‘More AIPAC Than J Street’: Kamala Harris Runs to the Right on Foreign Policy

California’s junior senator Kamala Harris has announced her presidential candidacy, joining what will likely become an unusually large field of Democrats seeking the nomination.

Harris is being embraced by many progressive Democrats, and she’s branding herself as a progressive. Yet in the course of her little more than two years in the U.S. Senate, she’s taken some foreign policy positions that should give pause to supporters of human rights and international law.

An Unpromising Start

In her very first foreign policy vote in January 2017, for instance, Harris sided with President Trump in criticizing the outgoing President Obama’s refusal to veto an otherwise-unanimous, very modest, and largely symbolic UN Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements. Among other things, that resolution reiterated previous Security Council calls for Israel to stop expanding its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, which violate the Fourth Geneva Convention and a landmark ruling by the International Court of Justice.

The Senate resolution, on the other hand — which Harris herself co-sponsored — challenged the right of the United Nations to weigh in on questions of international humanitarian law in territories under foreign belligerent occupation.

The Security Council resolution called on both the Israeli and Palestinian governments to prevent violence against civilians, condemn and combat terrorism, refrain from inciting violence, and comply with their obligations under international law. But Harris’s resolution called the UN version “one-sided,” and effectively equated opposition to the illegal colonization drive by Israel’s right-wing government with opposition to Israel itself.

Harris’s measure also appeared to argue that Obama’s decision to abstain on the UN resolution somehow undermines the Oslo Accords for an eventual two-state solution. Mysteriously, according to Harris, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s expansion of settlements to the point that the establishment of viable contiguous Palestinian states alongside Israel is no longer possible does not.

Harris insists that the United Nations should not have any role regarding Israel and Palestine. Her resolution asserts that the issue of these illegal settlements should be decided only through U.S.-sponsored “direct talks” between the Palestinians under occupation and their Israeli occupiers. Not only has Kamala Harris’s strategy not worked (since this has been U.S. policy for 25 years, during which the settlements have quadrupled), but Trump’s appointees focusing on the negotiations are all strong supporters of Israeli occupation and settlements and oppose Palestinian statehood.

In supporting this resolution, Harris sided with Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell against fellow California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein and with Republican House leader Paul Ryan against Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi. This is a troubling indication of who her foreign policy allies will be if she becomes president.

Setting Roadblocks to Peace

On the 50th anniversary of Israel’s 1967 conquest of neighboring Arab territories, Harris supported another Senate resolution celebrating the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem. As an apparent effort to discredit reports by human rights groups critical of Israeli treatment of non-Jewish residents in the city, the resolution praised Israel for ensuring that the rights of Muslim and Christian Palestinians were “respected and protected.”

Though professing to support a two-state solution, Harris has repeatedly refused to make any distinction between criticisms of the Israeli occupation and colonization in the West Bank and attacks on Israel itself.

She’s accused campaigns supporting boycotts and divestment targeting the Israeli occupation of anti-Semitism, and she claims that efforts in the United Nations to pressure the Netanyahu government to end its violations of international humanitarian law are actually designed to “delegitimize Israel.” She even signed a letter criticizing the United Nations and its agencies for such efforts which commended Trump’s former UN Ambassador Nicki Haley’s attacks on the world body.

Harris insists that lasting peace can only take place if the Palestinians not only uphold their recognition and security guarantees to Israel, but explicitly recognize Israel as “Jewish state,” a requirement not made of Egypt and Jordan in their peace agreements. Indeed, there appears to have never been a peace treaty in which recognition of a country’s ethnic or religious identity has been a requirement for ending a conflict, particularly by those who are discriminated against by virtue of such an identity.

By adding this condition to the peace process, which even the most moderate Palestinian leader would be unable to support, she appears to be attempting to place the blame for the lack of negotiated settlement on those under Israeli occupation.

“More AIPAC Than J Street”

At some point or another, most Democratic senators have supported pro-Israel resolutions and made statements regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that have left supporters of human rights and international law disappointed.

Harris, however, goes well beyond the perfunctory pro-Israel positions so common in Washington.

For example, The Intercept reports: “Unlike some of her counterparts in the Senate, she has not publicly made any demands of Israel or Netanyahu regarding the human rights of Palestinians.” In another case, she refused to join fellow Democratic senators and presidential aspirants like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in signing a letter to Netanyahu demanding a halt to the impending demolition of a Palestinian village. Nor has she joined Sanders and Warren in criticizing Israel’s excessive use of lethal force against Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip.

Despite damning reports on Israeli repression against Arabs in both the West Bank and Israeli proper — reports made by international human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human rights Watch, as well as by Israeli human rights groups like B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence — Harris has lionized Israel as being a “beautiful home to democracy and justice.”

While most Democrats today ally more with the moderate pro-Israel group J Street rather than the hardline AIPAC, which has generally backed Republicans in recent years, Harris has been virtually the only Democrat to appear before the right-wing pro-Netanyahu organization each year since being elected to the Senate. Indeed, as the Jewish Telegraph Agency observed, her record demonstrates that “She’s more AIPAC than J Street.”

The Right of Conquest

It is not unusual for otherwise progressive members of Congress to have a blind spot when it comes to Israel and Palestine. However, Harris views are not only particularly extreme and dangerous, but may be indicative of a wider contempt for human rights and international law in her foreign policy views overall.

