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Omari Hardy Boldly Addresses The ‘Elephant In The Room’ — Palestinian Human Rights

Omari Hardy has been unapologetic in his support for BDS in a race that has become yet another fight between the Democratic Party establishment and the progressive base over Palestinian rights.

(Palestine Online)- BDS has become a big issue in the Democratic primary election in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to fill an open seat in Congress.

Eleven candidates are running, and Omari Hardy, a 31-year-old state representative and former middle school teacher, has been unapologetic in his support for BDS and Palestinian human rights. He tweeted:

I understand that standing up for Palestinian rights comes at a political cost. I’m fine with that. I did not run for Congress to politicize people’s human rights.

The organized Jewish community has swarmed and smeared Hardy’s campaign. The pro-Israel lobby group the Democratic Majority for Israel lately published an ad in the Jewish Journal of South Florida saying that Hardy supports an antisemitic program, BDS. The Jewish Journal has also run a piece saying “Omari Hardy must be defeated” with an original headline describing Hardy as “the Hitler of South Florida.” The smear has been removed from the headline but not from the article.

In a candidates forum held by the Jewish Democratic Council of America last week, several candidates sought to distance themselves from Hardy by strongly backing Israel and attacking the BDS campaign.

While Hardy addressed the “elephant in the room,” and his voice seemed to break as he spoke of the persecution of Palestinian children.

I also want to address the obvious elephant in the room. As an idealist, I must believe that there is nothing incompatible about supporting Israel’s right to exist and Israel’s right to defend itself and also supporting the inalienable rights of the Palestinians, which are grounded not just in their humanity but also in international law. As a black man I have asked people who are not of color to stand with me and affirm that my life matters. And what that means is that I cannot rail against a discriminatory criminal justice system in this country and ignore the fact that 5 to 700 Palestinian children are detained every year and prosecuted in military courts. I cannot decry gentrification on Sistrunk [boulevard in Fort Lauderdale] and keep my mouth closed about settlements. I can’t talk about Flint, Michigan, and keep my mouth closed about the fact that many Palestinians don’t have access to clean water. I have love in my heart for everyone here and I will maintain open dialogue with the community.

The candidates are vying to replace Alcee Hastings, who died last spring, having served 28 years in Congress. The winner of the November 2 election will be the presumptive winner of the general election in January; FL 20 is an overwhelmingly Democratic district, with a large African-American population in Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

The race will be yet another fight between the Democratic Party establishment and the progressive base over Palestinian rights.

Alcee Hastings was “pro-Israel all day long,” says his son in this Jewish Insider piece. While Omari Hardy has pushed back by likening the BDS campaign “to nonviolent resistance movements including the fight against South African apartheid and the Montgomery bus boycott coordinated by Martin Luther King, Jr.”

There are many Jews in the district, and Jewish Insider has run condemnations of Hardy from Israel supporters in the Jewish community. As it did in a special election for Congress in Ohio in August, Democratic Majority for Israel is seeking to mobilize the Jewish community against a progressive by focusing on Israel. “The Florida Democratic Party Jewish Caucus said it ‘opposes the election of Omari Hardy because of his positions on (..) fundamental issues’,” the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has said. Those “fundamental issues” are BDS and Iron Dome.

Hardy gave an interview to Alex Kane of Jewish Currents and said he initially opposed BDS as supposedly antisemitic, and then he spoke to the Palestinian scholar George Bisharat.

Early on, all I knew was that folks who I found to be credible, folks who were otherwise very progressive, felt that BDS was antisemitic. And not having done much inquiry into the substance of the matter myself, I took them at their word. Unfortunately, that became my position.

