This week, Socialist Worker’s Ashley Smith published an exposé of Democratic frontrunners who call themselves progressive but lend their support to Israel. If the article’s claims are true, it is quite damaging to the leftist perception that the Dem frontrunners are all staunch progressives who aren’t afraid to stand up for individual rights. Because these frontrunners are sometimes considered martyrs in their own party, if Smith’s article proves to be true, the progressive politic in Congress may not exist after all, at least not one which isn’t mired by hypocrisy.
The article claims that probable 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton and President Obama are committed supporters of Israeli apartheid, which should be to the ire of many leftist progressives and those who consider themselves more liberal than liberalism itself. I concur to that part of the article. When Obama recycles the same talking points about Israel’s “right to defend itself” while homeless Palestinians collect the body parts of their children, my support wanes. When Hillary Clinton repeatedly tries to out-hawk Obama where Israel is concerned, my support wanes (instead of moving left of Obama where Israel is concerned, Clinton is content to treat Palestinians as an afterthought. Ironically, that doesn’t really distance her from Obama). No matter how staunchly defensive these two politicians might be when it comes to other aspects of individual liberty, if they decry human rights abuses in the U.S. and ignore them elsewhere, I cannot support them.
So the establishment frontrunners are pro-Israel. It’s disappointing, but it’s nothing we didn’t know before, since they’re all obvious moderates. Where Smith’s article really threatens to be exposing is in the martyrs of the Democratic party, the frontrunners of progressivism who rally the support of grass-roots liberals and socialists alike.
As we’ve seen in the Republican party, there are a group of radical martyrs who manage to out-conservative even the most insane establishment Republicans, and we can see a similar pattern in the Democratic party. Elizabeth Warren and the “Elizabeth Warren Wing” of the Democrats are largely seen as the left’s answer to the Tea Party, and supporters of EWW Democrats (forgive the abbreviation) like to think Warren and her colleagues pick up where the establishment left off. If Obama’s being a moderate on education, EWW Dems can often be trusted to go further and truly represent the base.
So you have a Democratic party made up of left-of-Republican moderates and left-of-left EWW Dems. Or not. As Smith’s articles explain, the so-called truly progressive Congresspeople like Elizabeth Warren are still tied to the disappointing moderacy of the party and of the politic at large in one crucial area. They may stand out from the crowd in lots of policy areas, but where human rights abroad concerned, they’re still part of the establishment status quo.
They all seem to suffer from what Smith calls “Progressives Except for Palestine” or PEP Syndrome, whereby they are staunch defenders of individual liberty, of the downtrodden, the poor, the minority etc., but apparently forgot to include Palestinians in that picture. They all support Israel just as much as the established moderates and the President himself, Smith claims. What I hope to do here is to dig deeper into the views of a handful of three notable progressive Democrats where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is concerned to find out just how badly they suffer from PEP syndrome. (I originally planned to count Bill Clinton among these progressive Dems because he’s so often cited as a Democratic hero, but he’s not really a progressive and he’s not in a position of power. A quick Google search reveals that he’s pro-Israel anyway).
Alison Lundergan Grimes, current Secretary of State for Kentucky and 2014 Senate candidate, challenger to Mitch McConnell and hero of the left on Twitter.
– Supports Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.
– Supports Israel’s right to defend itself.
– Supports Israel’s success in destroying tunnels “used by terrorists”.
– Laments the loss of Gazan life but makes no mention of Israeli war crimes.
Bernie Sanders, eight-time House Representative and two-time Senator from Vermont, self-described socialist.
– Supports Israel’s right to defend itself.
– Explains that Palestinians must fulfil their responsibilities to arrest terrorists, confiscate terrorists’ weapons, dismantle terrorist organizations, halt all anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incitement, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.
– Explains that “Israelis must end their policy of targeted killings, prevent further Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, and prevent the destruction of Palestinian homes, businesses and infrastructure”
– Called for $20 million in funding for the Israeli-Palestinian Peace, Reconciliation and Democracy Fund.
– Introduced and passed the Arab-Israeli Peace Partners Program in Vermont during his time in the House.
Elizabeth Warren, CFPB architect and Senator from Massachusetts with a high public profile and massive grassroots support.
– Planning a trip to Israel after the November midterms.
– Supports the State of Israel’s security from Hamas.
– Would not support a Gaza application for UN membership.
– Supports Israel maintaining a qualitative military edge.
White the EWW Democratic support of Israel may be a tad inflated in Smith’s expose (at least where Sanders is concerned), it’s nonetheless disappointing. As the article quite rightly points out – how can you be for the poorest of the poor when you approve grants to Israel? How can you be committed to anti-imperialism when you support (or at least ignore) Israeli apartheid? How can you be a champion of individual liberty when you don’t speak out against the blockade? Suffering from PEP Syndrome is to undermine your progressive foundations and turn your world view into a hypocritical house of cards.
Supporting a politician is always a trade-off. You can’t agree with a candidate on absolutely everything so you ignore the points of disagreement and focus on the things you both want, if you don’t want the other guy getting elected. Where the EWW Democrats are concerned, I cannot give up a commitment to human rights that transcends borders and nationalities. If you want my vote to be part of running the last superpower, you better make damn sure that you’re with me on that one issue at the very least.
I suspect the Israeli question won’t be a trade-off for EWW Dem supporters, but it should be. We have to demand more from the people in positions of power.