It’s important to note that Harris’s views aren’t necessarily worse than some other Democratic contenders for the nomination, including Cory Booker and Kristen Gillibrand. However, those senators are already seen as suspect by progressive party activists as a result of their centrist policies on a number of issues, whereas Harris appears to have created more of a buzz on the party’s left, most of whom are unaware of her foreign policy views.

Harris claims to support a two-state solution, yet in practice she has given no indication that she would be willing to take any steps to make that possible. Indeed, she has supported policies that would make such a settlement impossible.

By rejecting any role for the United Nations or the relevance of international humanitarian law in occupied territories, and by insisting that such questions should only be resolved through voluntary agreement of the occupying power, Harris is effectively giving license to aggressors worldwide to conquer and occupy their neighbors with impunity. She appears to embrace a neoconservative worldview which supports the right of conquest and rejects international law, including the inadmissibility of countries expanding their territory by force and colonizing these conquered territories with their citizens.

If Harris’s position on Israel and Palestine is indeed reflective of her overall world view, she is therefore essentially endorsing the right of conquest over the right of self-determination. It raises the questions as to whether, had she been in office in the 1950s, she would have defended the right of the French to colonize Algeria and the British to colonize Kenya and Rhodesia, and opposed any efforts by the United Nations in decolonization.

Given the broader implications of Harris’s hardline positions regarding Israel and Palestine, they should not go unchallenged. Given how she has only begun to address foreign policy issues since coming to the U.S. Senate two years ago, perhaps her views are somewhat malleable. Progressive activists are pushing the Democratic Party left on a range of issues this year, and foreign policy should be no exception.

Rescinding a Human Rights Award to Angela Davis Was Cowardly and Unfair

This past October, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute announced that activist, author, and scholar Angela Davis would be presented with the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award at the group’s annual gala event next month. The announcement described Davis as “one of the most globally recognized champions of human rights, giving voice to those who are powerless to speak.”

Davis—professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz—has long been known for her outspoken advocacy and solidarity work on behalf of oppressed peoples, particularly political prisoners, throughout the world. Her long history of solidarity work has included support for national liberation struggles in Vietnam, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and elsewhere.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a museum and research center in Alabama, documenting the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. That it would choose to honor Davis is fitting. Davis is a Birmingham native, and her mother, who worked with the institute in the 1990s, was a personal acquaintance of Shuttlesworth, the prominent clergyman and civil rights activist for which the award is named.

However, on January 4, the institute announced it was rescinding the award and canceling the event. “Upon closer examination of Ms. Davis’ statements and public record,” the statement reads, “we concluded that she unfortunately does not meet all of the criteria on which the award is based.” The institute said it acted after “supporters and other concerned individuals and organizations, both inside and outside of our local community, began to make requests that we reconsider our decision.”

The cancellation of Davis’s award appears to have been prompted by her support for the Palestinians.

The cancellation of Davis’s award appears to have been prompted by her support for the Palestinians, particularly her endorsement of the international campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against the Israeli occupation.

It has been more than seven decades since the founding of the United Nations and the codification of international legal standards regarding the inadmissibility of countries expanding their borders by military force. One would think, then, that opposing Israel control of Palestinian territories seized in the 1967 war, which the international community recognizes as a foreign belligerent occupation, would not be particularly controversial. Unfortunately, it appears that that the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute believes otherwise.

Undeniably, some BDS advocates do unfairly single out Israel, and may indeed be motivated by anti-Semitism. But this is certainly not the case with Davis, a graduate of the predominantly Jewish Brandeis University, where she noted, “I learned to be as passionate about opposition to anti-Semitism as to racism.”

In a statement released Monday evening, she stated, “I am proud to have worked closely with Jewish organizations and individuals on issues of concern to all of our communities throughout my life. In many ways, this work has been integral to my growing consciousness regarding the importance of protesting the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

It would be particularly ironic for Davis’s award to be denied over her BDS advocacy, given the importance of the tactic of boycotts during the U.S. civil rights struggle. It is also indicative of a deep anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia, even among those who profess to support civil rights.

Unfortunately, rather than acknowledge the apparent bigotry and repudiation of international law by the institute some people are blaming Jews. Birmingham mayor Randall Woodfin, who serves as an ex officio member of the institute’s board, claims the decision came “after protests from our local Jewish community and some of its allies.”

But it was not the co-called “Jewish community” that made the decision, but the overwhelmingly non-Jewish institute’s board. Furthermore, American Jews have never been more divided regarding Israel and the occupation. As one Southern Jewish activist tweeted, “Xtian zionists had the power to blackball Angela Davis and now the Jews are becoming the scapegoat here and face of that decision, shielding the evangelicals from blame.”

Pressure to rescind the invitation came from non-Jewish sources as well, including former Birmingham-Southern College president Gen. Charles Krulak (retired), who served as deputy director of the White House Military Office during the Reagan Administration and later Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. He cited Davis’s former membership in the Communist Party and support for the Black Panthers.

Not only is the decision to cancel the award an injustice, it feeds into the divide-and-rule tactics of the right by sowing division between the African-American and Jewish communities. As Davis herself noted, “The rescinding of this invitation was thus not primarily an attack against me but rather against the spirit of the indivisibility of justice.”

Despite Everything, U.S. Troops Should Leave Syria

Donald Trump’s sudden decision to remove U.S. forces from Syria appears to have been impetuous and ill-considered — apparently a result of a conversation with Turkey’s autocratic president Recep Erdo?an. That doesn’t mean, however, that the United States should remain in that country.