Kamala Harris is a cop, or so goes the saying from many of her critics who decry her history as a prosecutor in the state of California. Since her announced candidacy for president in 2020, Kamala Harris has unknowingly ignited a debate among the left regarding her record as prosecutor and California AG and her contributions to the prison industrial complex. Briahna Gray at the Intercept asks the question of whether a prosecutor can even be president in the age of Black Lives Matter, while Hannah Giorgis, writing in the Atlantic, takes Harris’s record to task while critically examining her recent book. Margaret Kimberley of Black Agenda Report, is most direct in her criticism of Harris, stating without hesitation that “She did everything in her power to support the mass incarceration system and all of its foundations.” I am a fan of all three of these writers, and I do not seek to critique the scope of their analysis, but instead expand on the scope and contribute to the ongoing discussion regarding Kamala Harris and her views on justice. When it comes to issues of justice and progressivism, discussions mainly adhere to what transpires within the borders of the United States, while ignoring the many injustices that are committed against the victims of US imperialism worldwide. Justice is an issue of human rights, not just American rights, and progressives need to hold accountable those who shun human rights in order to score domestic political points. In the case of Harris, her unbridled support for Israel and its many injustices towards the Palestinian people should raise a few red flags.
Examining Harris’s criminal justice record is important, because this country has a prison problem, and a racism problem. When you combine those two elements, you are faced with a carceral state that disproportionately affects the lives of those who most often face racial discrimination in this country. So while supporters of Harris are apt to point out that they agree she needs to answer for this, they are as quick to point out that her problematic criminal justice record was accumulated prior to her becoming a Senator, making the point that sometimes “people grow”. While it is true that people grow, we have to be more skeptical of that saying when it comes to politicians, because their growth, while sometimes genuine, can oftentimes be traced to ambition. Sometimes politicians have to grow based on the office they seek and the bloc of voters they need to pander to. Considering Harris is now running for president, maintaining that level of skepticism is more important than ever. With that being said, the question I still want to ask people is whether Kamala Harris has actually grown in regards to her stance on criminal justice? For me, assessing the growth of a politician comes down to a critical analysis of not only their public statements, but their voting record, and the morals and values behind what drives them. When taking into account Harris and her connection to Israel, we start to see that her morals may have never shown any real growth.
During her time in the Senate, her support for Israel can be summed up by her co-sponsoring of S.Res.6, a resolution objecting to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334. UNSC Resolution 2334 was a controversial statement from the UN, which historically has failed to condemn Israel for any of its war crimes, specifically their indiscriminate bombing raids in Gaza, or their continued construction of illegal settlements. This resolution was a clear condemnation of Israeli settlement activity, and was allowed to pass when the US made the unprecedented decision to abstain from voting. Overall, the US has used its veto power 43 times to prevent the UNSC from condemning Israel, which is one of the main reasons why the move by the Obama administration to allow such a resolution to pass was seen as groundbreaking. By cosponsoring S.Res.6, Harris made it clear her support for Israeli settlement activity and Israeli settlements, which thanks to UNSC 2334 are illegal under international law. These settlements change the facts on the ground by continuing the forced displacement of Palestinians from their land and homes, and further tanking the peace process by destroying what little is left of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. If these are the sort of principles that Kamala Harris supports, then I suspect that her definition of justice is a bit hypocritical
It is not uncommon in the House or the Senate to support Israel, as the vast majority of elected Representatives and Senators, as well as Presidents have expressed unwavering support for the Jewish state. Kamala Harris is one of those elected officials who has gone out of the way to make sure her support for Israel is special and stands out from the rest of the pack. One way that elected officials in this country show their allegiance to Israel is by speaking at the annual policy conference of AIPAC, or the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC functions as the major pro-Israel lobby organization in Washington, and is responsible for, among many things, making sure the US government maintains support for Israel and passes legislation favorable to Israel’s interests. AIPAC’s policy conference is the yearly culmination of that work, and the conference itself is an extravagant display of bombastic pro-Israel rhetoric, and touts a lineup of dignitaries, among them many US politicians, who voice their unabashed support for Israel. Harris has become somewhat of a regular at this conference, speaking there in 2017 and 2018. Harris’s 2017 speech at the AIPAC policy conference is particularly telling because we learn much about the origins of Harris’s Zionism. For instance, speaking of her childhood connection to Israel, Harris said:
So having grown up in the Bay Area, I fondly remember those Jewish national fund boxes that we would use to collect donations to plant trees for Israel. Years later when I visited Israel for the first time, I saw the fruits of that effort and the Israeli ingenuity that has truly made a desert bloom.
The phrase “desert bloom” is common in Zionist circles, and is a widely used phrase by apologists for Israel, because it is used to describe the way in which Israel supposedly transformed a once desolate and empty desert into a thriving and modernized western society. It rests on the myth that much of the land taken by Zionists was unoccupied, and erases the history of the forced expulsion of the Palestinians from their homes. The organization that Harris refers to, the Jewish National Fund, is one such organization that provides a cover for the continued bulldozing of Palestinian homes under the guise of “planting trees”. I wonder if Harris was aware of this history or would even care if presented with the facts?
