Human Rights: a line in the sand

Map of Israeli Settlements
Map of Israeli Settlements

Originally posted in Post Trump Stress Disorder

While Democrats argue whether issues like a woman’s choice really are “core Democratic values” they remain pretty comfortable ignoring the human rights of non-Americans. This week Human Rights Watch documented extra-judicial killings by Egypt’s army – let’s ditch the euphemism and call them what they really are – death squads. HRW is calling on the United States to cut off funding to Egypt’s dictator (and Trump Rat Pack bro) Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. But Democrats are in an awkward position because, while they were running the circus, Clinton and Obama coddled Egyptian dictators as much as Trump. A GAO report written during Obama’s administration alluded to Egyptian human rights abuses. And they are worse now under Trump.

Last Month Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin proposed legislation that would violate First Amendment rights of those boycotting Israel for its military occupation and settlements. There is a similar bill in the House, co-sponsored by a number of Democrats, including one representative from Massachusetts. In the Massachusetts legislature there are two more of these “anti-BDS” bills being considered. In fact, these AIPAC-sponsored bills have popped up all over the country like the plague of ALEC legislation. In New York, governor Andrew Cuomo set up a blacklist to punish those using the constitutional right to boycott.

My point – foreign policy is not just national. It pulls states and even cities into controversies over everything from human rights to free speech. And out in the states and cities, we ought to have a voice.

The boycott controversy recently came up in Massachusetts Democratic Party platform discussions. Progressive Democrats want to insert language into the platform stating that “Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank are obstacles to peace.” Settlements have been condemned by virtually every nation outside the US, by the UN, and even members of Israel’s security establishment see the problem. If you can see how “gentrification” might be a problem, now imagine gentrification plus martial law, ethnic cleansing, and land theft. I’d call that an obstacle to peace. It’s as much a fact as global warming. And the reality is denied just as doggedly by Democrats.

Former AIPAC lobbyist Steve Grossman thinks the issue is “divisive” for Democrats and broadly hints that he couldn’t possibly remain in a party that won’t support Israel’s Occupation. Barney Frank’s former aide James Segel thinks the party needs to hold fast to “protect the values and commitments we hold dear” – meaning another half century of occupation and land theft? Rubber-stamp vetoes in the UN?

Democrats are on the wrong side when they attack free speech and human rights. And this has got to stop.

The Democratic Party’s platform may be the “most progressive” ever written. But this does not include its foreign policy section. That part was written by Hillary Rodham Clinton and reflects her neo-conservative and neo-liberal views. Traditionally, state parties have deferred on matters of foreign policy to a presidential candidate. But the approaches both parties have used for generations are not working. And despite Democrats calling for more “soft power” it’s hard power they always use. Invading new countries each year and spending our national wealth on war is bankrupting us, not making us safer. Right now, 53 cents of every dollar of discretionary spending goes to “defense.” And Trump wants even more.

So if Republicans are on the wrong track, what’s our plan?

One state Democrat Party – Washington – actually thought about it and did something. Progressives from this state wrote their own foreign policy platform, and it’s based on the golden rule, not on golden contracts for Raytheon and Boeing:

In 2016 the two truly “divisive” issues separating progressive Democrats from Hillary Clinton-ites were her hawkishness and support for corporate-friendly trade deals. While we may all want to put the 2016 election behind us and join the unity tour with Bernie Sanders and Tom Perez, issues of Democratic support for neo-liberalism and neo-conservative foreign policy are not going away. They have to be resolved.

Democrats from each state need to weigh in separately. Like Steve Grossman, there are certain lines in the sand for some of us. I’ll never find a home in a party that turns its back on human rights. As a newbie delegate to the Massachusetts Democratic convention in June I’m optimistic that important changes can be made, at least in this state. But I’m not blind to the reality that Clinton and Obama people still own the party.

I hear the #DemExit and Draft Bernie calls, though impatience and the right wing seem to be driving many of them. I am reminded by my progressive brothers and sisters in the Greens and elsewhere that I may be on a fool’s errand. And maybe they’re right. My sixth sense tells me they are right. But I think patience and a certain amount of blind optimism are warranted right now. Now is a unique opportunity to move the center of gravity toward the left in a party that has lost its way – and admits it.

By the 2018 midterms we should have an idea of what the party is really committed to, how democratic it’s prepared to be, and how welcoming to progressive values it is.

And that should begin with a renewed commitment to Human Rights and new ways of formulating foreign policy.