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Answering The Call: The Seven Colorado Legislative Apostles of Zion

May 2, 2008

Almost a week ago, last Saturday, the state’s Democratic Platform Committee under the chairmanship of John Walsh, a lawyer with the Hill and Robbins Law Firm, met in Denver to finalize the work being done on platform planks that had been submitted from the caucuses a few months prior.

As mentioned below (see April 21st entry), although there were many issues addressed as potential platform planks – mostly state issues but some international ones as well – only one provoked written responses from about a dozen Colorado elected Democratic officials, including from Governor Ritter and US Senator Ken Salazar – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All of the letters had a `similar chemistry’ – they called for supporting the 2006 state Democratic Platform plank on the issue which called for the US to maintain its special relationship with Israel, while recognizing Palestinian national rights.

Although most of the current proposed Israeli-Palestinian platform planks (coming from a fair number of grass roots caucuses all over the state) basically were using the same framework – a call for a two state solution – their emphasis was somewhat different. Some called for an `evenhanded’ US policy towards Israel and Palestine (suggesting that there isn’t) and others were openly critical of the Israeli occupation of the 1967 territories, insisting that the occupation end, so in a certain way they nudged the state’s position ever so gently to the left.

Omitting the `O’ Word

The word `occupation’ seemed especially threatening to Israel’s more ardent Colorado defenders, because it suggests that Israel is violating Palestinian human rights and that it is the occupation itself which is the central cause of the current tensions between Israel and Palestine. These defenders prefer to talk about suicide bombers and Hamas, neglecting the realities of occupation and settlements as if they didn’t exist.

Had normal procedures been followed – which apparently weren’t – these resolutions coming from the grassroots would have been synthesized into a coherent platform plank (or two) and then voted up or down as is done with virtually all other issues. But that didn’t happen. Instead a special meeting was set up to discuss the issue. Great pressure was put on the platform committee from some of the state’s elected officials, procedural abnormalities, guided mostly by Walsh, abounded.

Attempts to raise alternative planks were snuffed as was any serious open discussion of the issue, this according to several of the participants. And when on Saturday afternoon (April 26), the vote on the issue was taken, the 2006 position on the issue won the day by a large margin (if I am not mistaken something like 35 to 9) with seven Democratic state legislators standing in front of the room something akin to thought police, to insure the vote’s outcome. The seven legislative apostles of Zion were Morgan Carroll, Mark Ferrandino, Jerry Frangas, Jeanne Laboda, Karen Middleton, Brandon Shaffer and Nancy Todd, all of a generally politically liberal persuasion

Carroll argued that the 2006 plank was already balanced. Frangas and Laboda were described as particularly one-sided in their remarks.

The position that was pushed through read:

“”We are fundamentally committed to using dialog and diplomacy to achieve a comprehensive just and lasting peace between all the peoples of the Middle East. We strongly reconfirm support for Israel and for the right to self determination of the Palestinians. We look forward to joining with all parties to work towards peace based on a respect for human rights.”

In some ways it is not such a terrible position. So what is wrong with it (from where I am sitting)?

1. the `term strong support for Israel’ keeps the door open to the unending flood of US military and economic aid to the country and essentially argues that in any negotiations the US should take Israel’s side (at least that is how I read it)

2. although the term `Palestinian self determination’ is mentioned, it is vague and thus can be defined in virtually any manner. Does it mean `Palestinian self determination’ within the 8 larger and 22 smaller bantustans that exist in the West Bank? It doesn’t refer to the need for a viable Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza, nor does it say anything about a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, the dismantling of settlements etc. All this could have been easily addressed by calling for a US support of a peace process in conjunction with relevant UN resolutions and international law.

3. The formulation in no way recognizes the Israeli violation of Palestinian human rights in what is now the longest military occupation in modern history.

I suppose those who crafted it, think of it as something of a compromise, but if so it is a very, very weak one.

Answering the Call..

So…. once again a good deal of backroom political pressure was concentrated on making sure that no change in position would be forthcoming on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. It was all a little cynical as, in the end, candidates rarely take their party’s platform seriously if they know it at all. So why then all this political capital expended on something that would mean so little?

I suspect the state’s Dems would prefer not to deal with this issue at the upcoming national convention in August

In a more general manner, anytime the Israeli-Palestinian issue flows over from more isolated radical to more mainstream circles, there is the fear among AIPAC/ADL types that their control of the issue might be challenged where it counts. Indeed, the more moderate the position, it seems, the greater the threat. It is ok if the issue is raised in isolated radical circles, but not in unions, mainstream political parties, academic institutions or the mainstream press.

Who’s Pulling The Strings?

Again, I am not sure, but have a pretty good idea.

In an email I received from a state legislator, `a call from’ the Jewish Community Relations Council’ was mentioned as having had a behind-the-scenes hand in orchestrating all this. These are the same people who were very active in getting the state pension fund PERA to divest from Iran’s energy sector.

Apparently the seven Democratic Party state legislators who turned up to answer zion’s call came at least in part, on the behest of Andrew Romanoff and Ken Gordon, who had the state Democratic Party office urge them to attend.

But then in Romanoff’s letter to the party on this issue, he refers himself to having `gotten a phone call’ alerting him to the situation. It would be interesting to know where, precisely, that call came from. I have a pretty good, but not yet verifiable idea.

Finally, a number of voices suggested that the Democratic Leadership Council people were involved. As both Romanoff and Ken Salazar are state co-chairs of that august body that led to the Democrats to two presidential defeats to the little putz currently in the White House, that is a distinct possibility as well.

As for John Walsh, he seemed to be coordinating with somone(s). A young and obviously talented lawyer, his law firm, Hill and Robbins, has a history of good relations with the upper ranks of the state’s Republican not Democratic Party. Perhaps he is Hill and Robbins’ attempt to extend their influence to the Democrats as well. If so he certainly wouldn’t be the only example of politically sensitve legal firms, keeping a hand in both parties, something the likes of Bronstein and Farber learned long ago.

A minority report on the plank will probably be issued

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