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September 2018, Week 1

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 		 [A proudly self-identifying Palestinian-American woman is poised
to represent Palestinians in an institution that has treated them as
invisible and expendable. Together with Ocasio-Cortez and Tlab,
Congress will hear voices for Palestinian justice.]
[https://portside.org/] 

 AFTER CORTEZ, TLAIB, AND OMAR VICTORIES: WHAT’S NEXT FOR PALESTINE
ADVOCACY?  
[https://portside.org/2018-09-05/after-cortez-tlaib-and-omar-victories-whats-next-palestine-advocacy]


 

 Tala Alfoqaha 
 August 20, 2018
Palestine Square
[https://palestinesquare.com/2018/08/20/after-cortez-tlaib-and-omar-victories-whats-next-for-palestine-advocacy/]


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 _ A proudly self-identifying Palestinian-American woman is poised to
represent Palestinians in an institution that has treated them as
invisible and expendable. Together with Ocasio-Cortez and Tlab,
Congress will hear voices for Palestinian justice. _ 

 , 

 

When Rashida Tlaib announced to a room full supporters in the pre-dawn
hours of August 8th that she had won the Democratic primary in
Michigan’s 13th congressional district, her mother draped a
Palestinian flag over her shoulders. Before that moment, such a public
display of identification with the Palestinian people had been a rare
sight for a candidate with congressional aspirations, much less by a
candidate whose aspirations had just been realized.

Where Palestine is concerned, Tlaib’s victory propels forward a
shift already underway in U.S. politics, as do primary victories by
New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar.
Among the many progressive platform planks that Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez,
and Omar share is one key distinction: they have all pushed the
discourse on Palestinian rights beyond what members of Congress have
ever deemed permissible in the past.

“This is a massacre,” tweeted 
[https://twitter.com/ocasio2018/status/996009689312825344?lang=en]Ocasio-Cortez
as the death toll of Palestinian protesters in Gaza killed by Israeli
soldiers during the Great Return March rose. “Palestinian people
deserve basic human dignity, as anyone else. Democrats can’t be
silent about this anymore.” Ocasio-Cortez was not alone in
commenting on the brutality of Israel’s response to the protests. A
handful of Democrats and independents spoke out, including Sen. Bernie
Sanders (I-VT), who released a series 
[https://www.facebook.com/senatorsanders/videos/10156962352577908/]of powerfu
[https://www.facebook.com/senatorsanders/videos/10157003480532908/]l videos
[https://www.facebook.com/senatorsanders/videos/10157057267097908/] denouncing
the killings, and Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY), who posted a thread of
tweets
[https://twitter.com/repjohnyarmuth/status/996089144953753600?lang=en] condemning
Israel’s acts as a “horrific slaughter.” Yet Ocasio-Cortez’s
tweet stood out. Posted in the midst of a grassroots campaign aimed at
engaging overlooked, underrepresented communities, she introduced a
word that otherwise lay untouched by members of Congress in their own
statements: massacre.

After her victory, Ocasio-Cortez came under fire for that tweet and
later tempered her criticism of Israel, referencing her lack of
expertise on the issue and stating that she firmly believed in a
two-state solution. The backlash from some pro-Palestine activists was
swift, with some writing her off as yet another ally-turned-politician
who would mince words to placate the Israel lobby. Tlaib, too, faced
accusations of normalization and equivocation. As the first
Palestinian-American woman poised to enter Congress, supporters
stacked all their long-ignored hopes on her shoulders. Yet, as
knowledge of J Street’s endorsement of Tlaib, featuring a line about
her support of all aid to Israel slid into the public eye,
celebrations of her victory—and by extension, the victory of
Palestinian-Americans everywhere—were clouded.

Indeed, the public outcry among Palestinian-Americans and
pro-Palestinian activists ultimately led Tlaib to clarify her
positions, and to J Street’s withdrawal of their endorsement.

In spite of these rhetorical hiccups, these likely future members of
Congress do nonetheless represent a fundamental break from the
prevailing tenets of U.S. policy on Israeli-Palestinian issues.
Ocasio-Cortez’s expression of her desire to learn about the
Palestinian issue appears genuine: when asked in a subsequent
interview
[http://www.pbs.org/wnet/firing-line/video/alexandria-ocasio-cortez/] if
she supported a one or two-state solution, she didn’t rush to
declare her allegiance to the latter; instead she said, “this is a
conversation I’m sitting down with lots of activists in this
movement on and I’m looking forward to engaging in this
conversation.” Moreover, her instincts on the issue appear solid.
Explaining her Gaza massacre tweet to _The Intercept_
[https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-democrat-who-slammed-israel-wins-new-york-primary-1.6218292],
Ocasio-Cortez situated her analysis of Palestine within an
anti-colonial framework, drawing upon her heritage as a Puerto Rican.
“Puerto Rico is a colony that is granted no rights, that has no
civic representation,” she said. “If 60 of us were shot in protest
of the U.S. negligence in FEMA, I couldn’t imagine if there were
silence on that.” This recognition of global connections and
parallels is a far more important indicator of her politics than her
self-admitted lack of expertise on the issue.

