Within my Palestinian American community, many ask me why I am such an adamant supporter of Bernie Sanders. While the Vermont senator has certainly been brave on Palestine, he is still very much saying the bare minimum: that Palestinians are human beings who have legitimate grievances, and who deserve dignity.
Yes, Sanders is not perfect on Palestine. His voting record prior to both his runs for president raises eyebrows. He is against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. He still believes in a two-state solution, even though it is rooted in segregation and has become practically impossible. When asked whether he would move the U.S. embassy from Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv in the most recent Democratic debate in South Carolina, Sanders only said it is something he “would take into consideration.”
Yet also in that same debate, Sanders called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “reactionary racist.” This was days after he announced on Twitter that he would not be attending the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in early March. “I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights,” he wrote. Since then, Democratic presidential hopefuls Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg also said they would skip the prominent Israel lobby’s confab (though AIPAC announced Saturday that both Klobuchar and Buttigieg will deliver video messages instead).
Around the country, everyday Americans who support Sanders have become literate on the occupation of Palestine thanks to his humanization of the Palestinians. Because of Sen. Sanders’ positions, Palestine is no longer an issue that American voters — or other presidential candidates — can ignore.
This significant shift in the Democratic party must be attributed to the work of Palestinian activists and their allies in the U.S. They have been willing to risk their careers and personal safety by being blacklisted by far-right Zionist organizations. They risk being barred entry into their homeland, and endure intense state surveillance. Were it not for the tireless efforts of thousands of community organizers, the progress that we are seeing on Palestine would never have culminated.
My support for Bernie Sanders is not based solely on the question of Palestine. I strongly believe in the policies Sanders is promoting, and believe they would make the United States a more equitable place.
I believe in universal healthcare, and a Sanders presidency would radically change the landscape of its accessibility in America. I believe in a Green New Deal; I imagine an America that is fueled by green energy, that creates millions of new green jobs, and that finally puts words into action on confronting climate change. I believe in ending endless wars; I imagine a world where diplomacy and respect reign supreme, rather than the fear of tanks and the might of militaries. I believe in cancelling student debt, and in free public universities.
But more than anything, my support for Sanders is also my support for the millions of Americans in his movement who are searching for radical change. And I believe that it is this movement that can push a President Bernie Sanders even further on Palestine.
At every Sanders rally and event I have attended in New Hampshire, where I grew up — a state that is over 90 percent white and where Palestine is not a pressing concern — I have met organizers, students, professors, volunteers, and community members expressing a strong desire for justice for Palestinians. I have never felt solidarity in my home state when I mention that I am Palestinian, except at Sanders events.
I thought I was the only person in New Hampshire who cared enough to bird-dog candidates on their positions on Palestine. Yet this past year, I have been astounded by videos from across the state and the country of young Americans, who are often not of Palestinian heritage, demanding answers on the same issue.
The night before the New Hampshire primary, more than 7,000 people filled the Whittemore Center at my alma mater to show their support for Bernie. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke on stage, and I became emotional when the congresswoman defiantly yelled “Palestine!” I never imagined that my homeland’s name would receive such thunderous cheers and applause in a hockey rink filled with thousands of people.
The movement behind Bernie Sanders will not let the suffering of the Palestinian people go unnoticed again. The movement behind Bernie Sanders will hold a President Sanders accountable on Palestine, and further demand accountability for the Israeli government.
Things will never be the same thanks to this movement. That’s why Bernie Sanders has my vote.