Palestinian Freedom 2020: Student Activists Confront Democratic Candidates Over Aid To Israel

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Above Photo: JVP Action Twitter

Last week, student activists with the group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) were in Iowa as part of their Palestinian Freedom 2020 Bus Tour. The 14 Jewish and Palestinian students arrived in the state to demand that Democratic candidates stop funding Israel’s occupation and embrace Palestinian rights. The trip was organized JVP Action, the political and advocacy wing of JVP.

Hasan is a first-generation Palestinian activist who attends Tuft University and got involved in the movement after seeing the impact Israeli policy has had on his family. (“I do this because Israel has to change for the sake of my people – and for humanity,” he explains.) He told Mondoweiss that he was encouraged by the responses from Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders, but indicated that there was a lot more work to be done. He also pointed out that the group received a mostly receptive response from Democratic voters who were attending the candidate events. “Everybody who talked to us was on board,” he said, “Most of them said, ‘Of course we support freedom, of course we think Palestinians should have freedom.’ That tells us that voters support these policies and now we need to bring this to the candidates and push them on these issues.”

Hasan’s observations line up with recent polling around these issues. According to two Data for Progress surveys from last year, a majority of Democratic voters support conditioning aid in an effort to curb the country’s human rights abuses. “These results suggest that Democratic voters are not holding Israel to a different standard than they would hold any other recipient of US military aid dollars,” Data for Progress fellow Emma Saltzberg wrote at the time, “They also suggest that Democratic politicians who float the possibility of changes to the US–Israel aid relationship do so with the support of their party’s voters.”

Feigie, a Jewish student at Hunter College, spent time in Israel/Palestine and quickly realized how segregated the region was. Feigie told Mondoweiss that people were mainly supportive, but mentioned that some voters didn’t seem to know much about the issue. “Some people would ask questions about [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu,” said Feigie, “So, I’d explain his relationship with Trump and what it means to them.”

The conflict might not be on the radar of many Democrats, like Feigie says, but another recent poll (this one from the University of Maryland Critical Issues) suggests that voters are becoming more aware of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. 49% of respondents said that they had heard of the movement, a notable uptick from previous surveys. Of the Democrats who had heard of the movement, 49% of them said that they were supportive of BDS.

On January 7, the students kicked off their trip by disrupting a Joe Biden campaign rally. While former Secretary of State John Kerry spoke as part of the “We Know Joe” event, they began chanting, “END ISRAELI INJUSTICE!” After the protestors left, Kerry defended his record on the subject. “Nobody worked harder to try and bring peace to a troubled place,” he explained.

Later, JVP Action members questioned Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) (who has since dropped out of the race) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) about conditioning aid to Israel. Booker told the students that his support for the country was  “firm and resolute” and that he would not redirect aid to Palestinians. Warren reiterated her potential support for such a policy as a means to stop a potential annexation of the West Bank:

“The first thing I believe that we should take, is we have to speak out about Palestinian rights and talk about values. We also need to establish Palestinian representation in Washington. We need to make sure that there is aid to the Palestinian people, and that we are helping the Palestinians and the Israelis move to — what has been the official policy in Israel and the official policy of the U.S.A for nearly 70 years now — and that is a two-state solution that recognizes a home and recognizes dignity for everyone in the region. It is the long-term path for peace and we need to keep pushing in that direction… We are a good friend not when we put a thumb on the scales and say, ‘Here is the right answer. Here is how we are going to help one side, take advantage of the other.”

During a Bernie Sanders event, a student asked the Vermont Senator about holding Israel accountable for its actions. “We cannot have a policy that is just 100% pro-Israel & ignore the terrible suffering that’s going on in Gaza and elsewhere for the Palestinian people,” said Sanders.

JVP Action is independent, non-partisan organization that was founded last summer. In addition to advocating for Palestinian rights on the campaign trail, they’ve also been involved in No Way to Treat a Child, which is an effort to end Israel’s detention of Palestinian children. “Americans are sick and tired of sending $3.8 billion in tax dollars to fund the Israeli military’s violation of Palestinian human rights, and then hearing that we can’t pay for better health care, education, or a comprehensive solution to the climate crisis,” JVP Action Government Affairs Manager Beth Miller told Mondoweiss, “Palestine is part of the progressive agenda now, and we launched JVP Action to show that there is a massive base of Jews and allies ready to demand candidates start holding Israel accountable, by ending military funding for its continued injustices and supporting Palestinians in their struggle for freedom.”

Miller said that the group considers the Palestinian Freedom 2020 Bus Tour a great success. “We were met with applause and support everywhere we went. And the reality is, elected officials don’t lead movements, they follow them,” she said, “This bus, full of students crisscrossing Iowa and covering the Democratic presidential field, sent a clear message to presidential campaigns: Progressives want a candidate who will include Palestinian freedom in their vision of a just world.”

  • Linda Jansen

    Thrilled to see this happening!

  • dan

    Glad to see this happen for two main reasons: 1) Not all US Jews are uncritical of Israel, and some of us are for Palestinian rights too 2) Democrats and others are always worried about “The Jewish Vote” as if it’s monolithic; this shows we have varied opinions. 3) This issue plus climate change and several others could be used against Trump The Skunk.

    The comments here by Sanders and Warren show he’s more a practical realist Warren’s notion that there can still be a two-state solution is back in the 1980’s….