God, Israel and monkeys in Charlotte

When God, Jerusalem, the Arab-Israeli conflict and American domestic politics come together, the result usually reconfirms established dynamics in three arenas: Americans are a religious folk, they know very little about the facts of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and their government is severely subservient to the Israeli position, as this is prosecuted in the United States by a very deep pro-Israel lobby apparatus.

We saw this manifested again last on Wednesday at the Democratic Party convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, when a brief but raucous floor fight took place over the status of Jerusalem and the inclusion of God in the party platform.

The God reference was the easy one. The convention amended the platform by restoring language from the 2008 platform that talks of the government giving “everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential.”

The dramatic moment occurred when the chairman put to a voice vote a motion to restore wording in the platform that committed the party to the position that “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel.” That wording had been dropped this year from the 2008 platform, and the move to reinsert it followed intense protests by pro-Israel groups and the many American politicians beholden to them (or afraid of them).

The voice vote clearly showed a split convention, with many delegates voting against this position. The chairman had to call for the voice vote three times, and it was clear that the needed majority was not there. However, he declared that the motion had passed and the discussion was over. The Democratic Party platform saw Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital, bringing it in line with the policy of the Israeli government.

We can learn several things from this episode. The most obvious is that in the eyes of American politicians and public figures, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and, it seems, it may also be the capital of the United States. It was reconfirmed that when the Israeli government wants American politicians to take a pro-Israeli position, the politicians line up and obey like trained circus monkeys. In American domestic politics, politicians fear that they will lose their public posts if they go against the wishes of Israel. This is sad, but there is nothing new here.

What is new, though, is the divided convention floor when the vote was called and the fact that the vote had to be called three times. This is significant for two reasons. The first is that the majority of delegates at the convention are not professional politicians, but rather ordinary Americans from all walks of life who bring the best American values of justice and fairness to their task at hand. They clearly were not pleased with seeing their party or government pulled by the nose by the pro-Israel enforcers, attack dogs and lobby organizations that went into action Tuesday and Wednesday to reinsert the Jerusalem language. When ordinary Americans in a political context challenge the pro-Israel lobby and other Zionist zealots in such a manner, this means something is changing in America – and we should all take note.

The second aspect of the Jerusalem vote is that it is not taking place in a vacuum. We witnessed something similar recently at the Presbyterian Church national congress in Pittsburgh and the United Church of Canada’s national conference, where participants voted to boycott the products and services from Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian land. Intense debates in those gatherings similarly revealed that large numbers of ordinary Americans and Canadians want their country’s foreign policy on Arab-Israeli issues to reflect a strong dose of fairness and justice to all concerned, and a commitment to the rule of law. In other words if Israeli settlements are illegal according to international law, then they should be opposed in all possible ways.

The double irony is that the Democratic platform also states that the “parties [the Israelis and Palestinians] have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”

Both Republican and Democratic administrations take the position that the status of Jerusalem should be negotiated by the Israelis and Palestinians. In other words, the pro-Israel language is meaningless in real terms, as Jerusalem’s status will be negotiated by the parties.

So there is nothing new or significant about American politicians ramming pro-Israeli language down the throats of their colleagues. But there is something very important about the fact that large numbers of ordinary citizens in North America are starting to stand up and resist this sort of shameful behavior. They are saying that they want to treat both Israelis and Palestinians with equal measures of justice, rights and dignity, rather than perpetuate the monkey show that defines so much of American and Canadian politics when it comes to the Middle East.

Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 08, 2012, on page 7.




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