An effort to inject language criticizing Israel for “occupation and illegal settlements” in the Democratic Party platform was defeated by Hillary Clinton supporters Saturday as a panel charged with drafting language for the high-stakes statement convened for a likely final time in Orlando, Florida.
The attempt was one of two amendments seeking to re-frame the party’s language regarding Israel, both of which were fended off by supporters of the presumptive nominee when the party held what was expected to be the final day of voting on the party’s platform Saturday.
Meeting in the ballroom of an Orlando hotel, supporters of Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders faced off on a wide variety of issues including international trade partnerships, the minimum wage, health care, and the environment.
The draft version platform, which won praise from J Street and the Anti-Defamation League in recent weeks, called for a two-state solution that would grant a homeland to Palestinians, for the first time framing the issue in terms of Palestinian national aspirations as well as Israeli security needs.
Yet a group of activists led by committee members appointed by Bernie Sanders, including activist and academic Cornel West and Arab American Institute President James Zogby, demanded tougher language on Israel than that contained in the platform’s draft text, including a call for “an end to occupation and illegal settlements.”
Arguing that the language would help the US be a “credible peace broker,” uncommitted delegate Maya Berry proposed the amendment which would add the phrase to an already extant sentence, changing the platform plank to read that “we will continue to work towards a two-state solution to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, to recognize borders that provide the Palestinians with and end to occupation and illegal settlements so they may live in independent sovereignty and dignity.”
West described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “an issue of our time.”
“It has spiritual and moral implications, not just about politics or the next election,” he said. “For the younger generation, it is more and more becoming what Vietnam was for the 1960s and what South Africa was for the 1980s. We must never tolerate one iota of anti-Jewish hatred, and never one iota of anti-Palestinian or anti-Arab or anti-Muslim hatred. Can we walk that line?”
“Democratic Party, you have been in denial for too long. Palestinians ought to be free,” he exclaimed.
Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Steve Benjamin — a Clinton delegate to the committee — responded that adding the additional clause would make the work of would-be US peacemakers more difficult.
“Ultimately, its up to the Palestinian and Israeli leadership to make the tough choices that must be made,” he suggested. “We cannot prescribe specific outcomes. To realize peace and support a fair two-state solution, we must defeat this amendment and support the base text of the platform,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin argued that delegates “should be proud that our platform, the Democratic Party platform, for the very first time supports the only path to two states, bilateral negotiations between Israel and Palestine.”
The amendment was rejected by a vote of 95-73, with some activists walking angrily out of the hotel ballroom where the meeting was held. During the often-raucus meeting, which spanned over a half-dozen sessions over two days, delegates heckled delegate Mark Stanley when he testified against one of the two amendments.
The language on Israel was the subject of a similar fight last month, with supporters of Clinton, who has effectly clinched the Democratic nomination, defeating an amendment led by Sanders supporter James Zogby that would also have called for providing Palestinians with “an end to occupation and illegal settlements” and urged an international effort to rebuild Gaza.
Zogby said at the time that Sanders had helped craft the language. An amendment urging an international effort to rebuild Gaza resurfaced during Saturday’s meeting, which was attended by the full 187-member platform committee, as opposed to the more limited drafting committee which approved the preliminary draft.
West took to the microphone during Saturday’s debate to demand recognition of the suffering in Gaza, accusing Israel of massacring innocents in the coastal Strip.
“When you’re talking about Gaza, when you’re talking about a level of such incredible misery and unbelievable suffering, and during the attacks just a few years ago [in 2014] over 2,000 were killed, 500 babies were killed, and not a mumbled word from many of our political elites,” he accused.
“You have to be equally concerned about our precious Jewish brothers and sisters who have to deal with the crimes coming out of Hamas. Yes, Hamas has to take responsibility for killing innocent people, and it’s a crime against humanity, but so does the IDF, so does the Israeli Defense Forces when they kill innocent folk on the other side,” he charged.
— People For Bernie (@People4Bernie) July 9, 2016
West’s comments about the IDF drew loud applause and cheers from the activists in the room.
The draft’s current language reflects Clinton’s views and advocates working toward a “two-state solution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict” that guarantees Israel’s security with recognized borders “and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity.”
Supporters of the amendment booed the committee after it was defeated on Saturday. CNN quoted one supporter who declared the party had “sold out to AIPAC.” He was escorted out.
Clinton and Sanders supporters also tussled over health care, trade and a host of other issues. While disgruntled Sanders supporters could technically issue a minority report addressing unreconciled issues, it is unlikely that such a report would reflect the Israel-related language, which the Sanders campaign has suggested takes second-seat to domestic issues, particularly those surrounding economic inequality.
The Democratic platform will include steps to break up large banks, support for a $15 hourly minimum wage and the abolition of the death penalty, among other Sanders-backed positions. But Democrats shot down other demands of the Sanders camp, including a single-payer Medicare health insurance scheme, a carbon tax and a moratorium on hydraulic fracking.
Democratic Party leaders are seeking to bring the warring factions of the party together in advance of the party’s nominating convention, which will be held in Philadelphia later this month. Sanders has yet to officially endorse Clinton, and his supporters often chanted his name during heated moments in Saturday’s meeting.