When the United States Senate voted last month to give its backing to the Israeli regime as it launched a vicious and disproportionate assault on Palestinians in Gaza, it did so unanimously. No voices were raised against the injustice of a colonial occupation, against a military assault which targeted civilians, and against the deliberate bombing of United Nations facilities, an action through which the Israeli regime struck a calculated blow against the arbiter of world peace and justice.
Amongst those who joined the caucus of cringers, who yap “How high?” when AIPAC tells them to jump, was progressive Senator and supposed-Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Sanders, who is mulling a presidential run, has many compelling things to say about economic inequality, the appalling state of our public services, and why other profiteering services should be made to serve the public.
Butlike his colleague Elizabeth Warren, whether out of opportunism or conviction, he is unmoved by the political injustice and economic oppression which defines the lives of Palestinian subjects, ruled over by an Israeli state which only endangers its own citizens all the more by pursuing a mad, bad, and dangerous policy of colonialism.
Sanders’ backing for Israeli colonialism is all the more pathetic because it betrays the socialist tradition in which he claims to work. In the twentieth century, it was the socialist members of Britain’s Labour Party who spoke out most consistently and compellingly against their country’s unjust rule in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
These socialists sought to create space in the imperial metropole for members of anti-colonial movements to speak to the British public and get a fair hearing before the Parliament which ruled over them but in which they were not represented. It was the socialists in Britain who travelled to the colonies to build bonds with colonized subjects—and not, primarily, because they were ideological fellow-travellers. Often they were not. Rather, they were moved by the social and political injustice that colonized people faced, injustices which translated into gross economic inequality.
It was the socialists who sought to understand—if not always justify—the violent rebellions that colonized people mounted against violent colonial rule. And it was the socialists who called out the colonial security forces when they tortured, abducted, killed, and imprisoned people en masse in concentration camps where they were subjected to physical and psychological indignities of the most terrible kind.
Not all socialists spoke out, and the cabinet of the Labour government that took power in 1945 was sadly hesitant when it came to backing decolonization, upsetting many of its members in Parliament and beyond, who had been elected in part by WWII soldiers who voted heavily for Labour not only to better their own lives, but because many had served in the Empire and witnessed first-hand its injustice to the colonial subjects who fought alongside British citizens.
Some of Sanders’ constituents were also upset at his inconsistency when it came to recognizing inequality and injustice. Pressed at a constituency meeting, Sanders grew petulant, declaring, “This is a very depressing and difficult issue. This has gone on for 60 bloody years. If you’re asking me, do I have a magical solution? I don’t. And you know what, I doubt very much that you do”.
But of course no one is asking about “magical solutions”. They are asking about concrete ones which recognize that the United States does neither Israelis nor Palestinians any favours when it provides ammunition and moral support to the colonial regime in Israel, ensuring that when the Israel Defence Force kills Palestinians in their thousands (and most of them had nothing whatsoever to do with Hamas), displaces a quarter of Gazans, bombs the United Nations’ facilities, and thereby ensures the continuation of a violent occupation and the violent wars that go along with it, it does so with utter impunity.
We should stop selling arms and giving aid to the colonial regime. We should demand that Israel grant independence to its colonies—at which point, Hamas or whatever government came to power would have both more power to manage the affairs of its citizens, but also a greater responsibility to hold back from violence—and put a stop to its illegal settlements.
These actions, which would restore some basic justice and equity to our foreign policy are not “magical”, and suggesting that they are somehow beyond the realm of imagination is disingenuous.
Sanders and his colleagues should think long and hard about their profound moral inconsistency, and the mounting deaths—Israeli and Palestinian alike—that are on their hands because of their decision to fight so wrong-headedly for colonialism, a form of government that should be a bad memory from the last century rather than one which continues to define the lives of too many people in our own.