That aside, this is about justice, and when it comes to Israel, we know that justice only comes to those who are not Palestinian. Kamala Harris in the same 2017 speech to AIPAC dedicated some of her words to praising the Israeli Supreme Court. According to her, she was struck “by the iconic architecture which embodies Israel’s founding principles of democracy and rule of law” and used that sentiment to compare it to her own journey to becoming a prosecutor. I wonder if Harris is using definitions of “democracy” and “rule of law” that mean something different than what they are, because you could hardly attribute those principles to the Supreme Court in Israel. I wonder what democratic principles the Israeli Supreme Court embodied when it ruled in 2014 that admissions committees in 434 communities in the Negev and Galilee (43% of all towns in Israel) could reject housing applicants based on the “social suitability” as well as the communities’ “social and cultural fabric”? This decision from the Supreme Court basically legalized segregation, considering the overwhelming number of Israelis who don’t want to live anywhere near Palestinians. I wonder what principles of the rule of law were embodied by the Israeli Supreme Court when it ruled in 2006 that targeted assassinations of Palestinian civilians killed since the start of the second intifada were legal and did not violate international law. The Yale Law Journal warned of the danger of this in 2007 noting that it was “the world’s first judicial decision on targeted killings,” and had the potential to weaken international law. Those words would prove themselves true over time as the Obama administration in 2014 cited that Israeli court decision in a Justice Department memo attempting to justify the killing of Americans without trial. Does Kamala Harris believe that principles of democracy and the rule of law can be found through enforcing legalized segregation or the ability to assassinate your own citizens?
Harris’s 2017 AIPAC speech also gives us a preview of her foreign policy, as Israel plays a major role in the entire Middle East region and our interests often align with theirs when it comes to allies and enemies. Harris herself supports the massive amounts of money we give to Israel saying that “Our defense relationship is critical to both nations, which is why I support the United States’ commitment to provide Israel with $38 billion in military assistance over the next decade.” That money allows Israel to maintain it’s military superiority over the region and also helps to prop up the occupation of Palestine. She also says that she will do anything in her power to “ensure broad and bipartisan support for Israel’s security and right to self-defense.” Ensuring that defense comes at a cost, because Israel has made a lot of enemies over the last century. Harris speaks at length on defending Israel when she says:
In the midst of uncertainty and turmoil, America’s support for Israel’s security must be rock solid. And as Iran continues to launch ballistic missiles while it arms and funds its terrorist proxy Hezbollah, we must stand with Israel. As Hamas maintains its control of Gaza and fires rockets across Israel’s southern border, we must stand with Israel. And as ISIS and civil war in Syria destabilize the region, displacing millions and threatening shared security interest, we must support all those affected by ongoing violence and terror, and we must stand with Israel.
Right there in that statement Harris has already informed us how she would govern relations with Iran, and gave us a preview of how she would handle negotiations with the Palestinians and the conflict in Syria with the use of her language in describing Hamas and the Syrian government. Her rhetoric was similar with Russia, saying “Russia’s explicit support for these actions is a direct threat to American interest, and it makes Israel less secure.” There you go, Harris’s entire strategy for conducting diplomacy with a nuclear peer is to see what Israel thinks. “See what Israel thinks” might be a catchy campaign slogan when she hits the trail looking for that Israel lobby money.
There may still be naysayers who will argue that we shouldn’t judge Kamala Harris for statements she made in 2017. That is a fair point, so I will quote from her 2018 AIPAC speech. Wait a minute, that speech was given in private and off the record, so no one really has a clear idea what Kamala Harris said at AIPAC in 2018. We know based on the tweets of some of the participants who were in attendance of her workshop that much of what she said echoed the sentiments of her 2017 speech. When it comes to Israel, it doesn’t look like Kamala Harris will change anytime soon, if ever. Of course, this doesn’t surprise me, because like most people, Kamala Harris has a set of principles that are set in stone. If her views on Israel haven’t changed since her childhood, I doubt they are going to change, and that is something that we need to consider in 2020 because principles matter. Harris, again in that 2017 speech said “I stand with Israel because of our shared values which are so fundamental to the founding of both our nations. I believe the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable, and we can never let anyone drive a wedge between us.” That seems like someone who is pretty set in their ways, and if we are to be honest, that statement there is more problematic than anything else she said in that speech. When it comes to the “shared values fundamental to the founding” of both the United States and Israel, we have to see those values for what they are, mainly as one of “manifest destiny” or a Zionist version of “lebensraum”. Either way it is a justification for the violent possession of land from the indigenous people, their forced dispossession, and cultural genocide. Is that the kind of rule of law that Harris will stand for as president? Let’s remember that above all, the president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, so the number one duty a president Harris would have is overseeing the vast military industrial complex that overseas the military budget, and among other things, the diplomatic relations between the US and Israel. These days, when the dangers of criticizing Israel are hitting the shores of the US, whether that be in the form of loyalty pledges to keep your job (or get hurricane relief), or getting blacklisted for speaking out in support of Palestinian liberation, it is important that we keep another Zionist from making it to the Oval Office.
One last point. Given Kamala Harris and her opposition to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), she doesn’t even support the 1st amendment, let alone a protest movement whose stated purpose is fostering equality. Some principled upholder for the rule of law, let alone a “progressive prosecutor”, which Harris has unflinchingly referred to herself as. We can do better in 2020, not just for ourselves, but for the entire world.
Michael Byrne is an antiwar activist who works in the Washington DC area. He holds a Master’s degree in International Relations from Cleveland State University. This is reprinted with permission from his blog.