Disavowing of Palestinian American Activist from Biden Campaign Signals the Democratic Party’s Hopelessness about Palestine
By: John Mason/Arab America Contributing Writer
Linda Sarsour is an American-born Muslim of Palestinian descent and a political activist. She has led many protests, perhaps most well-known of which is the 2017 Women’s March on Washington and elsewhere. Just this past week, she gained notoriety by being disavowed from the Biden campaign, accused of practicing anti-Semitism.
Publisher’s Note: Subsequent to the news of Sarsour’s being ostracized from the campaign, numerous Muslim and Arab Democrat community leaders complained to party officials. The campaign’s national coalitions director then apologized to these leaders in private. Nevertheless, we feel, regardless of this private apology, the intention of the original ouster continues to reflect the general sentiment of the party.
Linda Sarsour, Avowed Supporter of Palestinians Scapegoated by the Democratic Party
A political activist who has led significant liberal movements aimed at improved human rights, Linda Sarsour, has fought for Muslim rights in the context of 9/11 and the Supreme Court ban on Muslim immigration, and more recently she joined the BLM movement, linking Black and Palestinian human rights. President Obama called her “A Champion of Change.” Ms. Sarsour was a former executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. Time magazine profiled her as one of the “100 Most Influential People” in 2017. One of Sarsour’s prominent moments was when, following 9/11, she protested New York City police surveillance of American Muslims. She has covered the waterfront of civil and human rights, including police brutality, feminism, immigration issues, and mass incarceration.
In naturally supporting Palestinians in the context of the long Israeli occupation, Sarsour has earned the enmity of some American conservatives and Jewish leaders and organizations. In particular, she is criticized for her support of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign, a Palestinian-led movement to hold Israel accountable for exploiting the occupied territories. For that “sin,” Sarsour has been accused of anti-Semitism.
Sarsour Shown the Door Following Her Democratic National Convention Appearance
The anti-Semitism label followed Sarsour right into the DNC council meeting on Tuesday, August 18. Mainly because of accusations against her for being an anti-Semite, her views were condemned by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Being in favor of BDS, we may recall, is not anti-Semitic—rather, it is a stance against the neo-colonial policies of the Netanyahu government in its continued occupation, abuse, and exploitation of the Palestinian people. According to the National Review, “Sarsour, a Muslim activist who endorsed Biden after he announced Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate last week, spoke at the DNC’s Muslim Delegates and Allies Assembly, sparking disapproval in light of her history of controversial comments on Jews and Israel.”
In the context of the Sarsour incident, Biden spokesman, Andrew Bates, noted, “Joe Biden has been a strong supporter of Israel and a vehement opponent of anti-Semitism his entire life, and he obviously condemns her views and opposes BDS, as does the Democratic platform.” Bates further reported that Sarsour has no role in the Biden campaign. He continued, “We oppose any effort to unfairly single out and delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.” Sarsour, it bears noting, had once apologized, in 2018, for not condemning anti-Semitism among the 2017 Women’s March planners. Once was apparently not enough.
U.S. Presidential Campaigns Follow in the Old Mold—Mostly Pro-Israel
The brouhaha over Linda Sarsour during the DNC only serves to highlight the existential question of Palestinian freedom and rights. Donald Trump’s campaign for reelection, which has never stopped since his 2016 win, continuously reminds his evangelical Christian base that he has fulfilled their dream of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He never lets them forget that he is helping to fulfill divine providence in paving the way for Israeli domination over the Holy Land. Trump brags that he and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, engineered the United Arab Emirates’ recognition of Israel, suggesting that it is a deal-maker for peace in the region.
So, if Israel is not an occupying power, then there is no Palestinian issue; it just goes away, like, in certain American circles, the coronavirus will go away one day, disappear, just like that.
One potentially useful result of this rapprochement is that the Trump/Netanyahu-inspired annexation of occupied Palestine by Israel has been temporarily shelved. A secondary spin-off of that deal—one not nearly as useful; however, according to the Washington Post, is in effect, “to announce the decoupling of the Israel-Arab conflict from the Israel-Palestine conflict.” In short, peace with Israel’s Arab neighbors has become much more important than its peace with Palestinians.
The Democratic presidential campaign is expressing some of the old, reliable policy routines, including leveraging U.S. aid to Israel to influence it to change. The Party platform rejects Netanyahu’s plan of annexation, which is now moot, anyway, and continues to support a two-state solution, thought by many observers to be obsolete. Of course, the Party also continues to mouth the words, “Palestinian rights and freedom.” However, perhaps not so strangely absent, again according to the Washington Post, is any mention in its platform of a few, keywords: “after pressure from pro-Israel lobbying groups, it [the Party] dropped any reference to Israel as an occupying power.” So, if Israel is not an occupying power, then there is no Palestinian issue; it just goes away, like, in certain American circles, the coronavirus will go away one day, disappear, just like that.
Statehood for Palestine or not, much less one binational state for Israelis and Palestinians in which equal rights are guaranteed for all, is a pipe dream at the moment. What is critical is the oppressive and degrading conditions under which Palestinians in the occupied territories have for decades been forced to live. While Linda Sarsour’s rhetorical style may have upset the Democratic apple cart, her message about Palestinian human and political rights will be ignored only at the Democrats’ peril.
‘She Has No Role’: Biden Condemns Ousted Women’s March Organizer Linda Sarsour after Her DNC Appearance,” National Review, 8/19/2020
“Democrats shift their platform on Israel” ‘There’s a far more balanced approach,” Washington Post, 8/21/2020
“EXCLUSIVE: Biden aides apologize privately over attack on Linda Sarsour,” Middle East Eyes, 8/23/2020
John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.
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