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Did George Floyd boost support for Palestine? | Will Bunch Newsletter

Plus, Sen. Joe Manchin, voting rights hero?

People march on the streets towards the Art Museum steps to protest for peace and justice to free Palestine on Saturday, May 15, 2021.
People march on the streets towards the Art Museum steps to protest for peace and justice to free Palestine on Saturday, May 15, 2021.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

Tonight we learn whether Philly DA Larry Krasner gets a second term, which is also my way of reminding all Pennsylvania readers to get out and vote today. Even though it’s Primary Day, all voters — including independents — can and should weigh in on four ballot initiatives (including a 2-part GOP power grab, so vote “No” on #1 and #2).

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They marched for racial justice, and now they march for Palestine. Are policy makers listening?

Anyone out and about in Philadelphia’s Center City on this most recent seasonably warm and sunny Saturday afternoon couldn’t be blamed for experiencing something of a flashback to last May, a month that ended in a frenzy of protest over the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Once again, a large, racially diverse crowd marched down the center of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, holding placards aloft and chanting in solidarity. But when the protest reached the Philadelphia Art Museum, the steps made famous in Rocky were covered with a massive Palestinian flag — marking the new crisis of the moment, as bombs rained down on Gaza — and right next to it was a banner that read: “Black Lives Matter.”

The Black and Brown Coalition of PHL, a group that first arose in 2020 during the racial reckoning after Floyd’s death, had heavily promoted both Saturday’s march as well as the Palestinian cause, tweeting: “All systems of oppression reinforce one another and NONE of them can be fought in isolation.”

This weekend, thousands of people — led by people of Palestinian descent and other Muslims, but joined by large numbers of Black, brown, white or Asian Americans who were new to the cause — marched in cities from Chicago to Los Angeles to Dallas to protest Israel’s bombing of targets in Gaza and to call on the world to recognize the political and human rights of Palestinians. To be sure, the boisterous gatherings weren’t nearly as large as 2020′s George Floyd protests, but their size and enthusiasm was still jarring to those of us raised in the era when any criticism of America’s long-time ally Israel was largely a political taboo.

And it’s hard to imagine there’d be such open support for the Palestinian cause without nearly seven years of Black Lives Matter protests, calling on Americans to open their eyes to problems like militarized policing that looked so familiar when news clips last week showed Israeli security forces firing flash-bang grenades and rubber bullets inside a sacred Jerusalem mosque. And the conversations about systemic oppression in Gaza felt very much like a continuation of what began on a Ferguson street corner in 2014.

» READ MORE: Americans must look honestly at the Middle East. Israel’s problems are our problems, too. | Will Bunch

Comparisons between police violence in the United States and the Israeli war machine were common. In Chicago, where thousands marched down the main thoroughfare of Michigan Avenue, one poster referenced the 2014 New York police choke-hold death of Eric Garner, reading “We haven’t been able to breathe since 1948.” Others saw mirrors to the plight of America’s indigenous people. Sarah A. Young Bear-Brown, a Native American leader from Iowa, tweeted an older picture of Palestinians opposing the Dakota Access pipeline and wrote, “Now it’s our turn to stand with you.”

In an essay this weekend for Slate, Marya Hannun, a Palestinian-American working toward her Ph.D. in Islamic studies at Georgetown, wrote that the attention Americans are paying to the current conflict and support for Palestinians would be “unthinkable” without the Black Lives Matter movement. She wrote: “Anecdotally, the same people in my own news feeds who were sharing black squares one year ago are now asking me for information about Palestine and are making, for the first time, a public display of outrage over the U.S. government’s material support of the occupation and their own complicity.” Her piece was illustrated with a photo of a giant mural of George Floyd painted last summer on a security barrier in the occupied West Bank.

But at the end of the day, the movement for Palestinian justice runs into some of the same political hurdles that the George Floyd marchers faced in tackling the entrenched power of the American law-enforcement regime. There, calls to “defund the police” stumbled on the road to reality — some proposals were adopted, but others were watered down, with many blocked or forgotten. In 2021, more Democrats from the left wing of the party are more willing to criticize Israel than ever before, but President Biden’s approach felt straight outta the ‘90s, as he offered strong support in phone calls to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and as initially the U.S. blocked UN resolutions seeking a cease fire.

