On the surface, it would seem that there are bitter divisions within the Democratic Party, and the appointment last week of a mix of Israel supporters and critics to the party’s platform drafting committee only seemed to exacerbate those divisions.
But political watchers both within and on the outside say that Democrats will emerge from their nominating convention this summer comfortably pro-Israel.
The party platform will reflect the United States’ “unbreakable bond” with Israel and Democratic presidential front runner Hillary Clinton’s support for a two-state solution, said Wendy Sherman, a former undersecretary of state for political affairs and one of 15 members of the platform-writing committee.
“I think that sort of sentiment is widely held in the party, that a two-state solution is critical to ensure the security and recognize the borders of a Jewish state, Israel, free from terror, and that a Palestinian state can provide independent sovereignty where they can govern themselves in their own state,” she said.
Sherman was one of six Clinton appointees to the committee. Rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) named five members, including Israel critics James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, and Cornel West, a philosopher and social activist.
Sherman said she thinks despite the presence of fiery pro-Palestinian figures like West, the party will unify around Clinton’s views on the Middle East.
“I know [Cornel West], and I think we will have a very good discussion,” she said. “But I think that the principles that I outlined are in the mainstream of Democratic Party politics and certainly the views of Secretary Clinton, and I expect it will be those values that go into” the platform.
Sherman served as the lead negotiator in the Iran nuclear deal and has worked in Democratic politics going back to Michael Dukakis’ unsuccessful 1988 presidential campaign. She said her biggest concern this election season is Republican nominee Donald Trump’s lack of knowledge about foreign affairs, which she thinks would be “reckless and dangerous” for the country.
“He has criticized everyone from the prime minister of Great Britain to the president of Mexico, while at the same time saying that he has admiration for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and Kim Jong Un of North Korea, so it is very hard to know where Mr. Trump stands,” she said. “I don’t think he understands the Middle East. And what is most concerning is that he thinks unpredictability is a good thing.”
That and Trump’s self-described neutral approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will help rally the Democratic Party’s Jewish base around Clinton, said David Lublin, an American University political scientist.
With Clinton as the likely Democratic nominee, Israel will not figure in as a wedge issue in the general election, he said, because Sanders supporters will realize that their only alternative to Clinton is Trump.
“Within the Jewish community you have every section of opinion, but the reality is that the dominant strands remain pro-Israel, favoring the two-state solution,” he said. “[Clinton] has huge opportunities with the Jewish vote because of all of the things Trump has done and said. The pro-Palestinian people have little place to go. How can they vote for a guy who said Muslims were cheering when the Twin Towers fell?” he said, referring to a false claim that Trump has made repeatedly.
Lublin thinks that Zogby, although critical of Israel, will not be a lightning rod within the party, since the Arab American institute’s main function is to promote Arab visibility.
He said West’s presence on the committee is the greater concern. The Princeton University professor has a tendency to spar with politicians, including President Barack Obama.
“Cornel West has a long history of angrily criticizing people with whom he disagrees,” Lublin said.
Given the split within the Jewish community over the Iran deal, Sherman’s selection may seem polarizing. But Jewish Democrats for the most part supported the Obama administration’s position on the deal and did not view it as a threat to Israel’s existence.
“The Netanyahu government [which opposed the deal] is not popular with the American Jewish community as a whole and their [opposition] to the two-state solution is not viewed favorably,” Lublin said. “If anything it’s almost a good strategic choice by Clinton, because she can advocate for her position on Israel with the credibility of having negotiated this deal.”
I had no problem with the content of this article, but I wonder what made the writer choose this rather obscure Prof. Lublin to quote as an authority. As for Prof. Cornel West, the writer should have know that he’s no longer at Princeton U., but now on the faculty of Union Theological Seminary in New York.
This is a conventional analysis that focuses on this or that policy issue, and mostly foreign policy issues at that. It does not address the fact that for a considerable number of Democrats, and for many independents who support Bernie Sanders, the core issues are systemic and fundamental – broken government, a corrupt campaign finance system, an outdated primary system, de-stabilizing income inequality, and an establishment – political and corporate – that long ago stopped listening to the citizen-voter and catered instead to big moneyed interests. The article describes Cornel West as angrily criticizing those who disagree with him. To many Sanders supporters Democratic Party leaders seem to just ignore those who disagree with them. There is an opportunity to change this that should be seized.
I will be a Sanders delegate at the convention, and I want to express my disappointment in the way Ambassador Sherman has framed the issue. Mr. Zogby has long been a respected voice for Arab-Americans and for justice for Palestinians. We expect that he will be an important voice at the convention to represent those aspirations in a time when the opposition’s standard-bearer has expressed hostility to Muslims and a causal disregard for the value of their lives. Those views are not in conflict with the views of the vast majority of American Jews, and are accepted by nearly all Democratic voters. In fact, J Street has just issued a call for platform language that affirms the rights of Palestinians and an end to occupation.
Amb. Sherman’s framing of the issue is unfortunate. The point of the discussion should be to erase the dichotomy — to unify the party’s position without giving the proverbial finger to Mr. Zogby and Dr. West. It’s simple enough, if the usual, innocuous, uncontroversial language is chosen. Amb. Sherman even sets it out, before she supposes that this would represent political caving by Sanders’ supporters. She’s spot on when she says this: “The party platform will reflect the United States’ “unbreakable bond” with Israel and Democratic presidential front runner Hillary Clinton’s support for a two-state solution.” Few Democrats in either camp would disagree with this.
The language wil have to be hashed out, but this will be the end result, along with some language about respecting the rights of Palestinians and maybe not doing anything that will undermine efforts for a peaceful resolution. That will be a nod at avoiding deliberate provocations with expanding settlements. I suspect that Zogby and West will push to have that stated more explictly, but regardless, it’s understood that both candidates are opposed to the expansion of settlements. This won’t be an issue unless Trump decides to jump the shark and announce that he’s in favor of expanding settlements. If he does that, Clinton will be thrilled to attack him for not understanding the parameters of international diplomacy.
The platform should emphasize that Democrats see the two-state solution as essential to Israel’s security and to the national interests of the United Sates as a basic pre-condition to creating a saner, stable Middle East. For Democrats, there is no dichotomy betwen being “pro-Israel” and being in favor of a two-state solution. The problem remains those on the Israeli right who seem determined to sabotage the prospects for a legitimate two-state solution. That offers only the prospect of endless war, and an Israel that is either Jewish or democratic, but that can never be both. That is the real dichotomy, and it is a prospect that offers a bleak future for everyone.
The Democratic Party is not aligned with the policies of the Likud. Pretending otherwise is delusional or dishonest. Sen. Sanders argues that the prospect of a democratic Jewish state recognized by one and all requires that all parties agree on a two-state solution. It will be impossible to reach a two-state solution without backing away from the Likud’s aggressive settlement policies. I don’t think that either Sec’y Clinton or Amb. Sherman would disagree with that. While Sec’y Clinton might have resisted being critical of the Netanyahu government during the New York primary debate, Democrats largely agree on these points, and most Americans also agree. The platform should affirm respect for the legitimate aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians, and the hopes of a war-weary world.