Michael F. Brown
The Electronic Intifada / August 12, 2020
US Senator Kamala Harris of California is Joe Biden’s choice to be the Democratic vice presidential candidate.
Palestine solidarity activists feared this moment. So, too, did a wide range of progressives.
The worst possible candidate for the top of the ticket will now be joined by perhaps the most anti-Palestinian of the vice presidential candidates.
In a year of protest against racist police violence, it is also noteworthy that Harris upheld convictions secured through official misconduct and was often not the “progressive prosecutor” she claims to be.
Harris twice received financial support from Donald Trump when running for state attorney general.
Yes, the selection of Harris highlights the diversity within the party – a powerful aspect of its strength and one that stands in stark contrast to the overwhelming whiteness of the Republican Party.
Democrats have been determined this year to put a woman of color in the White House. It is consequently painful to move closer to this goal with a candidate who has so little regard for the rights of Palestinians.
Her trampling over Palestinians on the way up speaks volumes about her political principles.
Biden holds similar views on Israel, saying that “it’s about time we stop … apologizing for our support for Israel.”
“It is the best $3 billion investment we make,” he has claimed. “Were there not an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region.”
Civil rights here, but not there
Perhaps the hardest hitting moment of the 2020 presidential campaign came in 2019 when Harris turned to Biden in one of the presidential debates and recalled her childhood.
She noted how as a child, “my sister and I had to deal with the neighbour who told us her parents [said she] couldn’t play with us because we were Black.”
This carries moral weight with all those who attended newly integrating schools and lived in newly integrating neighbourhoods around the country, especially at a time when President Trump is pushing policies to re-segregate.
Then, focusing on Biden, Harris said, “It was actually hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country.”
Going right at Biden on civil rights, she brought up his own history with busing and integration.
“It was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing. There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools. She was bused to school every day. That little girl was me.”
Yet in her first public remarks after being chosen vice president, she tweeted: “Joe Biden can unify the American people because he’s spent his life fighting for us.”
That’s not at all what she believed last year when she called him out on civil rights during the debate. Back then she didn’t believe Biden had spent his life fighting for her and children like her.
That 2019 version of Harris was right.
Today’s version is the politician willing to reshape history to advance a more pleasing narrative about the Democratic presidential candidate.
Similarly, Harris has reshaped reality frequently when discussing Israel. In a June 2016 Jewish News of Northern California questionnaire published before Harris won her US Senate seat in November that year, she looked the other way on Israeli human rights abuses – just as she did last year with The New York Times.
Whitewashing Israel’s anti-Palestinian judicial system, Harris stated: “Israel’s supreme court is a beautiful monument to a government founded on the highest of human ideals. The beauty of the architecture and spirit of design left a lasting impression – the straight lines in the building represent the immutable nature of truth, while the curved glass and walls were built to represent the fluid nature of finding justice.”
There’s no justice for Palestinians in Israeli courts, and the “straight lines” of truth in Israel have bent reality, morality and history right out of shape.
One of my earliest memories of Palestinian human rights lawyer Raji Sourani is his saying to me at some time in the 1990s that he was a fine lawyer, but then noting the pitifully low percentage of cases he’d won in Israeli courts on behalf of Palestinian clients.
When the fix is in, whether in a Jim Crow court or an Israeli apartheid court, truth and justice are not part of the equation.
Harris’ position on Israel, as I noted in 2017, puts her at odds with grassroots Democrats.
A two-tier legal system was unacceptable in the US and South Africa. Likewise, Harris and Biden should view it as unacceptable with Israel.
The weak Democratic platform on Israel makes plain how much injustice they’re willing to accept.
Harris visited amiably with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2017 with there being no track record of her asking him tough questions about Israeli human rights violations.
Instead, they discussed water management – “we could not have a better example than Israel,” she claimed – though Israel is known to steal water from Palestinians by extracting it from the aquifer under the occupied West Bank, in contradiction to international law, for its own use and for use in its illegal settlements.
That same year she spoke to AIPAC and fondly recalled the Jewish National Fund (JNF) boxes she used to collect money for planting trees in Israel. She rejoiced in seeing such trees years later when she visited.
Absent from the talk was any concern about the JNF’s anti-Palestinian racism or that these trees were planted over the ruins of Palestinian homes and villages destroyed by Israel during and after the Nakba of 1948. She merely repeated propaganda about Israel making the desert bloom.
Israel, Harris maintained, should never be a partisan issue. She stressed shared values between the United States and Israel and insisted she would uphold Israel’s right to self-defense, omitting reference to the terrible anti-Palestinian racism and human rights violations carried out by those Israeli forces at the direction of Israeli political leaders with funding from the US government.
As expected, she voiced support to AIPAC for the two-state solution and said a resolution could not be imposed, but must be agreed by the parties themselves. As an advocate for the dominant power in the region, this is in line with her effort against UN Security Council resolution 2334 condemning Israeli settlements as illegal.
In fact, as the Israeli Haaretz daily recalled this week, she co-sponsored “a Senate resolution in January 2017 criticizing President Barack Obama – in his last week in office – for abstaining in a vote on a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policies.”
It’s little wonder then that Biden, with his own weak policies regarding Palestinian rights, found a partner in Harris, though even Biden supported UN Security Council resolution 2334.
Harris has also slammed the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
She argued that the “movement is based on the mistaken assumption that Israel is solely to blame for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Harris then added: “The BDS movement seeks to weaken Israel but it will only isolate the nation and steer Israelis against prerequisite compromises for peace. At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise – especially in Europe – and the Middle East is growing increasingly unstable, I believe we should not isolate Israel, the only democracy in the region.”
No Democratic candidate who made a similar argument today against boycotting apartheid South Africa or Jim Crow segregation in the American South would stand a chance of contributing to a successful presidential campaign – or representing the state of California. Her commentary also completely disregards that the BDS movement has clearly expressed its opposition to all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism.
The rot and hypocrisy in the Democratic Party is crystal clear when comparing the candidates’ responses to apartheid in Israel and apartheid in South Africa and the US.
Harris believes “Lasting peace can only be found through bilateral negotiations that protect Israel’s identity, ensure security for all people and include the recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”
Israel’s “right to exist as a Jewish state” by definition reduces Palestinians to an inferior status as Harris would presumably recognize if asked a similar question regarding whether the US should be a “white Christian state.”
Additionally, “bilateral negotiations” is coded terminology for permitting Israel, the more powerful party, to continue to do what it wants regarding illegal settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Representation versus substance
For many Americans, the announcement of the first woman of color to become a vice presidential candidate for a major party is a powerful moment. Many will see themselves included as never before within the American political fabric.
The message her selection represents has the potential to change the political horizon of millions of Americans pained and sometimes directly attacked by the racist and vicious politics practiced by Trump for the past few years.
This has force and value.
But substance on Palestine and settler-colonialism also matters and speaks volumes about a person.
Biden and Harris will have to be pushed to uphold and protect Palestinian rights against the actions of the Israeli government and the lobbying of AIPAC.
If they defeat Trump, many government leaders around the world will be less alarmed by their choice of words and policies regarding Israel, but the consequences could be every bit as dire for Palestinians.
After all, for eight years, Obama enabled Israel to entrench the occupation though his rhetoric was far better than Trump’s.
There’s no indication that Biden and Harris will do any better than Obama in standing up to Israeli apartheid – or have any real intention to do so.
The only difference will be if grassroots Democrats take action and demand they do better.
Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist