By Benay Blend*
Joe Biden declares that what links the United States and Israel goes beyond the exchange of weapons. It is instead the much more ephemeral notion of a “shared soul that unites our countries, generation upon generation.” He proved that notion on August 11, 2020, when he chose Kamala Harris, the former Attorney General of California and current U.S. Senator, as his running mate.
In an article aptly titled “Jim Crow Joe and Kamala the Cop: Another Blue Lives Matter Ticket,” Tatiana Cozzarelli and Ezra Brain explain that Biden’s choice rested on a desire to “co-opt a movement against anti-Black police” by picking a Black woman who “talks about racial justice.” In reality, Harris proved that she is “pro-cop and pro-prison” by “locking up and terrorizing communities of color.”
Following the murder of George Floyd, there has been an unprecedented uprising against police brutality, during which some have called for the abolition of police and prisons. It was no coincidence that support came from beleaguered Palestine, as the same militarized techniques are used in both countries. Indeed, there was speculation that police who used the knee-on-the-neck choke-hold that cost Floyd his life learned that technique as a consequence of Deadly Exchange, the training of American police forces in Israel.
It is no coincidence that Harris was Biden’s choice for running mate for they not only are united in their belief systems; they also share those ideas with the Zionist regime. Biden talks about our shared soul with Israel. Harris reports that she is “honored to join Joe Biden in the fight for the soul of our country.” Yet in a prophetic tweet on May 1, Steven Salaita pleads:
“Please stop this shit about the presidential election being a battle for the ‘soul of America.’ Settler colonies have no souls, only ruling classes that want us to feel pious about their depravity.”
Apparently, neither do the leaders who want to run the country. Joe Biden devoted his career “fighting for the American people,” Harris continues. “And as president, he will build an America that lives up to our ideals.”
Fine words, but what do they really mean? Like Israel, America prides itself on being exceptional. In particular, both Israel and America claim to be exceptional democracies. In fact, they were born in the genocide of Indigenous people in both countries.
Significantly Biden and Harris are both unqualified supporters of Israel. In her statement Harris mentions her parents, both immigrants, mother from India and father from Jamaica, and each, she says, were participants in the civil rights movement of the 60s.
“Some of my earliest memories,” she continues, “are from that time” when her parents were “attacked by police with hoses, fleeing for safety,” with baby Kamala “strapped tightly” in her stroller.
Harris claims that she inherited her “spirit of activism” from her mother, who told her not to “just sit around and complain about things. Do something.” She did just that when she served as California’s Attorney General as well as Senator.
It wasn’t to “fix a broken system from within,” as she claims, that she served in those positions, at least not in the spirit of Civil Rights. As Cozzarelli and Brain make clear, Attorney General Harris was not so “progressive” as she claimed to be. Instead, as a lawyer who was “tough on crime,” she supported the prison industrial complex by “terrorizing communities of color.”
While previously serving as San Francisco DA, she directed a “war on truancy” which resulted in the arrest and prosecution of parents of children who had missed 10 percent of school days, often leading to a year in prison or a $2000 fine, neither of which were helpful for poor communities.
If all of this and more sounds even more appalling considering that Harris is Black, and so should have more empathy for her community, remember that Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State (2005-2009) and US National Security Advisor (2001-2005), who was 8 years old at the time of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, said that afterward there was “no safe place” nor “sanctuary” for Black children in her community.
That experience, she said, led her to empathize with victims in other countries who had lost their families to war. Yet there were numerous war crimes committed under the Bush Administration, which, as Nancy Mancias explains, she condoned and covered for during her time as Secretary of State.
In a Facebook response last night, when emotions were running high, Ernesto Ayala, organizer for the Partido Nacional de la Raza Unida, asked that others organize instead of playing into what appeared to be a political game that tokenizes people of color:
“What a circus Ameriklan politics are. I’ve been on this planet 38 years and I’ve seen this ridiculous game over and over and over and it always follows the same pattern only now the empire is desperate and throwing in non white people into their game to AGAIN fool you into having hope in this decaying empire that has given us what? What on Earth has it given us only pain and misery everything we’ve been able to achieve has been in spite of and come at a cost of struggle that has cost blood NOT by this game show that produces Trump in the first place… Organize!”
Like Rice, Harris might understand the terrorizing of a community from her childhood experiences, but she has not been able to transfer that empathy to foreign policy. Moreover, as a Palestine Chronicle blog post attests, Harris sports “a record of fighting for civil rights, freedom, and equality in America.”
Yet, as Kyle Kulinksi, a left-wing commentator and founder of the progressive political action committee Justice Democrats, observes, by ignoring Israel’s Occupation of Palestine, Harris is showing that “her moral and ethical concerns are non-existent.”
In a July 8, 2019 article in Electronic Intifada which is resurfacing again after Biden’s pick, Ali Abunimah claims that “[Harris’] support for freedom, civil rights and equality does not extend to one group of people systematically and violently denied them: Palestinians.” On this issue, she appears very much in line with Biden, whose support for Israel has been covered by the media for several years.
Given her record in California, I would argue that Harris’ domestic and foreign policy are all of one piece, seamlessly endorsing some of the same practices as those found in Israel. As AG in California, her stance on incarcerated prisoners was that they were expendable, much like Israel views Palestinians, and really the way that any settler colonial regime views the colonized. For example, when told to reduce the population of California’s crowned prisons, AG Harris’ office responded that if non-violent offenders were released that would lower the prison system’s source of cheap labor.
Writing for In These Times, Marie Gottschalk maintains that
“A new generation of prosecutors is willing to take on the Fraternal Order of Police and the statewide associations of district attorneys and sheriffs—some of the biggest obstacles to real criminal justice reform. And powerful local coalitions are emerging to make sure that those like Harris, who aspire to be ‘progressive prosecutors,’ do not pull back once they are elected to office.”
Will these young prosecutors, though, see the close links between foreign and domestic policies, particularly with respect to America’s ties to Israel? While liberals are quick to overlook the Biden / Harris position on the Occupation, they do so at their peril. As Michael Brown observes: “Substance on Palestine and settler-colonialism also matters and speaks volumes about a person.”
In the words of Palestinian-American writer/activist Steven Salaita: “Silence about ethnic cleansing is a sacrifice much greater than any principle an American might compromise in order to arrive at a voting decision.”
As commentators said after the shooting of George Floyd, our support of such tactics in other countries has implications for the state of our government at home. In addition to the exchange of military tactics and surveillance techniques, Israel’s disregard for what it deems a disposable population was mirrored in Harris’ legal career in California.
Indeed, if Israel meets her human rights standards, as she said, what does that say for what her bar will be at home? Unless we have the courage to look at the entire picture, not just what we want to see, we are doomed to repeat the protests that are going to follow after the shooting of many George Floyds in the future.
* Benay Blend earned her doctorate in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Her scholarly works include Douglas Vakoch and Sam Mickey, Eds. (2017), “’Neither Homeland Nor Exile are Words’: ‘Situated Knowledge’ in the Works of Palestinian and Native American Writers”. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.