And Tlaib, after clarifying that she absolutely opposes aid to Israel
to fund injustice, later announced
[http://inthesetimes.com/article/21383/rashida-tlaib-democratic-socialism-palestine-israel-michigan] something
wholly unprecedented in mainstream U.S. politics; upon declaring that
“separate but equal does not work,” she came out in support of a
one-state resolution and for the right of return for Palestine
refugees, two third-rail issues that no member of Congress has dared
to touch. Omar, too, doubled down on Israel’s separate-and-unequal
system, tweeting
[https://twitter.com/ilhanmn/status/1002295140172664832?lang=en] that
she was simply “drawing attention to an apartheid regime.” By
making such bold statements and policy declarations even before
entering Congress, Tlaib and Omar have already introduced new
perspectives by centering the narrative around equality rather than
borders or Israeli security, and by drawing parallels between the
fight for equality for Palestinians and the struggle for civil rights
here in the U.S.

The significance of these victories cannot be fully appreciated
without underscoring the reigning discourse that the identities and
statements of these candidates interrupt. Up until recently,
expressing unwavering support of Israel to American voters has been a
requirement to reach public office. Once in the seat of power, members
of Congress are expected to constantly affirm Israel’s right to
security, or, in less-coded language, Israel’s right to commit human
rights violations against Palestinians unabated under the pretext of
self-defense. Former President Jimmy Carter acknowledged
[http://www.latimes.com/news/la-oe-carter8dec08-story.html] this
unspoken, yet strictly enforced, congressional code of conduct,
writing that “it would be almost politically suicidal for members of
Congress to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine,
to suggest that Israel comply with international law or to speak in
defense of justice or human rights for Palestinians.” That was in
2006.

Twelve years later, in a quite stark contrast to Carter’s
assessment, author and activist Phyllis Bennis writes
[http://inthesetimes.com/features/left_progressive_foreign_policy_platform_russia_china_middle_east.html],
“it is no longer political suicide to criticize Israel.” Indeed,
recent surveys suggest that Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, and Omar weren’t
elected despite their politics on Palestine, but perhaps because of a
dramatic partisan shift in attitudes. A recent poll
[http://www.people-press.org/2018/01/23/republicans-and-democrats-grow-even-further-apart-in-views-of-israel-palestinians/012318_3/] by
the Pew Research Center found that nearly twice as many
self-identified liberal Democrats sympathize more with Palestinians
than Israelis. Additionally, current developments within Congress,
such as the first-ever bill on Palestinian rights, introduced by Rep.
Betty McCollum (D-MN) and sponsored by 29 fellow Democrats, signal
that legislating for freedom, justice, and equality for Palestinians
in Congress is, as Bennis suggests, not political suicide, but
becoming part and parcel of a progressive agenda.

We still have miles to go. Yet, right now, the space for change is
being created in a dramatic showdown between those with truly
inclusive progressive politics and those who want to carve out an
exception that would exclude Palestinian rights. For the first time
ever, Palestinian rights are on the congressional agenda. For the
first time ever, a proudly self-identifying Palestinian-American woman
is poised to represent Palestinians in an institution that has
historically treated them as both invisible and expendable.

Furthermore, there’s a good chance that Tlaib will be joined by new
progressive members of Congress who view Israel as a colonial and
apartheid regime. Among the public support
[https://twitter.com/Ocasio2018/status/1028045251099865088?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1028045251099865088&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.washingtonexaminer.com%2Fnews%2Focasio-cortez-endorsed-candidate-ilhan-omar-wins-democratic-house-primary] and
post-victory congratulations 
[https://twitter.com/Ocasio2018/status/1029569286048808960]that Tlaib,
Omar, and Ocasio-Cortez exchanged, Tlaib’s tweet 
[https://twitter.com/RashidaTlaib/status/1029552339538137088]to Omar
best expressed their emerging solidarity, as she wrote, “I can’t
wait to walk onto the floor of United States Congress hand in hand
with you. So incredibly proud of you.”

This is exactly the type of change—at the highest levels of
government—that advocates of Palestinian rights have long hoped to
witness. And now that it appears to be coming to fruition, it’s
incumbent upon these advocates to continue building the political
power necessary to continue expanding their ever-growing circle of
congressional allies and create a climate where Palestinian rights are
regarded as fundamental.

_Tala Alfoqaha is currently a Government Affairs Fellow at the US
Campaign for Palestinian Rights as well as a full-time student,
studying Math and Global Studies with a regional focus on the Middle
East and thematic focus on human rights and social justice._

_The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do
not necessarily reflect the position of the US Campaign for
Palestinian Rights, which is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not
endorse candidates. Nothing in this article expresses advocacy for or
against any candidate for office._

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