By Ray Hanania
Four years ago, when Donald Trump challenged Hillary Clinton, I argued that the Palestinians and the Arabs needed to shake up the American election game board. In fact, I suggested voters should throw the board up in the air on the risky chance it might allow for real change, in which the American political system might lessen its support for the Israeli government’s extremist racism and better embrace Palestinian civil rights and justice.
Trump, who had close relations with many Palestinians and Arabs, understood the conflict as well as or even better than most.
I called it the “disruption theory,” in which Trump, who is driven as much by emotion and personal issues as the Arabs and Palestinians themselves, might anger Israel so much as to cause a true political chasm. The worst-case scenario was the secondary argument that there is no difference between the two parties and that change only comes through political change — a modified version of the “lesser of two evils” argument.
But what I didn’t expect was how Trump’s election would give the extremists in our community a base from which to agitate against the president, shut the door to any discussions and make US government policy even more one-sided.
Yes, instead of engaging Trump, the activists attacked him, using the issue of his “Muslim ban.” It is true that, in 2015, while he was campaigning, he called for a ban on “all Muslims” coming into the country. But, once elected, that was adjusted to target only certain countries, which today include the predominantly Muslim nations of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, and the non-Muslim-majority countries of North Korea and Venezuela. Every one of those countries is either problematic or dysfunctional when it comes to immigration security.
There are at least 50 predominantly Muslim countries that are unaffected and the Pew Research Center estimated that the initial “ban” only impacted about 12 percent of all Muslims worldwide (it is now less than that as Iraq and Sudan have been removed from the list).
But the controversy is the perfect weapon to fuel a political cause. Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar last week co-sponsored a bill aimed at repealing the “Muslim ban” in the US House of Representatives. Their move was purely political, intended to grab headlines and boost their upcoming re-election bids. The Democrat-controlled House approved the bill but it has absolutely no chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate or being signed by Trump.
The distinction between the Republican and Democratic parties’ Middle East policies is becoming ever more vague and indistinguishable. The Democrats are largely no different from the Republicans in how they approach the Palestinian cause, except in their rhetoric. The recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a good example. With or without this move, Israel has run roughshod over the political and civil rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem and is engaged in a slow but steady process of ethnically cleansing the city of non-Jews. Every day, Palestinians are being evicted from East Jerusalem and their homes given to Jewish settlers and fanatics. To show you how similar the Democrats are to the Republicans, and why it was preferable to support Trump over Clinton, I chose the disruption theory as the better option.
If you don’t believe me that the two parties are similar in goal and only different slightly in rhetoric, all you have to do is consider the platform released last week by the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which in 2016 went out of its way to block the nomination of Sen. Bernie Sanders in part because he was a strong advocate of justice for Palestine and was the Palestinians’ best political option. Showing how little they care about the rights of Palestinians, the DNC platform details, in the final two pages of an 80-page draft document, their views on the Middle East and rock-solid commitment to Israel.
“Democrats believe a strong, secure, and democratic Israel is vital to the interests of the United States. Our commitment to Israel’s security, its qualitative military edge, its right to defend itself… is ironclad,” it states. “Democrats recognize the worth of every Israeli and every Palestinian. That’s why we will work to help bring to an end a conflict that has brought so much pain to so many.” It adds that a Democratic administration would also recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The platform declares that Democrats “support a negotiated two-state solution that ensures Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state with recognized borders and upholds the right of Palestinians to live in freedom and security in a viable state of their own.”
Democrats, like Republicans, are against the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, with the newly released platform arguing that punishing Americans who advocate a boycott of Israel does not threaten “the Constitutional right of our citizens to free speech.”
If money is the only thing that is important, the Democrats do say they will restore funding to the Palestinians, which Trump has hinted he also would do if they engaged in the peace process, rather than reject his efforts. But I’m looking for something significant that embraces Palestinians’ civil rights, and neither party really does that.