Even as Washington churned through a miasma of Brett Kavanaugh lies and horror, a different kind of history was being written more than a thousand miles west. For all who doubted whether the public and political discourse on Palestine and Israel has changed at all, the keynote speakers at the national conference of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights in St. Paul, Minnesota proved them wrong.
Certainly, much of the conversation is still dangerously one-sided, too often uncritically supportive of Israel. U.S. policy has gotten worse, much worse, in the last two years. And we know that U.S. democracy is so flawed, so broken, that changing public opinion does not guarantee a shift in actual political decision-making.
But there can be no question that, as Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and Rev. William Barber II of the Poor People’s Campaign demonstrated unequivocally, dramatic shifts are underway in public engagement on the issue, from movements to the media to policymakers. Those changes are simultaneously creating and reflecting a new political moment, in which variants of the struggle for Palestinian rights are finding center stage in a widening range of organizations and movements.
In that basement hotel ballroom, though, there was still uncertainty when Rep. McCollum rose to speak. She outlined Israel’s new “nation-state” law. Most of the audience was already familiar with the law, and how it had turned the country’s longstanding discriminatory practices designed to privilege Jews and disempower Palestinians, into an official component of Israel’s Basic Law: the equivalent of a constitutional amendment. But would she say the whole truth? Four or five hundred people were sitting on the edge of their chairs.