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For Palestinians, Trumpism may come with a silver lining

Framed as criticism of Donald Trump, support for the Palestinian cause is no longer taboo among US politicians

With US President Donald Trump at the helm of a corrupt, decaying, yet still globally dominant power, the bad news keeps rolling in.  

A litany of potentially catastrophic issues has emerged: Trump’s dismantling of environmental protection, his overt sexism, the repeal of healthcare legislation, the arbitrary application of sanctions, brazen disrespect for international law and a cavalier attitude towards nuclear war. 

The media distracts us with “scandals”, such as extramarital affairs and fact-checking whether Trump really did have the “biggest crowd” at a rally. They would be better occupied with fact-checking which Middle Eastern countries have a nuclear arsenal and which only aspire to some level of nuclear capability - or, for that matter, whether the Gaza Strip, according to international law, is still occupied (it is, despite Israel’s claims to the contrary) and where the “borders” between Gaza and Israel lie (Israel has never officially declared its borders, and keeps encroaching on and annexing Palestinian territories).  

Democrats ‘free’ to criticise

Yet what we are also witnessing, like the rumblings of a volcano before its eruption, are clear indications that support for Palestine - couched as criticism of Trump - is no longer taboo among US politicians. 

Because Trump is so “extreme”, and because many in the US openly denounce him, it is becoming acceptable - safe, even - for Democratic politicians to criticise his policies, including his approach to the question of Palestine. 

Americans readily forget that, in 2012, during the Obama administration, the Democratic Party voted in favour of a party platform recognising Jerusalem as 'the capital of Israel'

An article in Forward explains how Trump has “freed” progressive Democrats to finally criticise Israel. The alliance between the Netanyahu and Trump administrations, the article says, “is sparking far-reaching changes inside the Democratic Party. The inhibitions that have long prevented Washington Democrats from speaking about Palestinian human rights are beginning to fade.”

Prominent Muslim-American political activist and former director of the Arab American Association of New York, Linda Sarsour, also explained that the 2020 presidential candidate for the Democrats will need to believe in Palestinian human rights: “If you want to run for president in the United States of America, you better come up with an opinion about this, and it better be an opinion that centres the human rights of the Palestinian people,” Sarsour asserted.

In addition, new polling numbers published by CNN show the Democratic Party may be “approaching a turning point” on the question of Palestine, with Israel losing support among younger members. 

American fascism

Trumpism is a uniquely American variation of fascism, one that could only have germinated in a country built on contradictions: slavery in the “land of the free”, genocide of indigenous peoples as a prerequisite for “divine providence”, religious intolerance butting heads with the constitutional guarantee of the "free exercise of religion”. A clear indication of how hollow “freedom” rings in this country today is that athletes must now stand up for the national anthem, under threat of fines, as recently decreed by the National Football League

This current, American iteration of fascism sees an infamous celebrity showman in the country’s highest office - an anti-intellectual who aspires to imperial grandeur. 

Palestinians demonstrate with crossed-out posters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump in the southern Gaza Strip on 30 March 2018 (AFP)

You could argue that Trumpism was inevitable - that the United States has been inching towards it since Columbus first accidentally landed on American shores and made a fortune for European royalty. Racism, religious fundamentalism, white supremacy and settler-colonialism have been there since the beginning, the dark foundations overlaid by high-minded rhetoric concerning life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.    

Yet as inevitable as American fascism seems to be, the fact that it is so utterly unadorned under the current administration has its advantages. We are no longer lulled by the charisma and PR prowess of an elegant, refined president like Barack Obama, who filled the skies with drones and deported more people than any other president while hugging children on the front lawn of the White House. 

“Trump is different from his predecessors,” Jonathan Steele writes in a recent article criticising the US embassy move to Jerusalem. “He makes no effort to understand the Palestinians’ current proposals for peace, let alone the history of the conflict.” The article's headline was: “There is a cost to Trump. We are seeing it now in Gaza”. 

Ending the charade

While other presidents may have “understood” - or even drafted - the various proposals made on Israel and Palestine, their actions were just as detrimental to Palestinian rights. Americans readily forget that, in 2012, during the Obama administration, the Democratic Party voted in favour of a party platform recognising Jerusalem as “the capital of Israel”. Trump’s bull-in-a-china-shop approach simply ends the charade.

There is a cost to Trump. The harm he has done so far will take many years to redress. But there is also a steep price to be paid for electing politicians who do not hold Israel accountable for its crimes - massacres happened long before the star of The Apprentice rose to power. 

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Rather than thinking of the “cost” of Trump, we should examine the silver lining to Trumpism, which requires us to not only understand, but also act upon the realisation that unless we elect politicians with the integrity to challenge neoliberalism in all its facets - including its support for Zionism - then we are electing our next Trump.

Voting for a Democrat was never enough. Democratic politicians are beginning to understand that, and they will have to listen as we persist with our message of justice for Palestine. 

- Nada Elia is a diaspora Palestinian writer and political commentator, currently working on her second book, Who You Callin’ ‘Demographic Threat?’ Notes from the Global Intifada. A professor of gender and global studies (retired), she is a member of the steering collective of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI).

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: A poster praising President Donald Trump is pictured on 11 May 2018, ahead of the US embassy move to Jerusalem (AFP)

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