I followed reports of Vice President Kamala Harris’s recent exchange with a student at George Mason University with great interest, and dismay. In many ways, it reminded me of an incident with Hilary Clinton, not in a good way.
Kamala addressed students at George Mason to mark National Voter Registration Day. Following her remarks, she opened the floor for questions.
One student commented to Kamala, “You brought up how the power of the people and demonstrations and organizing is very valuable in America. But I see that over the summer, there have been, like, protests and demonstrations in astronomical numbers standing with Palestine, but then just a few days ago there were funds allocated to continue backing Israel, which hurts my heart because it’s an ethnic genocide and a displacement of people — the same that happened in America — and I’m sure you’re aware of this. I bring this up also because…all this money ends up going to inflaming Israel and backing Saudi Arabia and whatnot. And …I just feel like I need to bring this up because it affects my life and people I really care about’s lives.”
Kamala listened, nodding, and replied, “I’m glad you did. And again, this is about the fact that your voice, your perspective, your experience, your truth, should not be suppressed. And it must be heard, right? A democracy is at its strongest when everyone participates. It is its weakest when anyone is left out. And that’s not only about being physically present, but that your voice is present … Our goal should be unity, but not uniformity.”
This is reminiscent of Hillary Clinton’s 1999 visit (as first lady) with Suha Arafat, wife of then Palestinian Authority president and long-time terrorist leader, Yasser Arafat.
As she introduced Hillary at the Ramallah gathering, Arafat commented in Arabic, “It is important to point out the severe damage caused by the intensive daily use of poison gas by Israeli forces in the past years that led to an increase in cancer cases among Palestinian women and children.”
Hillary sat quietly while listening to the translation, reportedly with no change of expression, or visible or verbal response to Arafat’s nonsensical and antisemitic claim. After the event, Hillary kissed Arafat as she explained, which is like a handshake. Hillary was excoriated. The following day, in Jordan, she rebuked Arafat for the comments.
“Everyone who supports this (peace) effort should refrain from inflammatory rhetoric and from baseless accusations... We do not believe that any kind of public inflammatory statements or excessive rhetoric is helpful to the peace process."
Hilary got credit for the rebuke, albeit late and not addressing it in person when Arafat’s initial baseless antisemitic comment was made. But the lack of doing so and not calling out the specific antisemitic nature of the comment, rather the unhelpfulness of “public inflammatory statements,” has stuck with her ever since.
Kamala should know better. She’s not only not new to international politics and diplomacy, she’s regarded as a friend of Israel. She knows that there is no ethnic genocide taking place by Israel against Palestinian or Israeli Arabs. She also knows that the Iron Dome is a strictly defensive weapon that protects Israelis and Arabs. Whether it was rhetoric or cheap pandering to the VP, the George Mason student noted, “I am sure you must be aware of this” as if getting Kamala’s affirmation. By her silence, she’s chosen to let the student’s comment stand.
Just like Hillary before her, Kamila deserves public excoriation. She blew it, and still has not commented on the exchange, which emboldens those who espouse inaccurate antisemitic lies. Yes, of course, all voices should be heard. However, when someone states something so egregious, blatantly false, much less antisemitic, and doing so in an academic environment, the proper response would have been to tell the uninformed student what’s wrong with her statement.
I wish Kamala said something like this: 'Actually while I appreciate your comments, as Senator and Vice President, and someone who’s been involved in Middle Eastern politics, I have to tell you that you’re wrong. Especially here, at a university, where we need to learn facts to understand the world around us. Let me tell you why. First of all, the Iron Dome funding to which you referred is for a defensive weapon I wish Israel didn’t have to have. But I am glad that it does, and that we are funding it. It is saving lives. Hamas and other terrorists have violated every relevant law and morality by firing thousands of rockets at Israeli communities, and doing so while hiding behind civilians in Gaza. This needs to stop, but as long as they keep doing it, I’ll be the first to stand up to support Israel in its obligation to defend itself, and support the Iron Dome in doing so.'
Then she should have continued, 'As for your comment about ethnic genocide, let’s be clear that there is not and has never been an ethnic genocide against Palestinian Arabs. You need to study your history a little more closely. What’s happening in the Middle East does not come close to the genocides that have actually taken place in Armenia, the Holocaust, Rwanda, etc. Or against Christian Arabs living under ISIS and elsewhere. There’s just no parallel. But if you look at the facts, an ethnic genocide means mass murder of a particular racial, ethnic, or religious group. When you speak in these terms you cheapen the suffering of those who have actually suffered genocide. Also, you need to note, that since 1948, both the number of Israeli Arabs and Palestinian Arabs has continued to grow. I hope you see the illogical points of your statement and how the facts prove you wrong.'
The sound of silence works well in 1960s folk rock, but not in contemporary diplomacy. Unfortunately, Kamala will go down in history as the person who let another baseless antisemitic comment pass, and didn’t even have the decency to issue a correction or clarification the following day, or since.