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Muslim Democratic delegates reject party platform over aid for Israel, Iran sanctions

(RNS) — A coalition of Muslim Democratic delegates has rejected the Democratic National Convention’s proposed party platform, in particular for not pushing for the U.S. to end military aid to Israel and sanctions on Iran.

The Muslim Delegates and Allies Coalition is urging all delegates to vote against approving the platform during this week’s vote. The coalition was recently formed in hopes of pushing the party to “take more decisive action to improve U.S.-Muslim relations.” 

“There are definite inroads that were made in the 2020 platform versus the 2016 platform,” Nadia Ahmad, a delegate from Florida who co-founded the coalition, told Religion News Service. “But since a lot of the delegates in the Muslim coalition were primarily Bernie delegates, a lot of them are very disappointed that there hasn’t been more movement on progressive issues.”

Due to the pandemic, the DNC's nearly 5,000 delegates will vote electronically on the platform’s language before the actual convention begins on Aug. 17.

The party’s proposed platform “reject(s) the targeting of Muslim, Arab, and other racial and ethnic communities based on their faith and backgrounds at home and abroad.”

“Democrats will also work to restore trust with our Muslim communities by ensuring the government’s engagement is not discriminatory nor viewed through a security lens,” the platform states. 

The coalition is made up of 100 DNC national delegates, including some from Virginia, New Mexico and Texas, among other states. In July, the group submitted a 17-page proposal detailing policy recommendations to the Democratic National Committee’s Platform Committee, urging the party to integrate Muslims’ concerns into the 2020 agenda.

“The whole point is for us to show the Democratic Party that we are visible, and that we matter,” Hanieh Jodat Barnes, coalition organizer and California delegate, told RNS. “This tells us whether our Democratic Party is listening to our voice. And if they fail to do that, unfortunately, they’re not going to build a coalition behind them to defeat Trump.” 

Besides advocating for broader progressive civil rights and investment in social welfare programs such as Medicare for All, Muslim delegates are focused on moving the party “away from establishment foreign policy and racist national security measures,” Ahmad said.

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The coalition also calls for an end to qualified immunity for police officers, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Patriot Act, Countering Violent Extremism programs, the government’s no-fly list, military aid to Israel and U.S. drone strikes in countries “in turmoil.”

While progressive delegates “were able to move the needle since 2016” on some issues, the platform committee’s veto of the coalition’s amendments on Israel-Palestine issues proved to be a major source of frustration for Muslim delegates, Jodat Barnes said.

“There’s a disappointment that we still were not able to pass amendments on Palestinian human rights,” she said. “We weren’t even asking for much. We were just asking for Palestinians to have the same equal rights as the Israeli Jewish community does.”

The proposed 2020 Democratic platform gives “ironclad” support for Israel’s security and right to defend itself as well as a 10-year security commitment made to Israel by the Obama administration in 2016.

“Democrats believe a strong, secure, and democratic Israel is vital to the interests of the United States,” the current platform reads.

The proposed platform also calls for diplomacy and dialogue with Iran but not an end to sanctions. 

“We want an end to imperial U.S. foreign relations and surveillance state policies that disproportionately target Muslims, Arabs and South Asians within the United States and traveling to and from the United States,” Ahmad, a law professor in Orlando, said.

The platform Committee did accept the Muslim coalition’s plank recommendations on eliminating anti-Muslim bigotry, repealing the Muslim travel ban and cutting U.S. funding for the Saudi war on Yemen.

The proposed 2020 platform also promotes increased support for houses of worship’s security investments and protection, acknowledges the long history of anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States, decries human rights abuses against Muslim minorities from Burma to China, agrees to “not weaponize counterterrorism for anti-immigrant purposes” and condemns government programs’ targeting of Muslims as “security threats.”

“Democrats also recognize that, to fully confront the legacy of systemic and structural racism, it is time to examine, confront and dismantle the government programs, policies and practices that have unfairly targeted American Muslims as security threats,” the DNC’s proposed 2020 platform says.

Delegates support that statement, noting that it is a far cry from 2016’s platform, in which the party spoke of “faithful and peaceful Muslims” and the “vast majority of Muslims” who “believe in a future of peace and tolerance.”

Still, critics argue that the new “surface-level” acknowledgment rings hollow amid the party’s broader agenda.

“On one hand, there is movement in the recognition of the impact and harm of surveillance programs and the negative treatment of Muslims,” Ahmad said. “But if you go on further in the document, there is a lot of language still about terrorist threats. In the civil rights part of the document they’re saying one thing, but in the part about global threats, there’s still a lot of negative language about Muslims.”

In the end, she said, “it feels like we didn’t come away with that much.”