On Monday in Philadelphia, the Democrats ratified what Hillary Clinton’s website touted as “the most progressive platform in party history.” On several issues—the minimum wage and trade, for example—the platform took positions closer to those espoused by Clinton’s erstwhile primary rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. On a few issues, though, Clinton’s campaign dictated a platform that took more moderate positions. One was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the document doesn’t mention Israel’s occupation or its settlements. That was in line with Clinton’s position: Throughout the Democratic primary, she has made a point of trying to mend fences with right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by eschewing any criticisms of Israel whatsoever.
Arriving at the final platform was a long journey, during which Clinton’s delegates had to beat back challenges on her pro-Israel orthodoxies over and over again. During the past two months Democrats gathered three times to set the platform, first to hear testimony from witnesses chosen by the campaigns, then twice to flesh out the platform before passing a draft on to this week’s Democratic National Committee. At the second session, in late June in St. Louis, a month before the convention, the platform committee sat through a series of lengthy debates. It was past one in the morning before Israel came up and the last proposed amendment—to the language about the Mideast conflict—was read aloud.
In the two paragraphs of the platform dealing with Israel, the document called for supporting Israel and pushing for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. James Zogby, the head of the Arab American Institute and a longtime party activist, read aloud a proposed amendment in an unmistakably Midwest accent. Zogby wanted to add language that would explicitly mention Israel’s occupation and strip out the platform’s condemnation of the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel (BDS).
“We didn’t recognize a Palestinian state in our platform until 2004, after George Bush did it,” Zogby said during the debate. “We have an opportunity here to send a message to the world, to the Arab world, to the Israeli people, to the Palestinian people, and to all of America: that America hears the cries of both sides, that America wants to actually move people toward a real peace.”
“The term ‘occupation’ shouldn’t be controversial,” Zogby, a Lebanese-American, added. “If our policy says it’s an occupation and settlements are wrong and they inhibit peace, why can’t our politics say it? It doesn’t make sense!”
Zogby mentioned several times that the proposed changes had come from Bernie Sanders himself. Sanders began his campaign avoiding foreign policy altogether, but eventually became more outspoken on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, taking Netanyahu to task not only for the Israeli settlement project and continued occupation but also for Israel’s conduct of the 2014 war against the besieged Gaza Strip.
The move was a natural one for Sanders. These days, criticisms of Israel are issued among not only from the left-wing of the Democratic Party, but much of its base. American liberals have become disenchanted with Israel as its occupation becomes more permanent. Then the Israeli government led a fight against the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal with a misinformation campaign that saw denunciations of Netanyahu among Democratic members of Congress—once a stronghold of unconditional support for Israel. As a result, Pew polls show a consistent trend of liberal Democrats shedding their unquestioning support for the Jewish state.