Don’t Give Up on Elizabeth Warren as Progressive — Despite Hawkish Views on Israel
Democrats have been buzzing with rumors that Hillary Clinton may ask Elizabeth Warren to be her running mate. For a time, it was unclear whether Warren, who is known for her progressive stances and policies, would even endorse Clinton, but once her endorsement was secured, public displays of allegiance and support from Warren to Clinton increased exponentially.
Recently, Warren has been seen on Clinton’s campaign trail, gleefully bashing Trump as the great orange menace that he is, and supporting Clinton’s bid for office. Watching Warren and Clinton standing side by side, (in matching outfits, to boot), the possibility of a Clinton/Warren ticket seemed plausible.
It should be noted that these rumors are exactly that: rumors. Warren herself has previously stated that she would not be pursuing office on a Presidential level. However, in the world of Vice Presidential nominees, anything but a hard no leaves room for possibility. If Clinton did choose Warren as her running mate, it would to be a big win for progressives who are wary of Clinton’s conservative track record. Facebook feeds are already filling with excited anticipatory posts, stoking the liberal dream of Warren in higher office. I have to say, as someone who has both acquiesced to the reality of Clinton as the Democratic candidate and someone who remains critical of her stances on many issues, I got a little giddy at the prospect of Warren’s influence in the Oval Office. And, as a progressive Jew, it initially seemed to me that a Warren Vice Presidency would be a step in the right direction against Clinton’s hawkish unwavering, uncritical support for Israel and her refusal to seriously challenge the occupation of the West Bank.
One problem: Warren, though outspokenly liberal on domestic social and economic issues, does not differ significantly from Clinton when it comes to Israel and Palestine.
She has regularly voted along general Democratic party lines when it comes to essentially green lighting all support for Israel, including shooting down plans to financially pressure Israel not to expand settlements in the West Bank. This was all done in spite of criticism from members of her progressive constituency, who have questioned her voting record at town hall meetings and on social media. Warren, who is known for standing up to the status quo, seems bizarrely mainstream when it comes to this one issue, citing America’s “very special relationship with Israel” as an explanation for her unwavering support. During the 2014 Gaza War, Warren echoed Netanyahu, Clinton, and scores of other Democrats and Republicans in absolving Israel of any blame for the many Gazan casualties, offering the same tired lines about Hamas using their civilians as human shields (including the oft-used “they put rocket launchers next to schools and in hospitals” trope). As the numbers and names of the dead poured in, she was adamant that “Israel has a right to defend itself” and that “the last thing they want” are casualties. On her senate campaign site, she states that it is “a moral imperative” to “support and defend Israel” and to “maintain its qualitative military edge”, and decries the Palestinian application for UN membership.
For progressives, and especially for progressive Jews, this is a significant disappointment. Initially, I couldn’t help but feel that Warren’s stance on Israel and Palestine cast a shadow on her otherwise sterling progressive credentials. To be clear, the stance is definitely problematic, definitely worth addressing and attempting to rectify, and definitely has made me more skeptical of Warren than I had been before I knew.
However, really looking into it, it occurs to me that Warren is progressive when it comes to domestic issues. There’s no denying that. She has been one of the single most eloquent and outspoken champions of financial reform, educational reform, reproductive rights, and LGBT rights during her time in the Senate. Her position on Israel, though standard within the political establishment of the Democratic party, is an anomaly among her other beliefs and actions.
Her stance, disappointing and upsetting as it may be, is an indication of just how entrenched the taboo against criticizing Israel is among American politicians. If a politician can challenge the hegemony of highly influential banks, can fight for reproductive health in an environment in which it is increasingly at risk, and can rally against the increasingly absurd and predatory cost of higher education, why is criticism of Israel still off the table?
Though it is tempting to re-evaluate Warren’s status as a progressive in light of her views on Israel, her stance unfortunately says more about the state of discourse about Israel and Palestine among U.S. politicians than it does about her as a progressive in the domestic sphere. It is important to continue to challenge her stance and to hold her responsible for it, but it is possible to do that while valuing her progressiveness when it comes to economic, educational, and social issue reform.
Whether or not you believe Warren would be a good vice president (and there are people, even people who see no qualms with her as a progressive, who believe she is better suited for Senate), there’s every indication to believe that she would be a progressive one when it comes to domestic issues. Moving forward, the real goal is changing the general atmosphere of the conversation such that even the most otherwise progressive politicians don’t toe the status quo on Israel.