The Democratic National Committee’s Platform Drafting Committee quashed efforts by the Bernie Sanders campaign last week to insert language in the platform opposing a U.S.-led no-fly zone in Syria and calling for an end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
The deliberations, which took place in St. Louis last week as part of a multi-step process to write the party’s nonbinding platform, represent a tilt to a more hawkish direction for Democrats under presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton. The final platform will not be written until the convention in Philadelphia next month – a process that could possibly open it to votes from a much wider pool of delegates on the floor.
Arab American Institute President Jim Zogby, a Sanders appointee to the platform committee, explained that he was introducing an amendment that would, in part, read: “To this end, the Democratic Party does not support direct U.S. military intervention against the Assad regime, including the imposition of no-fly zones or safe zones.”
This is also the current position of President Barack Obama, who while bombing ISIS units in Syria has rejected direct strikes against the Syrian government, saying that “we have learned over the last 10, 12, 13 years is that unless we can get the parties on the ground to agree to live together in some fashion, then no amount of U.S. military engagement will solve the problem.”
Zogby’s amendment faced opposition from a number of Clinton appointees to the committee. “I don’t think we should define such decisions for the future president,” said Wendy Sherman, a former senior State Department official. “I strongly urge that we oppose this amendment.”
Former California Democratic Congressman Howard Berman, another Clinton appointee, also joined in opposition. “I don’t think the platform looking at, and if it makes sense, pursuing that option,” he said of the no-fly zone.
In the face of this opposition, Zogby withdrew the amendment.
Sanders’s team also introduced an amendment to the draft platform’s text on Israel and Palestine. The amendment affirmed U.S. support for Israel and the two-state solution, but also asked for the deletion of language condemning the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign and affirming an “undivided” Jerusalem.
The amendment also called for giving Palestinians “an end to occupation and illegal settlements so that they may live in independence, sovereignty, and dignity,” as well as rebuilding Gaza.
“We have an opportunity here to send a message to the world … that America hears the cries of both sides. That America wants to actually move people towards a real peace.” Zogby said, explaining that Sanders was personally involved in the writing of this amendment.
“It is an occupation, occupation is evil,” academic Cornel West, a Sanders appointee, retorted, insisting that the Sanders camp only wanted both sides to be treated equally.
The Sanders campaign, however, did not ask for references to Palestinian terrorism or delegitimizing Israel to be deleted.
Philanthropist Bonnie Schaefer, who was appointed to the committee by the DNC, protested the language. “As a Jew, as a gay Jew, a Zionist, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East as we all know. The only place in the Middle East where I can walk down the street with my wife, hand in hand, and not be afraid,” she said.
Shortly before it was voted on, Zogby made one final plea.
“You can go and walk down the street of Tel Aviv holding the hand of your wife. I can’t get in the airport without seven hours of harassment because I’m of Arab descent,” Zogby said, addressing Schaefer’s comments. “The treatment of people of Arab descent just going there is discriminatory, the people who live there suffer horrific discrimination. We have to be able to call it what it is. It’s an occupation that humiliates people.”
The amendment was voted down five to eight. Only Sanders’s appointees voted for it.