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Palestinian American Democrats Regret their Party Platform's Failure on Palestinian Rights

posted on: Aug 5, 2020

Palestinian American Democrats Regret their Party Platform's Failure on Palestinian Rights
7 Palestinian Americans out of 220 total Democratic Party delegates attended a virtual Platform Committee meeting. Photo courtesy of demconvention.com

By: John Mason/Arab America Contributing Writer

Palestinian American delegates who attended the virtual Democratic National Party meetings to draft its platform came away largely disappointed, coming up with a policy which, in almost knee-jerk fashion, continues to support Israel’s apartheid policy towards Palestinians.

Palestinian-American Democratic Delegates protest their input to party platform is ignored

Seven Palestinian national delegates to the Democratic National platform drafting meetings have sharply criticized the party’s process of drafting that platform. According the Middle East Eye, the process “was marred by a ‘lack of transparency, bias and censorship’ of their input.” These delegates further noted that the party had dismissed the input of Palestinian Americans, making them “merely observers on matters that directly impact our lives and the lives of our families.”

The “matters” they were referring to are those of stripping away their “agency” through the party platform committee’s rejection of the amendments submitted by the Palestinian American delegates. These concerned the occupation of the Palestinian territories and the stipulation that U.S. funding not be used to enable the annexation of those territories, both being distinct violations of the human rights of Palestinians. The delegates further expressed the feeling that they were by-passed by the committee’s work behind closed doors, resulting in the absence of Palestinian American delegates’ input to the final platform. In short, they felt they were being deliberately ignored.

Because of the virtual meeting of the platform committee, the usual back and forth debate of what issues get introduced to the platform was impossible. Though the drafting committee held the 80-page draft platform close to the chest, the part dealing with Israel and Palestine issues was nevertheless leaked to certain media outlets. The draft made clear that any mention of the Israeli occupation of Palestine was omitted.

Mixed message of the Democratic Platform on a commitment to the Palestinian People

On the Israel-Palestine issue, the platform starts by rendering total support to Israeli security, to give it a qualitative military advantage, and the right to defend itself. This is almost the standard language of either major U.S. political party. The platform continues, again according to Middle East Eye, “Democrats recognize the worth of every Israeli and every Palestinian. That’s why we will work to help bring to an end a conflict that has brought so much pain to many.” Furthermore, in contrast to the Trump-Kushner so-called plan, the Democrats reject annexation and expansion of settlements, but it then twists and turns by accepting Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, perhaps forgetting that this in effect denies Palestinians of any claims to their piece of that holy city. Despite calls from many quarters of the Democratic party, the platform rejects any reference to opposing, much less strenuously opposing, continued Israeli occupation. Additionally, despite numerous pleas from Democratic delegates prior to the convention to withhold funds from Israel if it continued with its plan to annex key portions of the West Bank, the platform makes no mention of it.

While the platform normally reflects the view of the party’s nominee, Biden, the presumptive candidate, his reaching out to Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians, has not resulted in clear language on Palestinian human rights, on Israeli settlements, and on the occupation generally. Only three of the six amendments offered by Palestinian American delegates were approved for a vote, on the premise that the other three would disrupt party unity.

Prominent Palestinian Americans speak out against the Democratic Platform Israel bias

The exclusion of Palestinian American voices from the convention has been decried in contrast to the pro-Israel lobbyists, who succeeded in ridding the platform of even legitimate criticisms of Israel. As noted earlier, the coronavirus restrictions on the usual wheeling-dealing character of party conventions resulted in virtual, highly controlled debates. This ended up skewing the debate over Palestine-Israel issues. Two Palestinian American delegates to the platform drafting meetings have spoken out about the skewed debate of Palestine-Israel issues. Their viewpoints are presented below.

Palestinian American Democrats Regret their Party Platform's Failure on Palestinian Rights
2016 Delegates to the Idaho state Democratic party platform committee–here they could wheel-and-deal vs. the virtual meetings of 2020 Photo courtesy of Idaho Dems

One delegate, Zeina Ashrawi Hutchison, from Virginia, spoke with Mondoweiss, on her perceptions of the suppression of Palestinian Americans’ concerns. She noted, “It’s not surprising that the Israel lobby was in full control of the platform on Palestine-Israel. But what is shocking is how out of touch the party and its leadership are with the people that it claims to represent. If the goal it represents was party unity, they’ve failed and managed to alienate the majority.” Further, Ashrawi Hutchinson insisted that “Human rights are non-negotiable and the Palestinian people’s rights to freedom and self-determination will overcome Israeli apartheid and oppression.”

Another delegate, Samia Assed, from New Mexico asked, “How can I ask my community to support the Democratic Party while they don’t support our cause.” Assed was referring to the platform debates in which the majority supported a weak amendment proposed by non-Palestinian delegates, rather than to support an amendment more relevant and uplifting of Palestinian concerns.

Conclusion

One positive outcome of the Democratic national convention to approve its platform was that its delegates approved for the first time a provision to uphold free speech rights regarding the BDS campaign—boycott, divestment, and sanctions—for Palestinian rights. This contrasts with the Republican Party platform, which labeled BDS anti-Semitic and illegal. However, the Democratic platform is still quite unfriendly towards the idea of Palestinian rights. That platform continues the Democratic Party’s earlier devotion to Israel’s apartheid policy towards Palestinians, rather than support of their “freedom, justice, and equality.”

 

References 

“Palestinian Democrats decry ‘bias and censorship’ in party platform,” Middle East Eye, 7/30/2020

“Palestinian-Americans sidelined during DNC platform debate,” Mondoweiss, 7/30/2020

 

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, the UN, and the World Bank in 65 countries.

 

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