Middle East Eye / May 26, 2020
Passage saying BDS lets Palestinians ‘off the hook for their choices’ has disappeared from Biden’s plan for Jewish-American communities.
Joe Biden’s campaign has watered down an anti-BDS line from his platform for Jewish-American communities, removing “racist” language that angered Palestine solidarity activists.
The Biden campaign said in a statement earlier this month that his administration will “firmly reject the BDS movement, which singles out Israel – home to millions of Jews – and too often veers into antisemitism, while letting Palestinians off the hook for their choices.”
But on Tuesday, that line disappeared from the platform. It was replaced with a pledge to “firmly reject the BDS movement – which singles out Israel and too often veers into anti-Semitism – and fight other efforts to delegitimise Israel on the global stage.”
Over the past few weeks, the former vice president’s campaign has made a string of pro-Israel statements, but the line about letting “Palestinians off the hook for their choices” particularly incensed Palestinian human rights advocates.
It is not clear why the line was removed, but it followed a wave of anger and ridicule by activists on social media.
“Blaming Palestinians for their own oppression is an anti-Palestinian talking point and there is never an excuse for such explicit racism, let alone as the Israeli government makes blatant and illegal land grabs,” JVP Action, a political advocacy group affiliated with Jewish Voice for Peace, said in a statement last week.
Biden’s campaign did not return MEE’s request for comment by time of publication.
Iman Awad, national legislative director at Emgage, a Muslim-American political advocacy group that endorsed Biden, said the group had flagged the anti-Palestinian language to the campaign.
“It shocked us because that wasn’t the conversation we were having with the campaign,” Awad told MEE. “There was a huge disconnect. And in our opinion, the language was absolutely, unequivocally terrible on Palestine.”
She added that the anti-BDS statement was shocking and “extremely problematic”, stressing that the Palestinian campaign to pressure Israel economically is modelled after the anti-apartheid boycott movement in South Africa that was founded in the late 1950s.
“We told them why it was problematic and to the best of my knowledge, that language was removed from the campaign website,” Awad said.
Emgage initially endorsed Bernie Sanders, who attracted overwhelming support from Arab and Muslim voters as well as Palestine solidarity activists.
Awad acknowledged the disappointment of many Muslim Americans in Biden’s pro-Israel rhetoric, but stressed the need to defeat Trump and engage with candidates and elected officials.
She said while some of Biden’s campaign statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been “unequivocally wrong”, activists and organisations should work with people on the campaign to point out anti-Palestinian tropes and change policy directions.
Biden, who became the presumptive Democratic nominee after Sanders dropped out of the presidential race last month, is set to take on President Donald Trump in the general elections in November.
“Thank you VP Joe Biden for listening to the American Arab and Muslim voice, and correcting some of the disturbing wordage your campaign wrote up re: the Israel and Palestine conflict,” M Baqir Mohie El-Deen, a policy manager at the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), wrote on Twitter.
“November will be a close election and we won’t defeat Trump without all being united.”
But Palestinian-American activist and comedian Amer Zahr was less impressed, stressing that the edit to the platform does not signal any policy change.
“That is one small phrase in an agenda that is characterised by a complete denial and ignoring of Palestinian rights,” Zahr told MEE.
“Should that phrase ever have been in there? Of course not. So, the fact that they came back and deleted a few words that were particularly offensive and racist is nothing to be very excited about.”
Biden has been a staunch supporter of Israel since he was first elected to the Senate in 1972.
And while his campaign says that he opposes annexation and settlement expansion, the presumptive Democratic nominee has repeatedly ruled out leveraging US aid to Israel to deter the government of Benjamin Netanyahu against such policies.
The anti-BDS line about Palestinian “choices” was not the first time the former vice-president’s campaign has been accused of racism towards Palestinians.
Last week, senior Biden adviser Tony Blinken echoed an anti-Arab trope during a briefing with the Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI).
“In the category of ‘Never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity’, I think a reminder to Palestinians… that they can and should do better and deserve better and that requires leadership: leadership to make clear the reality of the Jewish state; leadership to make clear the need to end incitement and violence; leadership to bring people along for the prospect of negotiating,” Blinken said.
He was citing a saying by the late Israeli diplomat Abba Eban – “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
The quote, often repeated by Israeli officials, is often rejected as racist by Arabs and Palestinians.
“Biden’s campaign is so beholden to AIPAC that they have adopted racist tropes to define Palestinians, the same tropes used to justify apartheid policies,” Abed Ayoub, the legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), told MEE last week.
Biden released a plan for Muslim-American communities early in May, pledging to immediately reverse Trump’s “Muslim ban” if elected president.
The platform also vowed to advance human rights throughout the world and end Trump’s “blank check” to Saudi Arabia.
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the plan for Muslim communities says Biden would “engage Israelis and Palestinians alike to help them find ways to live together in peace, freedom, security and prosperity and to champion a two-state solution”.
The Muslim plan also vows that Biden would resume humanitarian aid to Palestinians and re-open the US consulate in East Jerusalem.
But the East Jerusalem consulate, which would serve Palestinians, is not mentioned in the Jewish plan. And the pledge to resume aid to Palestinians comes with a caveat – that the assistance would be restricted if the Palestinian Authority continues its monthly payments to the families of suspects killed or those imprisoned by Israel.
Aid to Palestinians would be “consistent with the requirements of the Taylor Force Act, including that the Palestinian Authority end its system of compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism,” the Jewish-American platform says.
Ali Harb is a writer based in Washington, DC. He reports on US foreign policy, Arab-American issues, civil rights and politics