In a disquieting development last week, Senator Bernie Sanders, whose pursuit of the Democratic nomination for president has shown impressive tenaciousness if little positive substance, was given a disturbingly strong say over the Democratic Party platform. Mr. Sanders was permitted to appoint five members, only one less than the six offered clear front-runner Hillary Clinton, to the platform drafting committee. And he immediately appointed two men with deeply jaundiced views of Israel.
One is Cornel West, a professor and social activist who has voiced some of the daffiest sentiments in recent memory — even for an academic.
Although lauded in some circles, like that of Mr. Sanders, as a philosopher and “public intellectual,” Professor West is obsessive in his disdain for what he calls “White America,” which he rails “has continued to resist fully accepting the humanity of blacks”; and, exhibiting typical professorial pretentiousness, attributes the African-American community’s problems to “existential angst derive[d] from the lived experience of ontological wounds and emotional scars inflicted by white supremacist beliefs and images permeating U.S. society and culture.”
Mr. West has called President Obama “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats” and a “Rockefeller Republican in blackface.” (When a professor of political science at Tulane University noted the “utter hilarity” of Mr. West’s statements, calling them a “classic projection of his own comfortably ensconced life at Harvard and Princeton Universities,” Mr. West’s rebuttal consisted of calling her a “fake and a fraud.”)
A daft and thin-skinned professor, of course, is hardly remarkable. But when such an academic joins, as Mr. West did in 2007, a demonstration against “injustices faced by the Palestinian people resulting from the Israeli occupation” in order “to bring attention to this 40-year travesty of justice”; has contended, as he did in 2014, that the crimes of Hamas “pale in the face of the U.S. supported Israeli slaughters of innocent civilians”; and is nevertheless appointed to the Democratic platform-drafting committee, no sane observer could be blamed for wondering what illness has befallen the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John Kennedy.
The other disturbing Sanders appointee to the committee is James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. Although Mr. Zogby labors to present a balanced and sensitive view on the Middle East, and is a longtime Democratic “insider,” sentiments he posted in 2010 provide a clearer, and more disquieting, picture. “Palestine,” he wrote, is “an existential concern that not only unites Arabs, it defines their sense of common history and their deepest feelings of betrayal by, and their vulnerability in the face of, Western machinations. In a real sense, the plight of Palestinians is, to the Arabs, what the Holocaust is to Jews world-wide.”
The question, of course, isn’t whether some Arabs choose to perceive their experiences as comparable to the Holocaust, but whether that comparison is coherent on any level. As an impartial observer will doubtlessly conclude, the comparison is grotesque, and odious.
The presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, has avoided criticism of Israel during the campaign, and has emphasized the country’s right to defend herself. In a statement on Wednesday, Jake Sullivan, Mrs. Clinton’s chief foreign policy adviser, indicated that her appointees to the platform committee would resist Mr. Sanders’s attempt to shift the center of gravity on the Israel debate.
The drafting committee will present whatever document it produces to the full platform committee, which will vote on it during the convention. Usually there are few objections. In 2012, however, the drafting committee’s platform omitted recognition of Yerushalayim as Israel’s capital. Although new language including the recognition was passed during the meeting of the full committee, it garnered objections and boos.
It will be enlightening to see what transpires later this summer at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia. If anything can be said about the American body politic, it is that there are divisions in both major parties. On the Republican side, the divide is evident in the fact that Donald Trump is wildly popular and widely reviled at the same time. In the Democratic camp, a split may well be opening between supporters of Israel and her security needs and those who, for any of a number of reasons — none laudable — profess a preference for pushing the “Palestinian cause.”
May sense and reason prevail.