Will the Democratic Establishment Continue to Defy Its Base's Growing Support for Palestinian Human Rights?

Hillary Clinton has staked her presidential candidacy on her “unbreakable bond” with right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recently telling AIPAC supporters she intends to crack down on campus campaigners for Palestinian human rights.


Meanwhile, 73 percent of Clinton’s Democratic colleagues in the Senate joined 94 percent of Senate Republicans last month in signing an open letter to President Barack Obama calling for an increase in the already exorbitant levels of unconditional U.S. military aid to Israel. Progressive champion Elizabeth Warren was among those who lent her name to the statement, which declares that “the United States must enhance its investment in the long-term security requirements of our closest Middle East ally.”

But now, a new poll of 2,008 Americans indicates that those within the Democratic Party angling to prove their allegiance to Israel’s right-wing government are failing to keep up with shifts taking place within their own base, where young people and self-identified progressives are showing increasing solidarity with Palestinians. A Pew Research Center survey released Thursday found that, since Israel’s brutal military assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014, there has been “a modest rise in the share of the public saying they sympathize more with the Palestinians, from 14% then to 19% today.”

Ali Abunimah, writing for the Electronic Intifada on Thursday, observed that “Pew calls that a ‘modest’ increase—though across the country it would represent millions of people changing their views.”

Notably, Pew researchers identified a significant shift among young people, concluding that the share of millennials who sympathize with Palestinians “has risen significantly in recent years, from 9% in 2006 to 20% in July 2014 to 27% today.” According to the poll, the shift can be almost completely attributed to what researchers call “liberal Democrats,” whose sympathy with Palestinians “has nearly doubled over the past two years, from 21% to 40%.” The researchers did not analyze how many of those swept into the liberal Democrats category identify as socialists, despite rising support among young people for Bernie Sanders-style socialism.

The poll bolsters the argument that Sanders’ base has pressed him to take a stand for Palestinian human rights that, while it might appear modest, has provoked a fierce backlash, even including charges of “blood libel" from Israeli Knesset member Michael Oren. Sanders was the only presidential candidate to decline an invitation to address the 2016 AIPAC conference after thousands signed a petition, initiated by AlterNet editor Max Blumenthal, urging the senator to reject the “racist, militaristic, and anti-democratic policies” the pro-Israel lobby promotes. Sanders’ name, along with that of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) who has faced considerable rebuke from Netanyahu, was notably absent from the recent Senate letter calling for a spike in U.S. military aid to Israel.

Pew researchers determined that 39 percent of Sanders’ backers sympathize more with Palestinians, as compared to 33 percent with Israel. These figures contrast with those of Clinton’s backers, 47 percent of whom sympathize more with Israelis, as compared to 27 percent with Palestinians.

An earlier Pew poll conducted in the midst of Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza found that black and Latino Americans were far more likely to hold Israel responsible for the violence than their white counterparts. This growing identification is reflected in mounting solidarity from the U.S.-based movement for Black Lives Matter. “Out of the terror directed against us—from numerous attacks on black life to Israel’s brutal war on Gaza and chokehold on the West Bank—strengthened resilience and joint-struggle have emerged between our movements,” 49 black-led U.S. organizations declared last year.

Yet, as the “unbreakable” bond with Israel is increasingly contested among progressive and left movements, the clear majority of the U.S. public still “expresses more sympathy toward Israel than the Palestinians,” Pew researchers note. Meanwhile, a stunning 75% of Republicans say they sympathize with Israel, compared to just 7% who sympathize with Palestinians. Contrasting attitudes among the Democrat side, pro-Israel sentiments within the GOP base are strong regardless of which candidates voters support.

“Over the past decade, the share of Americans saying they sympathize more with Israel has grown among most ideological groups—with the exception of liberal Democrats,” the poll concludes.

This trend sets up a coming showdown over Palestinian human rights within the Democratic Party, as well as among the left movements omitted from the survey’s analysis. Will young people and liberals demand that progressive champions like Warren, or the current frontrunner Clinton, take a stand against Israeli occupation and apartheid? And can those who fail to do so continue to identify themselves as progressive?

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