DETROIT – As Democratic candidates gear up for 2020’s presidential election, many have reached out to ethnic communities to garner support and spread awareness of their platforms.
Outside of some notable candidates, some of whom have been part of the Washington political machinery for decades, this year’s field includes individuals who may be considered fringe due to their often-extraordinary platforms.
One such candidate is Andrew Yang. A venture capitalist and espouser of “human-centered capitalism”, he has run on a platform of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), also termed the Freedom Dividend, and other progressive Democratic policy proposals.
Yang spoke to reporters and representatives from several organizations in a teleconference facilitated by Ethnic Media Services this week.
A self-proclaimed entrepreneur, Yang had his hands in several business ventures before creating a nonprofit fellowship called Venture for America, which sent college grads on a two-year fellowship to work for start-ups in economically depressed rust-belt cities, including Detroit.
He received two awards from the Obama administration, being named a champion of change in 2012 and a presidential ambassador for global entrepreneurship in 2015.
As such, Yang seems proud of his lack of political experience and claims a keen eye towards understanding a complex global economy. Indeed, a UBI is to him a solution in the form of relief for a long-suffering workforce, displaced by automation and new technologies.
But what about the plight of those displaced in endless campaigns of occupation and expropriation, specifically in occupied territories in Palestine?
Yang, like every other Democratic candidate, seems hesitant to critique the U.S.’ business and military relationship with Israel.
“I signed a pledge to end forever-wars,” Yang told The Arab American News. “I think America has gotten itself entangled in many environments it should not have.
“We have spent trillions of dollars and have lost thousands of lives to (campaigns) that have unclear benefits to us. Americans do not want us to be in a perpetual state of armed conflict as we have been for the last 18 years.”
Yang said he would want the U.S. to have a positive influence in conflict zones, but speculated that anyone would be hard-pressed to find a novel solution to the decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine.
However, when asked how the U.S.’ $3-billion Foreign Military Financing (FMF) package to Israel helps it get less entangled in military operations carried out in the region, the usually sober and clearheaded Yang seemed unable to confront the issue head-on.
Instead, he reverted to a tired party-line and said he had “historically been a proponent of the two-state solution” to end the conflict.
His answer, of course, should not be surprising when one observes that the FMF package stipulates Israel use a significant amount of the aid to buy military equipment from the U.S.
This relationship makes probable business sense to the venture capitalist and former corporate lawyer.
At a campaign stop in New Hampshire earlier this year, Yang gave an even more callous answer to a young resident who asked what Yang would do about the U.S.’ ceaseless support for a state that operates on displacing and imprisoning Palestinians in apartheid borders.
“In terms of the money we’re giving to an ally like Israel, my first instinct would be (to ask), why would we reduce it?” he said.
On Monday, three top U.N. officials issued a statement declaring that the destruction of homes in Palestinian community of Sur Bahir at the hands of the Israeli authority is incompatible with its obligation under humanitarian law.
Many of these families are Palestinian refugees in the West Bank who are now twice displaced and have no recourse for the financial loss they face by losing their homes.
When candidates fail to directly acknowledge Israeli aggression in the area, or cloak its occupying force by calling the state an ally that has a right to defend itself, they fall into an extremely disturbing rhetorical place, one that is at best logically incompatible with calls for peace in a conflict-ridden region, and at worse a callous and inhumane dismissal of the basic human rights of a whole population.
Yang’s stance on Israel and Palestine ensures that he sits comfortably within the Democratic establishment’s general consensus on the issue. Some, like Bernie Sanders, have been critical of Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing politics, but he is careful to prevent labels like “anti-Israeli” in his public comments.
The final vote results on the House’s recent bill to thwart BDS showed near unanimous support from Democrats, with prominent politicians like Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) voting to oppose BDS’s effective methods to shed light on Israeli atrocities.
Such actions should be a grim and sobering reminder of the U.S.’ problematic position in Middle East affairs.