Linda Sarsour is a steadfast ally, Biden cannot afford to forget that

Linda Sarsour is a steadfast ally, Biden cannot afford to forget that
6 min read
26 Aug, 2020
Comment: Biden's campaign must make space in the Democratic tent for anti-racist and progressive ally, Linda Sarsour, writes Mitchell Plitnick.
Linda Sarsour is an outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights and a Bernie Sanders surrogate [Getty]
In the weeks preceding the Democratic National Convention, the party tried to strike a balance between the demands of its grassroots, progressive members and its more conservative, centrist leadership. 

Progressive gains on a range of issues are undeniable. Polling indicates a distinct shift toward progressive ideas on 
health care, cost of education, the social safety net, and foreign policy, including the thorniest international issue, Palestine and Israel.

Electoral results reflect the same leanings. Supporters of Palestinian rights such as Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib were among progressive incumbents who easily defended their seats in Congress, while newcomers Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush ousted entrenched members who represented an outmoded approach on many issues, including the Middle East.

But while Democratic voters are clearly moving, the conservative leadership of the party remains entrenched. One issue where they are trying to minimise the compromises they must make is on Israel's occupation and denial of Palestinian rights. This was underscored in an unprovoked attack by Joe Biden's campaign spokesperson on Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour last week.

Sarsour, an outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights and a surrogate for Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, had spoken at a DNC-sponsored event to help mobilise the Muslim vote in support of Biden's effort. Like most of Sanders' prominent supporters, Sarsour has been working hard to defeat Donald Trump since the Democratic primary effectively ended.

But when Republicans tweeted a clip of Sarsour saying "The Democratic Party is not perfect, but it is absolutely our party in this moment," Joe Biden's campaign panicked. The statement is one that virtually all progressives make in various forms. But Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates immediately lashed out at Sarsour.

The Biden campaign has steadfastly refused to apologise for the attack on Sarsour despite the outcry in response

"Joe Biden has been a strong supporter of Israel and a vehement opponent of anti-Semitism his entire life, and he obviously condemns (Sarsour's) views and opposes BDS, as does the Democratic platform," Bates said in a statement.

In tone and substance one can scarcely see any difference in how the Biden campaign treated a leading Democratic activist who was trying to bring Muslims out to oust Donald Trump and the words of the radically right-wing Republican Jewish Coalition chairman, Matt Brooks, who said, "It is outrageous that the Democratic National Committee would allow Linda Sarsour to represent their party to American voters."

Responses in support of Sarsour came quickly and in abundance. The Council on American-Islamic Relations stated, "Our sister Linda Sarsour is an outspoken advocate of justice for all, including the Jewish community. Smearing her and other American Muslims as anti-Semitic for supporting Palestinian human rights is predictable, despicable and unacceptable. Our political leaders must stop doing it."

Bernie Sanders' foreign policy adviser, Matt Duss tweeted that Linda Sarsour "believes that every human being, regardless of race or religion, is entitled to equality, dignity, and security. I can't say that about her critics… We know that we need as big a coalition as possible to win. But if that coalition is big enough to include GOP anti-choicers and Iraq war salesmen, you better believe it's gonna big enough for Palestinian rights."

Read more: Pro-Palestine candidate Cori Bush wins US congress primary

Indeed, Sarsour herself noted "Did (Biden spokesman Bates) distance himself or disavow John Kasich for his anti-women's rights position or did that pass vetting? I guess no rapid response was required there."

But perhaps most noteworthy were the responses of Jewish leaders. Ady Barkan, a prominent progressive activist tweeted in Sarsour's defense, "I say this as a Jew and an Israeli citizen: Criticism of Israel is not anti-semitism. Advocacy of a boycott or sanctions against Israel is not anti-semitism. Weaponizing the charge of 'anti-semitism' to silence criticism of Israel is despicable."

Hadar Susskind, president of Americans for Peace Now, posted on Facebook, addressing Bates, "Where were you after the Tree of Life Shooting? I can tell you where Linda was, she flew from Chicago to Washington DC specifically to be there in solidarity at a Jewish community event in front of the White House. Linda shows up for people, including Jews."

The Biden campaign has steadfastly refused to apologise for the attack on Sarsour despite the outcry in response. As I wrote after Bates' statement, it's appalling the extent to which Arab-baiting, #Islamophobia, and marginalization of Palestinians, American and otherwise, remains one of the most bipartisan affairs in the US.

And it doesn't stop with Linda. The inaccurately-named Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) reinforced the smear while trying to undermine Sarsour's relationship with Missouri Democrat Cori Bush, a prominent Black Lives Matter leader who is almost certain to win a seat in Congress after defeating long-time incumbent William Lacy Clay.

More and more Democrats understand this, and Joe Biden and his staff are way behind the times

When DMFI indelicately implied that Bush might be considered antisemitic herself if she associated with Linda, Bush shot back, tweeting "Enough is enough. The Democratic establishment must stop using Linda Sarsour as a pawn in a push to stoke division. She represents everything about the #TeamCori movement: to love humanity unconditionally."

Sarsour's history demonstrates the truth of that, but her often fiery rhetoric about Israel's denial of the basic rights of Palestinians equally demonstrates her strong sense of her Palestinian identity and her refusal to compromise that identity for politics.

As a Palestinian, she is anti-Zionist, and given what Zionism has brought upon the Palestinians since 1948 and even long before, how can anyone reasonably expect otherwise? But she has demonstrated 
solidarity with Jews on numerous occasions, braving misinformation campaigns against her to do so.

Linda has not only worked with Jews, she has stood shoulder to shoulder with us against anti-semitism, as so many have pointed out. She is, for certain, a dedicated opponent of Zionism, and for many Jews that is threatening because Zionism is central to their identity as Jews. As a Jewish man myself, one who was raised orthodox and in a fanatically pro-Israel environment, I understand those feelings.

But they are no more accurate than those of my fellow men when they object to feminism or of my fellow white people who are discomfited by action against white supremacy. It can be difficult when something so essential to your identity is exposed for the massive harm it has done to others, and it is made all the more so when one feels they have been thrust unwillingly into the role of oppressor.

Linda Sarsour has made it clear just how much she values justice for all

In Israel's case, it is even more sensitive because Israel provides for Jews a sense of security that, as eternal minorities in many countries, we have never known.

None of that, however, justifies or excuses the ongoing dispossession of the Palestinian people or the human rights violations that go on every day. More and more Jews, especially the younger generations, are recognising that we have to have the same difficult conversations around Israel that men must have around feminism, that Americans must have around the genocide of the indigenous peoples here, that white people must have around racism.

More and more Democrats understand this, and Joe Biden and his staff are way behind the times. Linda Sarsour has made it clear just how much she values justice for all, including Jewish people, and how firmly she stands against anti-semitism. It is not too much to ask from a party that welcomes anti-choice, anti-worker, homophobic figures like John Kasich to stop attacking her. 

Mitchell Plitnick is a political analyst and writer. He is the former vice president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace and former director of the US Office of B'Tselem.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.