Palestinian activists disappointed at DNC platform’s language on Israel

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.”

He convinced the DNC to pick Milwaukee. Then COVID hit

For Alex Lasry, 2020 was supposed to be the year of Milwaukee. 

The 33-year-old had high hopes for his adopted city, scheduled to host the Democratic National Convention — the bid for which he chaired — beginning August 17. On top of that, the Milwaukee Bucks clinched the playoffs in February, giving hometown pride to Milwaukeeans who haven’t celebrated a basketball championship since 1971. Lasry, who serves as the Bucks’ senior vice president, was riding high.

Then the pandemic hit, and everything changed. The NBA is now finishing out its postseason in a tightly sealed Orlando bubble, while the Bucks’ Fiserv Forum, where the DNC was set to take place, is a virtual ghost town as the downsized presidential convention has been relocated to a smaller venue.

“It sucks,” Lasry declared bluntly in an interview with Jewish Insider. “There’s no way around it, but there are bigger issues and bigger concerns.”

Despite the setbacks, Lasry is hopeful that the DNC — during which former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to accept the Democratic presidential nomination — will at least help bring attention to Milwaukee, the Rust Belt enclave that is perhaps more often associated with “Laverne & Shirley” reruns than a destination city. “I’m sure there’s a lot of really antiquated thoughts about Milwaukee, and that’s what the point of this bid was,” said Lasry.

“We wanted to reintroduce Milwaukee to the world and to show people that Milwaukee is a top-tier city,” he added, “one that can compete with cities like Houston, Miami, Chicago and New York.”

Bucks president Peter Feigin praised Lasry’s effort to lure the convention to Milwaukee. “He really spearheaded that whole campaign,” Feigin told JI, adding that Lasry’s accomplishment was “beyond an awesome feat.”

Lasry, the DNC host committee’s finance chair, previously worked in former President Barack Obama’s administration under senior advisor Valerie Jarrett. A New York native, he moved to Milwaukee six years ago when his father, the billionaire hedge fund manager and Democratic bundler Marc Lasry, became a co-owner of the Bucks. 

“I didn’t know a ton about Milwaukee before I moved here, but once I got here, I fell in love with the city,” Lasry enthused. “There’s an incredible local food scene. A great local sports scene. It’s got everything you want in a city. Plus, it’s affordable, and you can’t beat the summer weather. I just think there’s so much to Milwaukee that people don’t know about. And that’s what, I think, this convention is hopefully going to start doing — which is getting the word out.”

He also found love of another sort. Lasry proposed to Lauren Markowitz, the interim chief of staff at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin — who previously worked as a spokeswoman for former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel — last May, shortly after Milwaukee was chosen to host the DNC. 

They were scheduled to get married on March 28 of this year at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, but were forced to postpone their wedding until 2021 due to the pandemic. 

Lasry said he found out his wedding would be postponed the same day he learned the NBA season had been suspended. “That was an especially crappy day,” he told JI.

Lasry’s love for Milwaukee, basketball and Democratic politics collided when he led the charge to host the DNC, and he has been trying to stay focused on those things as he works from home during the coronavirus crisis. 

He is still trying to raise money for the DNC, he said, and would like to attend, though the four-day convention, which will still run from August 17-20, is a mostly virtual affair. “If I can go, then I’ll be there,” he said, “but I’ll listen to the security precautions and the health precautions of whatever the [Democratic National Convention Committee] wants.”

As for basketball, Lasry told JI that he plans to head down to Orlando to see his team, and that he will most likely stay there for the entirety of the playoffs. 

“There’s still a lot to do,” he said, looking beyond the present moment. “There’s still an offseason we have to prepare for.” What does a potentially scaled-down arena look like, he wondered, or even an arena with no fans at all? “It’s a lot different scenario-planning.”

More than anything, Lasry wants viewers who tune into the DNC to witness the Milwaukee that he has come to appreciate over the past half-decade. 

“Ever since I moved here, it’s been a city that I love, that I’ve made my home,” he said. “And I just want people to see the Milwaukee that I see, and I want the entire country to know that Milwaukee can play on the same level as, really, any city in this country.”