In a recent exclusive piece for the Jewish Daily Forward, Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed her commitment to America's "unbreakable bond" with the state of Israel and signaled her intention to appease the demands of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his extreme right-wing government if elected.
What was most striking about Clinton's "love letter to Israel," as one headline writer put it, was how out of step it was with what growing numbers of progressives, young people, including young Jews like myself, and people of color -- i.e. much of the base of the Democratic party -- believe. As her pollsters would have no doubt told her if she had asked, important and growing constituencies are increasingly critical of unconditional US support for Israel and its violations of Palestinian human rights.
On social media and elsewhere, Americans are being exposed to the ugly realities of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians that Clinton and most other US politicians ignore, or worse, staunchly defend. We can see in Israel's shift to the extreme right, the disturbing racism against non-Jews that is increasingly acceptable in Israeli society and the wanton use of force against Palestinians by the Israeli military and police, echoes of apartheid in South Africa and of America's own terrible history (past and present) of racism and violence against African Americans, native Americans, and others.
I'm 23, just one year older than the U.S.-sponsored bilateral Oslo "peace process," which was supposed to bring about two states for two peoples by the year 1999. Instead, for my entire lifetime, peace has been in process, a constant, though sometimes dormant, possibility in the minds of politicians.
By now, it has become abundantly clear to most observers that Oslo has been all process and no peace. Oslo hasn't led to peace or to freedom for Palestinians, because it reinforced and institutionalized the power imbalance between the two parties rather than leveling it so a fair and just solution could be reached. Instead, Oslo has been an arrangement that has served only to deepen the status quo of discriminatory Israeli military rule over millions of Palestinians, a situation that many, including senior Israeli military and government officials, have called apartheid. Yet Clinton and other American politicians continue to urge a return to Oslo's failed paradigm and to pander to a dwindling segment of Americans who are die-hard supporters of Israel's right wing, repeating platitudes that are profoundly out of touch with the reality of what is happening on the ground and what their grassroots base actually believe and want.
During Israel's attack on Gaza in the summer of 2014, which Clinton supported, a CNN poll found that 42 percent of Democrats thought Israel's actions were unjustified. Similarly, a Gallup poll found that 18 to 29-year olds said by a two-to-one margin (51 percent vs. 25 percent) that Israel's actions in Gaza were unjustified.The same poll found sharp divides in support for Israel's assault along race and gender lines as well. Regarding the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights, which Clinton has pledged to fight against, a December 2014 poll found 39 percent of all Americans support imposing sanctions on Israel over settlement construction.
The disconnect between the public statements and policies of top Democratic leaders like Clinton and President Obama and grassroots Democratic voters was illustrated vividly during the 2012 Democratic National Convention, when, at President Obama's behest, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa forced through an amendment to the party platform describing Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Live, on national TV, a clear majority of the attendees of the Convention booed as Villaraigosa claimed the voice vote passed. Unless the Democratic leadership evolves to meet the realities of the times and the views of Democratic voters, more awkward moments like this can be expected in the future.
The bipartisan consensus that has sustained unconditional support for Israel's increasingly anti-democratic policies for decades is cracking. The backlash to Netanyahu's address to Congress earlier this year, organized in cooperation with the Republicans in order to torpedo President Obama's efforts to reach a deal over Iran's nuclear program, and more recently to his controversial appearance Tuesday at the liberal Center for American Progress in Washington on Tuesday, which has close connections to the Democratic party and the Clintons, is a reflection of this crumbling support.
The outbreak of violence and protests in the region over the last month has demonstrated incontrovertibly that the status quo is unsustainable. Ahead of Netanyahu's visit, senior White House officials declared in a press briefing that President Obama has effectively given up on reaching a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians during the remainder of his term in office. During their meeting Nov. 9, Netanyahu reiterated platitudes about his commitment to peace, while the same day his government approved 2,200 new settlement housing units. If Clinton, or whoever is the next president, hopes to make progress towards peace in the region, she needs to do more than just manage the conflict; she will need to abandon the failed approaches of the past, including of unconditional US support for Israel regardless of how destructive and antithetical to peace its actions are.
What's urgently needed from Clinton and other Democratic leaders is a brand new American approach towards Israel and Palestine, one based on international law, respect for human rights, and equality for all peoples of the region. Palestinians, Israelis, American Jews, and people of conscience in the US and abroad can't afford to wait any longer.