Sanders Picks Controversial Israel Critic to Testify Before Dem Platform Committee

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders selected Matthew Duss, president of the DC-based Foundation for Middle East Peace, and known in part for his outspoken criticism of Israel, to testify on his behalf before the party’s platform committee this week, Jewish Insider has learned.

In 2012, Duss compared Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza to racial discrimination. “Like segregation in the American South, the siege of Gaza (and the entire Israeli occupation, for that matter) is a moral abomination that should be intolerable to anyone claiming progressive values,” Duss wrote

Duss, who served as a foreign policy analyst at Center for American Progress (CAP), harshly criticized the decision to host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a Q&A with CAP President Neera Tanden last year. “The idea that CAP would agree to give him bipartisan cover is really disappointing,” he told The Huffington Post. “This is someone who is an enemy of the progressive agenda, who has targeted Israeli human rights organizations throughout his term, and was re-elected on the back of blatant anti-Arab race-baiting.” He also praised an article slamming Netanyahu for “religious incitement” because he gave Obama a copy of the Book of Esther.

In response to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order against BDS on Sunday, Duss tweeted: “As I told @pritheworld, fact that Cuomo’s anti-BDS order didn’t mention occupation is part of why it’s misguided.” He added in an interview with PRI, “I think the answer to that is not to make economic protest illegal; the way to deal with that is to actually argue and debate these issues openly.”

Duss confirmed that he will be testifying before the committee. “I’m honored to be able to share my views, and look forward to a friendly and constructive dialog,” he said in an email to Jewish Insider.

The DNC platform drafting committee will meet in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday and Thursday to hear testimony on possible changes to the platform, including Sanders’ push for changes in its Israel policy. Three of Sanders’ five selections – James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, Dr. Cornel West, a BDS supporter, and Rep. Keith Ellison – are said to demand changing the party’s policy on Israel, one that is more sympathetic to the Palestinian side of the conflict.

J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami submitted a written testimony, urging members to agree on a “new consensus” approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We urge the committee to approach its work as a valuable opportunity for the Democratic Party to articulate a new consensus about America’s approach to the conflict,” Ben-Ami said during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. “American Jews overwhelmingly favor a two-state solution, they oppose unlimited settlement expansion, and want American leadership to end the conflict.”

The Hillary Clinton campaign insisted that the 2016 platform will reflect the party’s longstanding strong support for Israel. “The Democratic Party has always, in the platform, reflected longstanding, strong support for Israel. I don’t expect that to change,” Wendy Sherman, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and a foreign policy advisor to Clinton, told Jewish Insider. “I believe that everybody is in strong support for Israel’s security, and I think that Secretary Clinton views about the importance of Israel’s security and the unbreakable bond between the U.S. and Israel is something that is held by all Democrats.

This post was updated to include Duss’ response

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