Hillary’s Palestine Problem: Could Her Israel-Right-Or-Wrong Approach Hurt Her At The Polls?
While the idea that support for Israel is a rite of passage for the Democratic nomination may have been true in the election of 2008, when then-Senator Barack Obama promised to grant Israel an “undivided Jerusalem,” it is no longer the case. The open defiance of President Obama and the majority of the Democratic Party -- including 9 of 11 Jewish Democratic Senators -- on the Iran deal combined with changes in public opinion on Israel, and the success of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on college campuses has made unwavering support for Israel’s right-wing government position almost non-existent among young people and marginalized minority communities, the groups that make up the majority of the Democratic Party.
In March, Hillary Clinton delivered a bellicose speech to AIPAC, the main arm of the pro-Israel lobby in the US, advocating for greater military aid to the Israeli government and taking the United States-Israel relationship “to the next level.” She made not a single mention of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, construction of settlements in violation of international law, its blockade of Gaza, or even the peace process.
Clinton’s Democratic primary contender, Bernie Sanders, though not exactly an advocate of solidarity with the Palestinian people, has put forward a policy towards Israel-Palestine that is well to the left of Clinton. Sanders did not attend the AIPAC convention, an action that would have been considered political suicide just eight years ago, opting instead to campaign for support from ordinary voters in the West. Sanders outlined his views on Israel-Palestine in a speech in Utah, stating that “there is too much suffering in Gaza to be ignored.” He went on to advocate for the end of the blockade of Gaza and called the Israeli government’s building of settlements “absurd.”
It’s worth noting that Sanders’ brother, Larry, is a Green Party politician in the United Kingdom who has openly supported the BDS movement. While Barack Obama was repeatedly attacked for organizing with those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, Bernie Sanders has not even been asked about his brother’s stance in solidarity with Palestinians. Sanders recently piqued the anger of right-wing pro-Israel advocates with his comments criticizing Israel’s 2014 assault on the Gaza Strip, prompting Hillary Clinton to echo their attacks. It remains to be seen whether the episode will affect his performance in the New York primary, however, he continues to surge in state polls.
Polls find rank-and-file Democratic support for Israel slipping away
In the aftermath of the Israeli bombing of Gaza in 2014, a Gallup poll found that 25% of Americans ages 18-29 considered Israel’s bombings justified, in comparison to 51% who considered them unjustified. The poll was similar among non-White Americans: 25% viewed Israel’s bombings as justified in contrast to 49% who did not. The poll also found that 47% of Democrats viewed Israeli bombings as unjustified in comparison to 37% who did not. By a 10% margin, Democrats viewed the Israeli government’s actions as unjustified. And the base of the party -- young people and people of color -- saw Israel’s actions as unjustified by a 2 to 1 margin.
A poll of 802 Democratic Party opinion elites conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz found that 76% believed that Israel held too much influence on US foreign policy, while 47% of Democrats considered Israel a racist country.
Additionally, a 2014 J Street poll found that 49% of American Jews under 30 support a limited boycott of Israel. With Jewish Voice for Peace representing the groundswell of Jewish support for BDS, growing more rapidly in membership than any established Jewish group, a poll found that only 31% of American Jewish college students consider Israel to be a democracy.
Sheldon Adelson has lead the charge against BDS on campus with his ‘Campus Maccabes’ crusade, where he has invested $50 million in campaigns to suppress and sabotage Palestine solidarity. Adelson is a right-wing casino baron and Republican mega-donor who has earned a reputation for extreme statements like, “[God] didn’t talk about Israel remaining as a democratic state… Israel isn’t going to be a democratic state — so what?”
Such rhetoric does not exactly resonate with the young Jewish American college students who lean liberal, and value democracy and human rights.
Even Eric Alterman, an avid critic of the BDS movement and ardent Zionist, has acknowledged that attempts by university administrations to censor the movement based on accusations of anti-Semitism fall flat on their face, due to the fact that the BDS movement is “filled with young Jews.”
Solidarity grows at the Democratic Party’s base
Activists at these universities, which represent enclaves of liberal politics, have forged broad coalitions uniting various minority communities. One of the most exciting trends has been the Black-Palestinian connection.
Cornel West, Angela Davis, Danny Glover, and Marc Lamont Hill are among the many widely recognized Black voices to have risen up in support of the BDS movement. Activists from Black Lives Matter, Dream Defenders, the Black Youth Project, and Hands Up United took a trip to Occupied Palestine last year, in a show of solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Patrisse Cullors, founder of Black Lives Matter, stated bluntly about her experience in Israel, ”This is an apartheid state. We can't deny that and if we do deny it we are a part of the Zionist violence. There are two different systems here in occupied Palestine. Two completely different systems. Folks are unable to go to parts of their own country. Folks are barred from their own country.”
In 2008, Barack Obama was confronted with an “Israel problem” and did all he could to overcompensate for it. Eight years later, after three devastating, Obama-backed wars in the Gaza Strip and the rise of a BDS movement that has entered the international conscience, Hillary Clinton may face an entirely new predicament. As she chooses the views of oligarchs and lobbyists over the future of her party’s base, Clinton could become the first presidential frontrunner to face a Palestine problem.