I wrote earlier about the large crowd that attended a Bernie Sanders rally in Boston. But now it appears that there was an incident there that highlights the fact that Sanders is a PEP (Progressive Except for Palestine) politician, like a lot of Democrats. His team threatened to have people arrested for merely holding a sign that asked “Will Ya Feel The Bern For Palestine?”, an act reminiscent of what the Bush-Cheney campaign used to do at their events. Here’s the video.
Murtaza Hussain describes what happened at the event.
Among those visitors were a number of young activists from Boston Students for Justice in Palestine, who were curious about Sanders’ position on the occupied territories. They had a sign with them; in a playful nod to one of Sanders’ campaign slogans, it simply asked, “Will Ya Feel The Bern For Palestine?” The activists say they were well-received by other Sanders supporters in the crowd.
But staffers working for a candidate widely viewed as one of the most progressive members of the Senate were apparently not happy. Security was made aware of a threat: Some students who support Sanders were holding a sign with a question on it. A tactic right out of the Bush campaign “playbook” went into action.
“They told us to either put the sign away or leave,” said Sana Hashmani, one of the student activists. “We asked why, and they said that Bernie’s campaign staff had said the sign had to go.”
There had been no signs of trouble previously. The pro-Palestine group was doing nothing unusual — except, perhaps, for daring to question Sanders about territories occupied by Israel, of which Sanders has been a not-entirely-progressive supporter.
Here is the statement from the ejected group Boston Students for Justice in Palestine.
“We, members of Boston Students for Justice in Palestine, attended the Bernie Sanders rally yesterday evening with a sign that read ‘Will Ya #feeltheBern 4 Palestine??!’ We were quiet and non-disruptive- not blocking any of the rally screenings or walkways- in the overflow area. We received a warm welcome from all surrounding Bernie supporters and rally participants, many of whom also were carrying signs. Within minutes of arriving, we were approached by police and venue staff and told that the Bernie Sanders’ campaign team asks that we take down our sign. To our knowledge, nobody else who were carrying signs were asked to do the same. We began filming our interaction with police staff were immediately given a verbal trespass order and threatened with arrest.
We understand we may have asked a tough question for Bernie’s campaign. However, what concerns us most about being unwelcome in this political space on the basis of a sign is not what is says about Bernie’s stance on Palestine, but rather, his team’s refusal to entertain diverse viewpoints. Is this how Bernie is going to answer those, supporters and non-supporters alike, who ask challenging questions about his views? Just silencing them? We signed up for a socio-political revolution. These are not actions that reflect the social revolution that Bernie claims to be leading and we must talk about the implications of incidents like this.
We are enthusiastic to begin a dialogue about what it means to strive for basic respect, inclusivity, and elevation of under-represented voices, an endeavor that serves as a hallmark of Bernie’s campaign-that dialogue was silenced yesterday before it even started.”
After video of the incident circulated, the Sanders campaign apologized to the student group, blaming the ejection on a “rogue” low-level staffer who has been excluded from working at future events.
That is a good first step. But this is not the first time that Sanders has shown himself to be an apologist for the Israeli government, providing political cover for their atrocities, and reacted with impatience with those who dare to criticize Israel except within narrow limits. As Hussain reminds us:
To a certain extent, the episode reflects an underlying tension between Sanders’ base of young progressives and his comparatively friendly posture toward Israel. A 2014 Pew Research Center poll found minority and millennial Democrats markedly more critical of Israeli military actions. At a town hall event last August, Sanders lost his temper with supporters who had interrupted him to question him about U.S. support for Israel, telling them to “shut up,” and attempting to change the subject to ISIS. During Israel’s 2014 military campaign against the Gaza Strip a plurality of Democrats described the action as “unjustified,” while Sanders was part of the unanimous Senate consent supporting Israel’s actions. He has continued to defend the “Protective Edge” operation as a legitimate act of self-defense, albeit one in which Israel “overreacted.”
But the ejection of pro-Palestine students from the Sanders rally surfaced a bigger question with a potentially more disturbing answer: Can this candidate, beloved by the left wing, learn to cope more tolerantly with protest and dissent?
Already, Sanders has been criticized for his handling of Black Lives Matter protesters at his events. Boston Students for Justice in Palestine are also worried about a tendency to marginalize, rather than engage, critics.
While I am in general a supporter of Sanders, I hope that, like the Black Lives Matter movement, supporters of justice for Palestine continue to make waves at Sanders’s events and force him to come to terms with one of the most important foreign policy issues he will face as president. He should not be allowed to get away with trying to silence or otherwise marginalize critics of Israeli government actions that suppress the rights of Palestinians and continue the appalling conditions under which they force them to live.