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This Arab is voting for the Jew
Amer Zahr
Amer Zahr
Monday, February 22, 2016 - 7:32 pm (7 Comments)

Many of us read Professor Steven Salaita’s hard-hitting oped in Salon ten days ago, where he declared, quite loudly and articulately, that he won’t be voting for Bernie Sanders. He succinctly laid out American politicians’ long-standing and very consistent policies of bowing to the interests of the Israeli lobby, to the constant detriment of Palestinian life.  He wrote:

Supporting Israeli ethnic cleansing is more than a flaw or an oversight. Until Sanders states an intention to defund Israel’s occupation, his proclamations about two states will continue to sound perfunctory and disingenuous, dull bromides uttered by a man who otherwise avoids them.

He is no doubt right about this. The problem with his analysis is that it relegates Palestine supporters to the sideline.  If one chooses to do, that is of course his/her right.  Inherent in the right to vote is the right not to vote.  I’m not a proponent of the old mantra that tell us, “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.”

But we might be served to think strategically.  And if we do so, we might ask ourselves a few questions:

Can we relate Palestine to a candidate’s stated principles?
Which candidate is most likely to be swayed on Palestinian rights?
Where do we find our natural allies? In other words, which candidate’s followers’ political leanings and worldviews most resemble our own?

If we seek the answers to these questions, we most definitely end up in once place: the Sanders campaign.

What seems quite clear is that Palestine supporters can find no place anywhere else.  We can quite quickly dismiss a role in any Republican campaign, as they are all mired in Islamphobia, anti-Arab racism, a quite acute hatred of immigrants, and clear distaste for anything darker than snow.  This is why we should summarily disregard any and all organizations that seek dialogue and understanding with the GOP, such as Saba Ahmed’s Republican Muslim Coalition.

We might take a quick look at the campaign Hillary Clinton, gauging if her movement should appeal to us at all.  But that assessment shouldn’t take too long.  We would be well served to recall her 2000 Senate election, when she returned over $50,000 of donations to Muslim organizations, in an attempt to avoid any “misimpression” that she supported the widely held belief in our community that Palestinians have the right to resist an illegal, violent, and murderous Israeli occupation.

It would also be quite within our interests to reject her embracing of Haim Saban, the Hollywood billionaire media mogul who has been quoted as saying, “I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel.”  He is very close friend of the Clintons (he brags about it often), spending numerous nights in the White House during Bill Clinton’s presidency.  I wish some Palestinians could have spent the night there, instead of being slaughtered in Gaza in 2014, after which Saban held an event that raised $34 million for the IDF.

Hillary Clinton has vowed to put an end to the Boycott, Divesment, and Sanctions movement against Israel, or BDS.  In a letter to Saban, she pledged to “stand up for Israel” as president, further stating “that we need to make countering BDS a priority.”  In other words, Clinton has made it quite clear that she opposes all forms of resistance against Israeli policies, including explicitly nonviolent ones like BDS.

All in all, Saban has “donated” $6.4 million to Hillary and her super PACs.

So, back to Bernie.  Has he recently advocated for defunding Israel, called for cutting off arms, or explicitly expressed support for Palestinian self-determination? No.  But he doesn’t done the opposite, as every other candidate has.  Now, Professor Salaita might call that a low bar, and he would be correct.  But we should also recognize that the spectrum of progressives who are supporting the Sanders campaign are generally averse to Israeli policies, and it is not immoral or unprincipled to find some common ground there in our attempt to further American policy on the issue.

On his website, Sanders proclaims that “he does not favor Israel over the Palestinians.”  No other candidate would dare put such words in print.  And on the issue of Palestine, Sanders’ Jewishness cannot be understated.  Until we get a Palestinian president, a progressive Jew might be best equipped to stand up to the Israeli lobby and create just foreign policies when it comes to Palestine. Is that a pipe dream? Maybe. But if we Palestinians have an abundance of anything, it’s optimism.

Finally, Bernie has spoken out more strongly against Islamophobia and racism than any other candidate.  We are all familiar with his well-documented participation in civil rights movements since the 1960s.  But we might also remember back in October 2015 when Sanders embraced a young Muslim student during a rally at George Mason University in Virginia.  After expressing her disgust at the anti-Muslim rhetoric dominating the presidential primaries, Remaz Abdelgader was called on to the stage by Sanders, who hugged her and went on to invoke his own Jewish familial history in pledging to rid America of its “ugly stain” of racism.

A quick note here for Senator Sanders.  Bernie, in the picture above, we all noticed that you were holding Ramez’s hand.  In our culture, that means you have to marry her.  But go win the election first.  While her parents most likely won’t let her marry a Jew, if he’s the president, that might change their minds.

Ultimately, if any Arab or Muslim American does have the inclination to vote in the American election, he or she cannot land anywhere except in Bernie’s camp.  While Sanders doesn’t explicitly say what he want him to on Palestine, when I look around during his rallies, I see a sea of faces that do.  And if they can say “Free Palestine,” I can legitimately work to make Bernie say it too.  With a strong Arab American voice, I can quite comfortably proclaim that I #FeelTheBern.


* Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."

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