A closer look at Sanders’ letter to AIPAC

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 There seems to be a great deal of excitement surrounding Vermont Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ absence from last month’s American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC) convention, the letter he sent, and the recently-released draft of the speech he would have given.

In the letter, which is, basically, the speech, Mr Sanders does two remarkable things that no other presidential candidate has done in recent memory: he acknowledged the existence of Palestinians, and recognised their right to self-determination.

This is, of course, to be commended, but, other than his pronouncements about Palestine, the good senator did not stray too far from the usual pro-Israel talking points regurgitated by politicians in the United States.

Let’s look at just some of the pandering Mr Sanders did for his Zionist audience.

“America and Israel are united … by our values, including a deep commitment to democratic principles, civil rights, and the rule of law.

At this point, any but a zealous Zionist should have tuned out, and accepted Mr Sanders as what he is: a politician, bowing down, perhaps not as deeply, but bowing nonetheless, to the Israeli master. It is difficult to know where each of the lofty concepts he listed – democratic principles, civil rights, or the rule of law –is more routinely violated, in the US or Israel. In the US, ‘democratic principles’ apparently mean thwarting the will of the people when they elect a president, by calling in the Supreme Court to award the presidency to someone else, as was done in 2000. It means, as Mr Sanders of all people should know, allowing the so-called ‘Super Delegates’ to vote to nominate whoever they choose, despite the will of the people. In Israel, ‘democratic principles’ means having separate laws for Jewish Israelis and non-Jewish Israelis, with those for non-Jewish Israelis far more restrictive and punitive than the others.

The concept of ‘civil rights’ in either country could be considered a joke, except that no one is laughing. In the US, white police officers use unarmed young Black men as target practice, with nearly complete impunity. IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) soldiers use unarmed Palestinian men, women and children the same way.

And now we get to ‘the rule of law’. Well, in the US while the rules may appear to be the same for everyone, the more money one has, the more one is able to circumvent the law. In Israel, any laws, including murder, that apply to both Jewish Israelis and non-Jewish Israelis, and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, are enforced very differently.

“Israel is one of America’s closest allies, and we – as a nation – are committed not just to guaranteeing Israel’s survival, but also to its people’s right to live in peace and security.”

The concept of ‘ally’ seems to indicate that each side benefits. What the US gets from this peculiar alliance, beyond a seemingly endless source of money for political campaigns, is anybody’s guess.

And why is it that the US is committed to ‘guaranteeing Israel’s survival’, any more than that of Iraq, France, Guatemala, or any other nation? What has Israel done to warrant this paternal protection?

One might also ask why the US, busy depriving the people of Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and who knows how many other places of their ‘right to live in peace and security’, should be so concerned about Israel’s.

“I believe firmly that the only prospect for peace is the successful negotiation of a two-state solution.”

This begs two questions: First, since negotiations can only be successful between two parties, each of which has something the other wants, that can only be obtained by surrendering something it has, why would Israel be interested in negotiations? For decades it has taken from Palestine whatever it wants, with complete impunity. Why would it want to kill the goose that is laying the golden eggs?

Second, why are negotiations even required? International law recognises Palestine’s and Israel’s borders as those that existed prior to 1967. What was it Mr Sanders said about ‘the rule of law’? If someone robs a bank, the police do not contact the robber and the bank manager, and ask them to sit down and determine how much of the money the robber will return. The money is all returned to the bank, and the robber is punished as the laws of that particular community demand. Why is it so different for Israel?

“Peace will require the unconditional recognition by all of Israel’s right to exist. “

Mr Sanders seemed to have omitted ‘unconditional recognition by all’ of Palestine’s right to exist. Palestine, with no army, no navy and no air force is in no position to destroy Israel. Yet by its continued illegal settlement expansion, Israel is slowly denying Palestine’s right to exist.

“It will require an end to attacks of all kinds against Israel. “

But will it not also require an end to ‘attacks of all kinds’ against Palestine? Yes, Palestine occasionally fires ‘rockets’ into Israel, rockets that Dr Norman Finkelstein, son of Holocaust survivors and a strong proponent of Palestinian rights, refers to as ‘enhanced fireworks’. Israel has the fourth most powerful military in the world, backed by the most powerful. And in fifty-one days in the summer of 2014, Israel launched more rockets into the Gaza Strip than Palestine launched into Israel in the previous fourteen years.

“The third major challenge in the region is Iran, which routinely destabilises the Middle East and threatens the security of Israel. Now, we all agree that Iran must not get a nuclear weapon.”

Does it, and do we? It seems to this writer that the United States, with its training, arming and funding of various rebel groups, does far more than Iran to destabilise the Middle East.

And why is it that Israel is permitted to have nuclear weapons, completed unregulated by the international community, and Iran’s peaceful nuclear program must be scrutinised by the world’s self-appointed police force?

As anyone who is interested in Palestinian rights and self-determination looks with some hope to Mr Sanders, it is also important to note that, in this letter, he referred to ‘Israel’ forty-one times, but only said the word ‘Palestine’ once.

The senator from Vermont is waging a battle against former New York Senator Hillary Clinton, and it is an uphill one, since there seems to be a feeling among Democratic Party bigwigs that he is just an annoyance on the road to her coronation at the Democratic convention. He has, to some extent, differentiated himself on the Palestine issue, but he seems to have worked hard to compensate for that sin by echoing the words that are music to Zionists’ ears.

In all likelihood, the next president of the United States will be a puppet of Israel, dancing to its tune as it pulls all the strings. Freedom and justice for Palestine, like that for South Africans a generation ago, will not initiate within the hallowed halls of the US Congress, or the White House. No, it will come from other nations with a more democratic, and less oligarchical, nature than the US.  But Mr Sanders skipping of the AIPAC convention, and his acknowledgement of Palestinian rights, represents a sea change in the US. It is just one of many in the US and internationally. Progress toward freedom and justice for Palestine is happening; the outcome of the US election may slow it, but cannot stop it.

Originally published by Days of Palestine.