WASHINGTON – Hillary Clinton named Rep. Luis Gutierrez D-Ill. to the Democratic Party’s platform committee, where a controversy is brewing with Bernie Sanders’ appointees to the panel who want to bolster the Palestinian side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
By coincidence, the platform debate erupted on the front page of the New York Times on Thursday, the day Gutierrez departed for a long-planned trip to cities in the West Bank and Jerusalem. He will meet with Palestinian Authority officials, Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset and Palestinian students and businessmen.
I talked with Gutierrez, who has been campaigning around the country for Clinton, about the platform committee about three hours before his flight departed for Ben Gurion Airport.
“I am going to go with an open mind, to listen and to discuss the issues. You should not make any pre-judgment about what Luis Gutierrez is going to do on the platform committee,” he told me.
*There are 15 members on the drafting committee, who will present a platform to Democratic delegates at the convention in Philadelphia July 25-28. Clinton, the likely nominee, filled six slots. Sanders, in a nod to his strong showing, won five places and Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz got four picks.
Gutierrez is the only Hispanic on the committee. The panel has a progressive majority.
*Clinton is giving Gutierrez a higher profile convention role than President Barack Obama initially did in 2012. Gutierrez, an Obama critic when it came to deportations and slow action on immigration at first was not going to go to the Charlotte convention. Late in the game the Obama team recognized that Gutierrez was a fierce advocate for Obama’s re-election and gave him a speaking slot. I would expect Gutierrez to be a prime time speaker if Clinton is the nominee.
*The New York Times’ Jason Horowitz and Maggie Haberman reported that two Sanders appointees, author and activist Cornel West and James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute “denounced Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and said they believed that rank-and-file Democrats no longer hewed to the party’s staunch support of the Israeli government.”
Nathan Guttman wrote Wednesday in The Forward, whose reports are aimed at American Jews, that Sanders move “is unlikely to change the (current) platform’s language, which supports a two-state solution, but does not mention the rights of Palestinians. What it could do is erupt into a public spat that the party would rather keep hidden from its pro-Israel donors.”
*This will be Gutierrez’s fifth trip to Israel. He was in Israel and the West Bank last Nov. 7-12, on a trip paid for by the J Street Education Fund. J Street is the liberal pro-Israel U.S lobby, a contrast to the hawkish pro-Israel AIPAC. Gutierrez is aligned with J Street.
This trip, with an all- Palestinian focus is hosted by the American Global Institute, with funding coming from MIFTAH, a pro-Palestinian organization.
When it comes to the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there could be room in the platform for language that “elaborates more clearly the wishes, the desires, the aspirations of the Palestinian people and their hope for justice and for peace and equality. Absolutely, I think we can do more,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez stressed that there will be more to the platform than a Mideast plank — positions on Planned Parenthood, marriage equality, Black Lives Matter, campaign financing and immigration.
Said Gutierrez, “I want a platform that says America is great. America can be greater. … Here’s the vision that is going to lead us to a better American society … and juxtapose that and put that directly to Donald Trump’s hatred and bigotry and prejudice.”