As a United States Senator, I will work to ensure Israel's security and success. I believe Israel must maintain a qualitative military edge and defensible borders. The United States must continue to ensure that Israel can defend itself from terrorist organizations and hostile states, including Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and others.

The Democrats' other new liberal lion, Bill de Blasio, outdoes Warren in Zionist proclamations. During his election campaign, De Blasio promised, "City Hall will always be open to AIPAC." In a radio interview, he boasted that he opposed the "very, very wrongheaded movement to boycott, and disinvest from Israel. I've led the charge against that, whether you're talking about the Park Slope Food Co-op or at Brooklyn College, I've stood against that divestment movement." During the current war on Gaza, he announced, "I consider it my responsibility to stand up for Israel."

Just as disappointing has been the traditionally progressive Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). Bruce Dixon of the Black Agenda Report reported on how CBC members in the House and Senate betrayed Palestine in AIPAC-backed resolutions. As Dixon wrote:

Not a single member of the CBC, despite their much heralded brand of standing for civil rights and against apartheid here and around the world, bothered to publicly question the racist ethnocracy that is the Israeli state. After signing the blank check with the rest of their colleagues, CBC members Conyers (MI), Lee (CA), Johnson (GA) and Ellison (MN) tried to cover their shame with a letter to Secretary of State Kerry urging a cease-fire, something which Kerry claims to have been doing anyway.

The self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders has done little better. As left-wing Vermont writer Ron Jacobs noted, Senator Sanders has voted for "grants and loans to Israel, even after Israel bombed Gaza, attacked the Mavi Marmara and supported illegal settlements in the West Bank." When asked by reporters for his view of the current war on Gaza, Sanders evaded the question, stating, "That's not where my mind is right now."

WE SHOULD draw two further conclusions about these liberals and their completely backward embrace of Israeli tyranny. First, the idea that they are "Progressive Except for Palestine" is inaccurate, because the very concept is a contradiction in terms. And second, anyone who is concerned about solidarity with the Palestinian struggle should not support the Democratic Party.

First let's deal with the "Progressives Except for Palestine," or PEP, syndrome--and how it undermines other progressive positions.

PEP politicians deprive desperately needed domestic social programs of massive amounts of potential with their support for sending military and economic aid to Israel--now running at $3.1 billion annually. That vast sum of money could bankroll at least huge strides toward single-payer health care, massively improved education, decent welfare provisions or Head Start, and a green job program. Instead, it's diverted to fund Israel's occupation and the slow-motion genocide of Palestinians.

The PEPs can't be consistent opponents of U.S. imperialism, since they support Israel, a key bulwark of the empire. They compromise their anti-racism since they back Israel as Jewish homeland--where Palestinians are deprived of most or all basic human rights. Unsurprisingly, PEPs are frequently prone to promulgating anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia--the ideological means for the Israel and the U.S. to justify the continuing oppression of Palestinians and Arabs.

The corrosive effects of the PEPs' support for Zionism can perhaps best be seen by examining the case of Professor Cary Nelson. While not a politician, he demonstrates as well as anyone how the gangrene of Zionism eats away at progressive principles.

In a previous life, Nelson wrote a book defending left-wing public intellectuals in higher education, titled No University is an Island. As a past president of the American Association of University Professors, he earned a reputation for standing up for civil liberties and academic freedom.

His allegiance to Israel has, however, led him to abandon any claim to be a defender of civil liberties. Nelson now not only campaigns against the BDS movement, but he has declared war on academic freedom itself--by becoming the principal public advocate for the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign's firing of professor Dr. Steven Salaita, not for academic reasons, but because of his outspoken criticism of Israel's war on Gaza on social media.

It is high time for the U.S. left to draw a line in the sand. No longer should we accept the idea that it's possible to be a "Progressive Except for Palestine." Being a PEP is as nonsensical as being anti-racist, except for slavery or anti-Semitism.

To be on the left--to be considered a "progressive"--means upholding the principles of equality, democracy and liberation across the board, including a commitment to solidarity with Palestinians and their struggle for emancipation from colonial occupation.

THE SECOND conclusion to take away from this analysis of the Democratic and its support for Israel's war machine is that anyone who wants to see justice in Palestine--anyone who support the BDS campaign and Palestine's liberation from occupation--should not support nor vote any member of the Democratic Party.

Supporting the Democrats, even as a lesser evil to the Republicans--though it is hard to see how the Democrats can be considered a lesser evil on Israel and Palestine--will hamstring any movement.

Take the antiwar movement during the Bush years as a cautionary example. In 2004, for example, the liberal wing of the movement succumbed to the "Anybody But Bush" fever in support of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry--even though Kerry refused to say he would end either the U.S. occupation of Iraq or of Afghanistan. As Socialist Worker wrote in a 2004 editorial challenging calls to curb protests of the Republican National Convention in New York City:

Supporting John Kerry as the "lesser evil" means excusing him more and demanding less and less and less. And it means weakening the antiwar movement--by leaving the potential for building a mass opposition to Washington's war policies untapped, and tailoring activities to election considerations.

Likewise, we would be weakening the struggle in solidarity with Palestine by supporting Democrats, when they have proved over many decades that they back Israel's colonization and violence. That means not supporting the PEP politicians, either--or even the rare (and almost certainly marginal) Democrats who do stand against the party establishment on questions related to Israel, since their individual stance can't outweigh the damage the party does as a whole.

It's high time that the U.S. left support an alternative that actually stands for what we believe in--the liberation of Palestine. As the great American Socialist Eugene Debs said, "I'd rather vote for something I want and not get it, than vote for something I don't want, and get it."

This year, there will be some independent candidates on the ballot who stand in support of Palestine. In New York, socialists Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones are running on the Green Party ticket for governor and lieutenant governor against Andrew Cuomo and his sidekick, former Rochester cop Bob Duffy.

In a statement released in the midst of the worst bombing, the Hawkins-Jones campaign declared, "We denounce Israel's ongoing slaughter of the people of Gaza...As governor and lieutenant governor of New York State, we can--and will--support the efforts to Boycott, Sanction and Divest from Israeli firms. New York State must divest from its financial relationships with the State of Israel until it ceases the systematic and ongoing violation of Palestinian human rights."

The Democrats have shown which side they're on when it comes to Palestine. We need to concentrate on using every means to mobilize the other side to stand up for justice for Palestine.

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