That put Biden at odds with some of the Democrats’ young rising stars like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and also with Sen. Bernie Sanders, arguably the most successful Jewish presidential candidate in American history, who wrote in a New York Times guest essay: “In the Middle East, where we provide nearly $4 billion a year in aid to Israel, we can no longer be apologists for the right-wing Netanyahu government and its undemocratic and racist behavior.”

Most of America isn’t there, yet. But the conversation is changing faster than ever before. While I was writing this on Monday, Biden called Netanyahu again and said, for the first time publicly, that the United States is calling for a ceasefire. I wonder if the president heard the footsteps on the Ben Franklin Parkway.

Yo, do this

  1. In our more secular 21st century, we may never see an American faith leader with the kind of political and social clout wielded by the late Rev. Billy Graham, friend and spiritual counselor to Democratic and Republican presidents alike. The new two-hour PBS “American Experience” documentary on Graham by filmmaker Sarah Colt, which premiered Monday and can be streamed online, is a timely and compelling look at how Graham’s embrace of contemporary politics (especially the Cold War) and the then-newish medium of television changed the way that religion changed America.

  2. I’d teased a couple weeks ago that my Inquirer colleague, the foreign policy expert extraordinaire Trudy Rubin, had a compelling Inquirer Live event coming up when she talks to President Biden’s close friend and ally, Delaware Sen. Chris Coons. That one-hour conversation will take place online this Friday, May 21, at 2 p.m., and you can sign up at this link. With the Middle East on fire, the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan underway and Russian hackers on the loose, there is plenty to talk about!

Ask me anything

Question: What will it take for Pa.’s government to uphold our environmental rights amendment that turns 50 [Tuesday]? — Via @BerksGasTruth on Twitter

Answer: I love this question, mainly because I’d had no idea that it was May 18, 1971, that voters approved — by a 4-1 margin — the amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution that “the people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.” Since then, the rise of Pennsylvania’s thorniest environmental crisis — fracking, and the pollution it causes — has showed how too often the Keystone State honors its lofty ideals in the breach. With the legislature hopelessly in the back pocket of Big Oil and Gas, it’s imperative that the Wolf administration treat growing reports of illnesses caused by fracking as an urgent public health crisis.


In 2021 we’ve been closely watching the most powerful Joe in Washington, and if you think I mean Biden you haven’t been paying attention. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin — probably the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, and delusional in his faith in bipartisanship and the value of the filibuster — is going to decide what gets done on Capitol Hill, and he knows it. The recent word from the West Virginian that he can’t support the ambitious, backed-by-every-other-Democrat For the People Act — which would encourage voting but discourage corruption like “dark money” in politics — is bad news for those of us eager to save our elections.

» READ MORE: Joe Manchin beats his chest for D.C. elites while struggling W. Va. waits for help | Will Bunch

But while Manchin opposes the broader measure, he does back another key bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Named for the 1960s’ civil-rights fighter and Georgia congressman who died in 2020, the bill would essentially restore the key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 — a rule that voting changes in jurisdictions with past histories of racial bias must be approved by the U.S. Justice Department. Manchin’s twist is that he’d expand the bill to cover the entire United States, regardless of prior history. It’s a great idea, but — given Manchin’s stance on the filibuster — he’d need 10 GOP votes. So far, he has just one: Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Republicans supported the Voting Rights Act in 1965 and reauthorized it throughout the 20th century. If the so-called Party of Lincoln can’t support the legacy of John Lewis in 2021, the blood of democracy’s failure is on their hands.

Inquirer reading list

  1. In my Sunday column, I looked beyond a question a lot of people are asking these days — why are some employers struggling to find job applicants? I argued that the future of work is becoming the most important political question of the 2020s. Democrats want to give people more career options — the reason behind expanding child care or community college. Republicans want to give power back to your boss.

  2. Over the weekend, I took a different tack in thinking about the biggest story right now — the war in and around Gaza and Israel. Specifically, the failures to address deeply flawed democracies in both Israel and the United States are looking very similar to me, as struggling authoritarians turn to violence. Can Americans learn from what is happening right now in the Middle East?

  3. But I can’t offer the unique insight of my co-worker in the Inquirer Opinion department, Abraham Gutman, who grew up in Tel Aviv and anxiously awaits news from his family every time missiles rain down on Israel’s largest city. In a well-argued and moving piece, this Israeli citizen argued for full rights and recognition for the Palestinian people, and he called on American progressives to join him. The passion for ideas and storytelling among my Inquirer colleagues is something I still find remarkable after all these years. Please support what we do by subscribing.