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Monday, February 4, 2008

The Loneliness of the One Issue Voter

The loneliness of the One-Issue Voter
Laurie King-Irani, The Electronic Intifada, 4 February 2008

The road to the White House goes through Jerusalem: Then Israeli prime
minister Ariel Sharon meets with US Senator Hillary Clinton in
Jerusalem, November 2005. (Inbal Rose/MaanImages)

Although I am now officially middle-aged, only once have I felt the
excitement of waking up to the joyous news that my candidate won the US
presidential elections. That was way back in 1992 when Bill Clinton was
first elected.

I was living in Nazareth, conducting my dissertation research. When I
found out Clinton had been elected, I let out a whoop of joy and
believed that a new era of sanity, justice and decency had dawned.

Several months later, I began to wonder. While at a conference in
Jerusalem I picked up a copy of New York Times. The lead story in the
magazine, entitled "St. Hillary," featured a cover photo of Hillary
dressed completely in white and looking quite self-righteous.
In the course of reading the article, I learned that while in Law
School at Yale, Hillary had decided, during a classroom debate about
Palestine/Israel, that some people were "simply evil," and thus had no
rights because they undertook terrorist actions. (I'm not sure if she
was still a registered Republican back then ...)

I wished my Palestinian friends and neighbors could sit and chat with
Hillary Clinton for a little while about the daily realities and
systematic discrimination that they faced then -- and face even more so
now -- under occupation. Now a particularly exciting election year is
upon us. Before the Democratic race narrowed down to Obama and Clinton,
I was rooting for Dennis Kucinich, because his message resonated with
my "Big Issue": fair, just, and sane US foreign policies in the Middle
and outrage at the treatment of the Palestinian people.

There are lots of "One Issue Voters" out here: those who decide to
support a candidate based on the sole criterion of abortion, or
taxation, or gun control, or crime. For those of us who fall into the
"Pro-Palestinian Rights" category of One Issue Voter-hood, it's a
particularly lonely and dispiriting time. It's as though there's this
big progressive celebration going on, but we haven't been invited.

Discussing the upcoming elections with friends and colleagues is
uncomfortable. Should one support Hillary because she's likely to win
the nomination anyway, and because it's imperative to get the
Republicans out of the White House? Should one support Obama because he
represents a challenge to the ossified cadres of Clintonites who assume
that they are entitled to the presidency simply because they have
amassed the money and the elite backing to waltz back into the White
House? Should one support Republican Ron Paul, because he promises to
cut all aid to Israel and end US intervention in the Middle East?
Should those of us who care passionately about the human rights of
Palestinians, Lebanese and Iraqis try to be "realistic" and vote for
which ever candidate seems most likely to regain the White House and
restore respect for the Constitution?

It annoys me that so many people I speak with say "Palestinian rights?
Come on! Get real! No one can run for any office and succeed if they
bring up that issue! There are other pressing crises that are much more
important!" And they are not wrong to say so. Class disparities in the
US are growing. Health care and insurance reform are absolutely

Looking at Obama's and Clinton's stances on some of these pressing
issues, I should be excited. I just can't get mobilized and committed,
though, because both have shown utter spinelessness about the key issue
at the heart of the United States' misguided, destructive, and unjust
policies in the Middle East: The question of Palestine. On the
Republican side, frontrunner John McCain has recently gone out of his
way to emphasize his decades-long record of unconditional support for

This is not a marginal, fringe issue to be swept aside. The fact that
no candidate dares to speak out against US-funded Israeli violations of
international humanitarian law and a raft of UN resolutions is a
primary index of something horribly wrong at the heart of American

Last summer, I watched a CNN broadcast during which the Democratic
hopefuls underwent a cable catechism examination administered by
Soledad O'Brien. Former Senator John Edwards and Clinton were grilled
on their personal faith and how it has helped them in their private

Obama got the booby-trapped political question: "Are Palestinians
treated badly by Israel?" His answer was lame, and appeared
ill-informed. Given that he is probably not ill-informed, however, it
might have been dishonest. Obama responded that "although Palestinians
are often put in situations that we would not want our own families to
endure," it was sadly necessitated by the paramount need to safeguard
Israelis from dangerous terrorists.

Obama is a lawyer. He should know something about the Geneva
Conventions. He should know a bit about Israeli violations of
international law, and the dozens of UN resolutions that have
criticized the Israeli government and called for an end to the

Despite increasing activism, the existence of alternative news media,
and growing public discomfort with the Bush administration' s Middle
East misadventures, it's really disappointing that an attractive
front-runner in this key election did not feel secure enough to tell
the truth. The public is way out in front of Congress on this issue,
but given the demands of campaign funding and the fear of the sorts of
underhanded attacks that AIPAC (the American Israeli Public Action
Committee, i.e., the pro-Israel lobby) inflicts on those who deviate
from a pro-Israeli narrative, anyone who hopes to attain office in
Washington, DC is held hostage to the lobby's single-minded goal of
assuring unconditional support for Israel no matter how badly it

There are those who say the lobby is not really that strong, serves as
a bete noire for people who are possibly anti-Semitic, or is simply a
healthy expression of active citizen participation in the US
legislative process. Of course the lobby does not single-handedly
control US foreign policy, but the depressing reality is that few
candidates have the spinal fortitude to diverge from its narrative or
to question its aims at election time.

Many -- even most -- in the American Jewish community are indifferent
to or appalled by AIPAC's rhetoric, so it is not even representative of
Jewish voters in the US.

And as depressing as the political scene may appear, this is where hope
and opportunity lie. If concerned Americans want to support the rule of
law at home and abroad, and support peace with justice around the
world, they could find few better starting points than joining the
international campaign to end the Israel's occupation of the West Bank
and Gaza Strip and other abuses. This means loudly opposing the
unconditional diplomatic and military support that successive
administrations have given to Israel, and challenging the candidates at
every opportunity to respond directly to the mountain of factual
evidence of Israel's abuses. This will not bear fruits in one election
cycle, but it has to start.

Survey after survey shows that around the world, US support for Israeli
violations remains a key motivator of anti-American sentiment. And yet
in this country there's not even a debate about it among our leaders.
Americans need to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ongoing
Israeli infractions of international law through its occupation of
Palestinian lands more openly and critically. Brave and honest
presidential candidates can and should be at the forefront of such
needed political discussions.

If raising these issues, and using them as important criteria for
choosing which presidential candidate to support, is a "non-starter"
beyond the pale of acceptable political discourse in the Democratic or
Republican parties then there really are no grounds for the excitement
and rhetoric about change and transformation surrounding this election.
There's no easy answer for the voter who cares about justice in
Palestine. Yes, we should vote, but our activism has to go beyond
simply marking a ballot on election day.

Laurie King-Irani is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and the
managing editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies in Washington, DC
and a lecturer in anthropology at Georgetown University.

http://electronicin v2/opeds. shtml

"Yes, we should vote, but our activism has to go beyond
simply marking a ballot on election day."

Laurie, I could NOT agree with you more!

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