VIDEO: Pro-Palestine activists ejected from Bernie Sanders event
Pro-Palestinian activists were kicked out of a campaign event for US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in Boston, Massachusetts over the weekend, video footage posted on Monday showed.
Members of the Boston chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) who attended the independent Vermont senator's event on Saturday brought a sign with them that read: "Will Ya #FeelTheBern 4 Palestine??!"
A video posted by the group on YouTube appears to show SJP members being escorted off the property where the event was being held and threatened with arrest if they returned.
"We held our sign quietly and respectfully in the overflow area, and did not block any of the rally screenings or walkways," the group wrote in a press release.
"We received a warm welcome from surrounding Bernie supporters and rally participants, many of whom also carried signs. Within minutes of arriving, we were approached by police and venue staff and told that the Bernie Sanders campaign team requested we take down our sign (see video). To our knowledge, no other individuals were asked to do the same."
Sanders' campaign manager Jeff Weaver told local news website Boston.com that the decision to eject the students was made by a "low-level volunteer" and "100 percent" should not have happened. The volunteer will no longer be working Sanders events, he said.
Weaver added that he had reached out to the SJP students to apologise.
“We’ve communicated to our staff to make sure nothing like this happens again,” he said.
Two of the SJP members who were in the video - which was viewed over 10,000 times in about 24 hours - spoke to Middle East Eye late on Tuesday.
Boston University student Jose Godoy told MEE that it was "unexpected" to receive a phone call directly from Sanders' campaign manager.
"He actually called us and we had a 10-to-15-minute conversation with him on the phone," Godoy said. "The three people from the video happened to be in the same room when the conversation happened."
Godoy said Weaver wanted to keep in contact with the group and spoke of opportunities for SJP to meet with Sanders' campaign staff.
"He seemed very enthusiastic to have an ongoing dialogue with us," said Sana Hashmani, another student from the video. She said plans for a meeting with staff were "in the works".
"We are excited to meet with some of his staff members in the (near) future," Godoy said. "But we also want to bring this issue to all the candidates, and to the typical voter in these elections."
"There is no room on the left for a non-progressive stance on Palestine," he added.
Progressive except on Palestine?
Sanders has emerged as a real threat to front-runner Hillary Clinton in her bid for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 US presidential race. He is known for his progressive message regarding US economic policies, healthcare and race relations. However, he seems to toe the Democratic party line when it comes to international affairs, and especially regarding Israel.
MEE columnist CJ Werleman noted last month that Sanders "approved of Israel’s 51-day bombardment and invasion of Gaza. Sanders voted to allow Israel access to US weapons stockpiles in the middle of a siege where more than 80 percent of the casualties were civilians."
Last year, during a town hall meeting in his home state of Vermont, Sanders was confronted by protesters who questioned his Senate votes on Israel-Palestine. A video recorded of the incident shows Sanders largely defending Israel's 2014 Gaza offensive and criticising the Palestinian faction Hamas. After being interrupted by one activist, Sanders yells at him to "shut up".
The senator has recently received an endorsement from prominent left-wing author and activist Cornel West, known for his pro-Palestinian stance. But West's endorsement of Sanders did not come without an acknowledgement of his record on Israel-Palestine:
So far, Sanders has not commented personally on the incident at the Boston event - and he has largely refrained from commenting on Middle East policy at all throughout his campaign. SJP wants that to change.
"We understand that in American politics, the mere mention of 'Palestine' often stirs controversy," the group's press release said. "But polls show that a growing and increasingly diverse segment of the American population sympathises with the Palestinian struggle for freedom and equality."
"Sanders speaks up for those hurt by low wages, gender inequality, school tuition, corporate power, and climate change ... We want him to also speak up for those hurt by US foreign policy and military aid: we want him to speak up on Palestine."