Convention Conversation

Palestinian activists disappointed at DNC platform’s language on Israel

Speakers say support for Israel is incompatible with Democratic Party


Dr. James Zogby, Arab American Institute founder and president, speaks during a panel discussion organized by AAI.

Longtime Palestinian activists expressed their disappointment at the language in the Israel plank of the 2020 Democratic National Committee platform during a webinar hosted by the Arab American Institute on Tuesday.

James Zogby, AAI’s president, who has been involved in the drafting process of the party’s platform for decades, said this year’s process was markedly more friendly to Palestinian activists and their supporters than in prior election cycles, but still expressed frustration that the 2020 platform did not reference “occupation,” condemn all Israeli settlements or support conditioning U.S. aid to Israel.

Zogby accused party leaders of caving to pressure from the pro-Israel community for political reasons. “It’s not about policy, ever. It’s really about politics,” he asserted. “And it’s sort of a power pull. It’s a question of who can make who jump through hoops… We were always on the downside of that debate. In this case, they did it again, they wouldn’t let those words in the platform just to show who’s boss.”

Zaha Hassan, a human rights lawyer and visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, called this year’s platform drafting process “difficult to understand” and “not very transparent,” adding that Palestinian-American delegates were disappointed with the results. She also decried the party for failing to explicitly support “equality” between Israelis and Palestinians, not using the word “sovereignty” in discussing Palestinian statehood and including language calling for Israel to remain a Jewish state.

Zogby praised the platform’s language regarding the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which says the party opposes “any effort to unfairly single out and delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, while protecting the constitutional right of our citizens to free speech.” Zogby said he sees the second clause as essentially nullifying the previous anti-BDS language and as a disavowal of the state-level anti-BDS legislation that has been adopted by 30 states.

Jewish Currents editor-at-large Peter Beinart, who recently sent shockwaves through the Jewish community with a column arguing that liberal Zionists should abandon hope for a two-state solution, claimed that there is no longer a viable argument in support of Israel from a Democratic perspective.

“One of the things that I think we see more and more clearly is it’s not really possible to cordon off the Israel-Palestinian debate from all of the other debates… People have a set of values and principles,” he said. “In the Republican Party that is not such a problem because those principles fundamentally are not about equality.”

“But in the Democratic Party,” he continued, “the move that people who want the United States to support the Israeli government… is essentially to kind of cordon off, or try to defend the Israeli policies in the language of progressivism, which really doesn’t work when you have a government that’s denying millions of people basic rights because of their ethno-religious status.”

Hassan noted that the platform does not use language seen in previous platforms about “shared values” between the U.S. and Israel — recognition, she said, of this dynamic.

Beinart partly blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government for this shift.

“We’ve had an Israeli prime minister now for 11 years who is very American, and who often looks to many progressive Americans as a kind of Israeli version of the Republicans that we like least domestically,” he said. “That makes it so easy for Americans to understand why the values that he represents are so anathema to us.”

Despite his criticisms of the platform, Zogby went on to downplay its significance, noting that it often does not reflect how the party, and its members, actually behave in practice.

“I dare say most people never even read the damn thing after it’s done,” he said. “Secondly, I think it’s important to see that the platform is never adhered to even by Democratic administrations… So I’m not going to make much right now of where [Joe] Biden and [Kamala] Harris are going to be.”

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