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This video shows Tom Perez, a leading contender for chair of the Democratic National Committee, ducking questions about Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.
Perez served as labor secretary in President Barack Obama’s cabinet.
In the video, Zaid Jilani, who writes for The Intercept, confronts Perez in the moments following last Wednesday’s debate among candidates for the leadership of the Democratic Party’s top governing body.
“People are quick to condemn the BDS movement, but there have also been really strong actions against human rights by Israel, for example, 1,600 Palestinians lost their homes last year to home demolitions,” Jilani tells the former labor secretary.
“Absolutely, I understand it’s a complicated issue,” Perez responds as he turns and walks away.
“Secretary, would you condemn the home demolitions by [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu,” Jilani calls after him. “Secretary, do you also condemn the expansion of settlements?”
Perez keeps walking, with his back to Jilani – an ironic turn since his campaign website proclaims that “We need to listen to Democrats at every level.”
During the debate, one of the moderators asked Perez if Democrats should support the BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – movement as long as Israel “is in violation of UN Security Council resolutions” and, if not, “what kind of nonviolent movement for Palestinian independence should the party support?”
“I don’t support the BDS movement because I think if you look at many of the things that have been said by that movement I think they’ve been very destructive,” Perez responded. He then gave a stock answer about the need for a “two-state solution,” providing no hint of how to get there in the face of Israel’s determination to prevent it.
Progressive except for Palestine
Perez’s flight from questions about Israel is reminiscent of Senator Elizabeth Warren, the party’s “progressive” hope, as she was caught on video hurrying away from a question about Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2014.
Perez, who also markets himself as “a progressive who gets things done,” is a favorite of the party establishment and a protégé of Obama, who has effectively endorsed him.
But if Perez is a progressive, then he is classic PEP – progressive except for Palestine.
The DNC chair wields enormous influence on the conduct of campaigns and the post is particularly important as the Democrats try to recover from the debacle of the 2016 general election.
About 450 party officials will vote for the new chair in late February.
Last summer, leaked internal emails revealed that DNC staff were biased against Bernie Sanders – the Vermont senator who gave Hillary Clinton a close running for the party’s presidential nomination – calling into question the body’s impartiality in the primary race.
By some analyses, the DNC’s pro-Clinton bias was decisive in helping her secure the nomination, shutting out Sanders who as polls consistently showed was much better positioned to beat Donald Trump.
The frontrunner in the internal party contest for DNC chair is Minnesota representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress.
Ellison has been more outspoken in favor of Palestinian rights than the typical Democratic official.
During Wednesday’s debate, Ellison addressed recent comments by Haim Saban calling him an anti-Semite.
Saban, a mega-donor who poured millions of dollars into Clinton’s failed presidential bid, openly confesses that his number one priority is influencing US policy in Israel’s favor. It was in a 2015 letter to Saban that Clinton vowed “to make countering BDS a priority” if she won the presidency.
“If you go back to his positions, his papers, his speeches, the way he has voted, he is clearly an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual,” Saban said of Ellison in December.
The moderator of the DNC debate asked the candidates if they thought Saban “should apologize for those remarks.”
Ray Buckley, the New Hampshire Democratic Party chair, gave the most spirited response, saying, “an attack against one of us I really think is an attack against all of us, and we stand united with Congressman Ellison.”
When it came Perez’s chance to respond, he said absolutely nothing in Ellison’s defense.
Ellison himself continues to turn the other cheek in the face of attacks and smears from the Democratic Party’s powerful anti-Palestinian lobby.
“I just think everybody should know that Haim and I did have a phone call,” Ellison said. “I won’t disclose what we talked about but it was amicable and we’re going to get together and build on our relationship.”
Despite his repeated visits to Gaza and criticisms of Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights, Ellison has already made major concessions in his effort to win over the party’s staunchly pro-Israel elites.
In November, Ellison put out a statement condemning the nonviolent BDS movement.
The only other person on the debate stage to respond to the moderator’s question on BDS was Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
Buttigieg is a rising star in the Democratic Party who garnered national headlines in 2015 for identifying as the first gay executive official in Indiana, a deeply conservative, Republican-dominated state.
Interestingly, Buttigieg did not join Perez in condemning BDS. “This job is about running elections and winning them for Democrats,” Buttigieg said. “On some issues there’s going to be a diversity of opinion and that’s OK. You know why? Because we’re Democrats.”
This is hardly a bold statement, but even recognizing and accepting that support for Palestinian rights is now a deeply held view within segments of the party counts as courageous when apparatchiks like Perez and even relative outsiders like Ellison feel compelled to attack BDS.
What Ellison and Perez demonstrate with their pandering to opponents of Palestinian rights is that Democratic Party decisionmakers will not become less anti-Palestinian on their own.
It will only happen if the pressure from the grassroots – which reflects broader shifts in American attitudes in favor of Palestinian rights – continues to build.