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Sanders Picks James Zogby and Rep. Keith Ellison for DNC Committee

posted on: May 24, 2016


BY: Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was given the choice to pick five members of the Democratic Party platform-writing committee, and his first choice was Arab American leader, James Zogby.

The platform-writing committee for the Democratic National Convention (DNC) is where the Democratic Party drafts policies that will be adopted by the party at the DNC in Philadelphia this July. There are fifteen committee members in total. Sanders’ competitor, Hillary Clinton, was given six seats to fill, while DNC Chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, will choose the remaining four.

By choosing Zogby, political pundits believe Sanders will attempt to call for a more even-handed approach to policies regarding Israel and Palestine. James Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute in Washington, DC, and has been an advocate for the Palestinian cause his entire career. He has been a DNC member and official for several years, and currently co-chairs the party’s resolution committee.

In an interview, Zogby said that Sanders’s approach to “Israeli-Palestinian issues is in line with most Democrats’ views… Sanders wants American policy to respect both Israel’s security concerns and Palestinian rights.”

Like most Arab Americans, though, Zogby’s concern is not limited to the Israel-Palestine conflict. He is also an advocate for many domestic issues, such as: unlawful surveillance of minority communities; combatting bigotry toward Arabs, Muslims, and other targeted groups; improving access to voting for all citizens; and establishing fair and humane immigration policy reform. These issues are all in line with what Sanders has spoken about during his campaign. Additionally, Zogby’s appointment gives Arab Americans a voice at the DNC.

Another one of Sanders’ seats was given to U.S. Representative Keith Ellison, who is one of only two American Muslims currently serving in Congress. Ellison is known for his progressive positions on human rights, reluctance to support the Iraq War and its continuation, and advocacy for American Muslims facing bigotry. These views and others are shared with Sanders, making Ellison an ideal choice for representing the Senator’s policies, as well as the concerns of African Americans and American Muslims in the platform-writing committee.

Giving Sanders five seats is an unprecedented move by the DNC. In recent weeks, the DNC has been in an ugly battle with Democratic voters who believe the organization has “rigged” the election process to be in favor of Clinton, and often excludes Sanders from DNC decisions.

The number of seats given to each candidate was decided based on sum of popular votes from the primaries, rather than the DNC chair choosing all seats. Both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns pushed for this change so as to be more inclusive of all democratic views, and eliminate potential favoritism from DNC Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz who has been criticized for her bias toward Clinton in the past.

Sanders’ other appointees include: scholar and social justice activist, Dr. Cornel West, who is also an outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights; prominent environmentalist, Bill McKibben; and Native American activist, Deborah Parker. Sanders hopes that his choices will put his campaign in a strong position to fight for an economy that addresses severe income disparity, break up the big banks, push for a carbon tax, and make healthcare a guaranteed right for all Americans.

Clinton’s choices are also diverse, but include many establishment politicians who have held high offices for extended periods of time, such as Wendy Sherman of the State Department and Carol Browner of the White House Office on Energy and Climate Change Policy, both of whom have served in the Clinton and Obama administrations. Clinton also chose: U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois; Ohio state Rep. Alicia Reece; Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress; and Paul Booth of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.

Undoubtedly, there will be heated debates over what will be included in the Democratic Party’s platform, given these lists of appointees with assorted backgrounds and priorities. Regardless of who is selected as the party’s nominee at the DNC in July, it is safe to say that Arab Americans and American Muslims will have their views heard at the convention. This step of moving toward more inclusive politics is exactly what is needed in order to continue combatting negative and false understandings of Arab American communities across the country.