After I took that position in a forum—when I was asked, “Do I support BDS, yes or no?”—I had a conversation with Palestinian American attorney George Bisharat, who made very clear to me that my opposition to BDS was inconsistent with my progressive values as I applied them in every other case. And it dawned on me that by opposing BDS, I was being a hypocrite. How can I, as a Black man, ask white people to stand in solidarity with me and affirm that “Black Lives Matter,” while simultaneously refusing to stand in solidarity with Palestinians, as they use nonviolent protest methods to draw attention to the fact that their human rights are being violated and to encourage the government that’s violating their human rights to do better? How can I expect solidarity with me, while refusing solidarity with others, whose issues are the same as mine? That’s hypocrisy.

During the candidates forum last week, Hardy said he supported continued military aid to Israel, but opposed the Iron Dome special funding. He also noted that support for Palestinian human rights is “controversial.”

Hardy:

I have no problem with fulfilling our agreement of the 3.8 billion of aid provided that that aid is conditioned on insuring that Israel respects the human rights of the Palestinian people which are grounded in international law. I understand that is a controversial view in some areas but I believe that it comports with our shared values.

I do not support the additional $1 billion specifically for the Iron Dome. It’s not because I don’t support the Iron Dome or it’s not because I don’t support Israel’s right to defend itself… It’s a matter of who and how this self-defense should be financed. Israel is capable of funding this additional expenditure on its own. Certainly given that we’ve already provided $500 millio to the Iron Dome earlier this year.

I believe we should continue humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people.

By contrast, a frontrunner in the race, Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, said she wants to up the amount of aid going to Israel from the U.S. because of the Taliban taking over Afghanistan.

Jewish support for BDS

The Jewish establishment targeting of Hardy has been countered by Martha Schoolman, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace South Florida, and a professor at Florida International University, who wrote a piece for the Sun-Sentinel describing support for BDS inside the Jewish community.

BDS, a peaceful protest movement that demands an end to Palestinian dehumanization, has significant Jewish support inside and outside of Israel, if not necessarily among the Orthodox rabbis and Jewish Federation presidents who tend to be featured in the pages of this newspaper.

The actual fact of Jewish BDS support is important to understand because it is so frequently denied by our self-appointed spokespeople. It is of course the case that the current Israeli government, which stands firmly against Palestinian rights, is not pleased with the growing popularity and influence of BDS. 

Progressives condemn attacks on Hardy 

A coalition of progressive groups calling itself the Florida Palestine Network (including Dream Defenders, Jewish Voice for Peace Action, Florida Young Democrats, Young Democrats of America Muslim Caucus, and the DSA steering committee of Orlando) issued a statement defending Hardy’s stance on BDS. These groups say the attacks are in a tradition of attacks on people of color for their support for the marginalized.

“These ongoing attacks are offensive, dangerous, and misconstrued in the harshest of ways,” the coalition said, citing the Hitler smear. More from that statement:

State Rep. Omari Hardy is a deeply valued member of the progressive and human rights movement in Florida. His voice has been critical in the Florida House. He has fought relentlessly, advocating with persistence against harmful legislation such as the Combating Public Disorder Bill, the anti-protest bill that was signed into law this year.

Black and brown community leaders have long been disparaged for their unshakable stances on freedom for the most marginalized, including their intersectional fight for a free Palestine: free from land theft, free from home demolitions, and free from subjugation to assault and violence. The recent casting of Hardy as anti-semitic in relation to his statements and convictions on the Black Lives Matter movement along with the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement are deliberate attacks on his stance on the right to boycott, participate in civil disobedience, and act with bold conviction. BDS is a freedom struggle and a Palestinian-led global movement that fights for freedom, justice and equality and against Israeli apartheid.

The good news in this election is that Omari Hardy is a highly-appealing young politician who has a future regardless of the outcome. And, more important, Hardy didn’t have to study the issue very long before coming to an understanding that the Palestinian struggle parallels the black community’s struggle in the United States, and the nonviolent tool of boycott is essential to such struggles. His courage is of course exemplary, but his awareness is not unique, it is seeping into progressive spaces everywhere in America. And that awareness is undermining a linchpin of Israeli apartheid, the longtime claim by the Democratic Party’s Israel lobby that you can be a progressive and also support Israeli discrimination.

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