Wed May 22, 2024
May 22, 2024

How to Effectively Answer Biden on Palestine: Break with the Democratic Party!

By JAMES MARKIN

The largely ceremonial Michigan Democratic primary election this February became the setting for the latest sign of Biden’s political weakness. As Biden cruised to his pre-ordained victory, a group called “Listen to Michigan,” thrown together in the final weeks before election day, managed to get around 101,000 Democratic Party voters to select the “uncommitted” option instead.

This is only the latest example of Biden’s ironclad support for Israel’s genocide in Gaza causing chaos among the voter base that he needs for his reelection. However, while it is clear that Listen to Michigan was able to effectively demonstrate the degree of mass anger felt over the killing in Palestine, following in their footsteps will only drag us deeper into the Democratic Party and ultimately risk the collapse of the Palestine solidarity movement.

The Biden campaign has been in crisis since the Israeli slaughter in Gaza began. This is because the Democratic Party in general, and Biden in particular, are committed to Israel and Zionism. This is no casual commitment; the U.S. imperial state needs Israel as a stronghold from which it can defend its interests in the Middle East and North Africa. As Biden himself famously once said, “If there were not an Israel, we would have to invent one.” Guaranteeing this stronghold necessarily means supporting the continued Israeli genocide against the Palestinian people.

However, Biden’s program on Israel is at odds with the perspective of many of the people whom the Democratic Party relies on to elect its candidates. This is because, while the Democratic Party politically represents a section of the U.S. capitalist class, there are not enough capitalists in this country to elect anyone on their own.

This fact means that Democrats must rely on politically active sections of the middle and working classes to get out the vote for their candidates. These activists, many of whom are highly placed members of nonprofits and trade unions, form the mechanical components of the Democratic Party’s political machine. Unfortunately for the Democrats, many of these activists have been absolutely horrified by the carnage in Gaza and have balked at the current effort to re-elect Biden while he presides over the slaughter. This has put the Democrats in a bind, because they want to keep this milieu happy and functioning but at the same time they cannot shift from their political commitment to Zionism and its bloody consequences.

The Democratic Party governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, embodied this contradictory stance best in statements she made to NBC News in the lead-up to the Michigan primary, when she said that she was empathetic to Arab communities and “understand[s] the pain that people are feeling” but that ultimately, she believed it was critical for Democratic voters to rally around Biden anyway in order to prevent a second Trump presidency.

It was into this fraught moment for the Biden campaign that the movement to vote “uncommitted” arrived. Emerging from the efforts of activists in the Dearborn and Detroit area, the movement received support from many heavyweights in the Michigan Democratic Party who have been at odds with Biden’s Israel policy. This included Palestinian-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib; Dearborn’s Mayor Abdullah Hammoud; the majority leader in the Michigan statehouse, Abraham Aiyash; and Andy Levin, the former congressman and scion of the Levin Detroit political dynasty. Levin in particular became an outspoken champion of the movement to vote “uncommitted,” publicly promoting the idea that it could ultimately push Biden to change course on Israel—something he felt was necessary for him to beat Trump in November.

On “Democracy Now!” on the day after the election, Levin stated that for him the message of the uncommitted campaign to the president was: “You must change course. You must change course for the sake of your political reelection and because it’s the right and necessary thing to do from every point of view, including U.S. national security interests, for God’s sake.” This shows that for Levin and other senior Democratic Party officials, voting “uncommitted” is not a rebuke of the president, but rather an effort to save his presidency by forcing him to understand that his support for Israel will cost him in November.

While it is likely the case that the majority of people who chose to vote “uncommitted” did not feel like they were doing so to help Biden, the reality is that Democratic Party officials like Levin are trying to make use of the “uncommitted” campaign to keep party activists and trade unions invested in the party, even as they protest against its program abroad. While voting “uncommitted” might feel like a vote against Biden, it is still a vote in a Democratic Party primary, and thus a vote for the Democratic Party. This is because, at the end of the day, any campaign to get working-class people to vote “uncommitted” needs to mobilize them to participate in the DNC nominating process. Indeed, supporters of the campaign like Levin have touted how it has increased turnout in Democratic Party primaries.

Nevertheless, the 101,000 “uncommitted” votes in Michigan have inspired many around the country to try to replicate the Listen to Michigan Campaign. Ahead of the Super Tuesday primaries, the Democratic Socialists for America and some prominent unions formally endorsed the campaign to vote uncommitted. Of the seven Super Tuesday states in which voters were allowed to do so, a little over 258,000 Democratic voters chose the “uncommitted” option. This accounted for 18% of the vote in Minnesota and 12% in North Carolina.

These electoral results are consistent with polls conducted last month by the Associated Press, which suggest that just 31% of U.S. adults support Biden’s handling of the Israeli genocide in Gaza. Further polling suggests that this number is even lower with young people. If you combine the polling with the huge numbers of people who are showing up to pro-Palestinian demonstrations, it is obvious that many working-class people in this country are against Biden’s program for Palestine. In this context the relatively impressive results of the uncommitted campaign both in Michigan and on Super Tuesday have caused many in the Palestine solidarity movement to want to keep the momentum going and continue the campaign all the way to the DNC.

However, ultimately, the efforts of the movement could be far better spent organizing mass action for Palestine in ways that break with the Democratic Party. For example, consider United Food and Commercial Workers Local 3000, which represents more than 50,000 workers in Washington state. Following the Michigan primary, the union’s executive board signed on to an “uncommitted” electoral campaign in Washington. From the perspective of the union leaders this makes sense; through an “uncommitted” campaign they can demonstrate that they sympathize with the concerns of their members about Palestine without fundamentally breaking with the Democratic Party in a way that might damage their influence or relationships with Party leaders. But while this strategy might fulfill these aims, it leaves working people in a situation where our political power relies on our influence in a political party of the capitalist class. This ultimately leaves workers in the position of begging our bosses for political favors that they are not bound to give. As Malcolm X once said, if “you put [the Democrats] first, they put you last.”

The dangers for the Palestine solidarity movement if it does not fully break from the Democratic Party have been even more concrete since the Michigan primary results came in. Less than a week after polls closed in Michigan, Kamala Harris made a speech on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Ala., for the 59th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, in which she called for an “immediate six-week ceasefire” in Gaza. While many saw this as Biden changing tack on Palestine, the reality is that it is merely a rebranding of the administration’s previous calls for a “humanitarian pause.” In fact, it was reported by NBC that Harris’ speech was intended to contain a much sterner rebuke of Israeli crimes in Gaza but was significantly watered down by officials in the State Department at the last minute.

This “new” messaging of an “immediate ceasefire” represents nothing more than an attempt to placate and co-opt the movement for justice in Palestine. Biden still is publicly calling for a bilateral ceasefire, meaning that as long as Israel can invent some reason why the Palestinian demands for a ceasefire are unacceptable to them, Biden will continue to have an excuse for why the war continues. Indeed, in Harris’ speech, she blames Hamas for the failure of ceasefire talks.

The reality remains that, given the relationship between Israel and the USA, if Biden really wanted an immediate ceasefire, the fighting would be over. Without U.S. logistical support for Israel’s air force, which exclusively operates U.S.-made combat aircraft, Israel could not drop a single bomb. This means that all claims from Washington that Biden is working hard to convince Netanyahu to stop the slaughter are merely empty words; Biden ultimately holds the reigns over the war. It is critical that the movement break with the Democratic Party and demand unequivocally, not a bilateral ceasefire, but an immediate end to the Israeli slaughter in Gaza.

A far better way for socialists and Palestine solidarity and antiwar activists to build off of the “uncommitted” vote in Michigan would be for us to mobilize people to break from the Democratic Party altogether. Imagine how strong of a message it would send if unions like UFCW 3000 drew a line in the sand about Palestine and refused to give dues money to Democratic Party campaigns, or endorse Democratic Party candidates.

Even better, if these resources were redirected from the Democratic Party, they could then be used to build a true political alternative for the working class—a real labor party. With a labor party based in trade unions and other working-class organizations, the working class in the USA would have an alternative to the Democrats, and a way to make their voices heard without having to beg the parties of the capitalist class for favors. Such a labor party could be a tool for our class to democratically organize itself and push for workers’ control of the society that we live and work in.

The results of both the Michigan primary and Super Tuesday show that this moment is an opportunity for the movement to enter into dialogue with our co-workers, students on campus, and people in the community and push them to reject the parties of the capitalist class and fight for a working-class alternative that can fight back against Biden’s policy of genocide in Palestine. That opportunity will be squandered if all we do is turn out our coworkers and community members to vote in a Democratic Party primary. We owe it to the people of Gaza to organize an effective fightback against Biden and not to give him or his party an ounce of our support.

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