There’s been a lot of reaction to the effort by New York Times opinion editor Bari Weiss to excommunicate Palestinian-American Linda Sarsour from progressive circles for supposedly extremist anti-Zionist views. Sarsour herself has responded in this poetic Facebook post.
Yesterday Weiss appeared on a National Review podcast and said directly what her goal is. She wants to reach the Democratic establishment: New York Times readers and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
Weiss wants them to “disavow” Sarsour because she is a “strident anti-Zionist”. Weiss said, “I wrote the piece to find out what Kirsten Gillibrand has to say about all this. Her, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi… If I can get a reaction from Kirsten Gillibrand to this piece, that would be a goal.”
This is what is politically significant about Bari Weiss’s article: she is asserting the power of the pro-Israel wing of the Democratic establishment, in the establishment newspaper, at a time when things are up for grabs in the Democratic base– and when Kirsten Gillibrand is being targeted by AIPAC for stepping back from Israel support.
So even though Bari Weiss is a “neoconservative” (according to The Week) and worked at the conservative Wall Street Journal and is doing a podcast with conservatives at the National Review, she is actually trying to win battles in the Democratic Party.
“I think that the sort of civil war that is going on between the hard left, you know the sort of woke crowd, and you know liberals who are interested in reclaiming liberalism from identity politics is one of the most interesting sort of intellectual, political, sociological fights going on right now, and I’m really interested in that, and I think Times readers are too, because I think they find themselves sort of torn between the two. And I think that’s why a piece like this really sort of strikes a nerve.”
There is a lot at stake here. Ryan Cooper writes at the Week that the Bari Weiss piece is emblematic of a split inside the Democratic Party between big money Clinton donors and the leftwing street. Leftists don’t trust Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker and former Gov. Deval Patrick, Cooper writes, because of the “probably accurate perception that all three candidates are being groomed by the same big-money donors that clustered around Hillary Clinton.”
In the wake of Clinton’s defeat, Cooper writes, the left needs “to make a symbolic rhetorical break with the despised donor class.”
I’d say we’re in for a rather bitter fight for supremacy over the Democratic Party between big money elites on one side and Sanders Democrats on the other.
That means a fight over Israel policy inside the Democratic Party. Bari Weiss’s real beef with Sarsour is that she’s anti-Zionist. Younger Democrats are increasingly turned off by Israel, and open to sanctions on Israel for human rights violations.
Big money elites (per Cooper) include a lot of older, pro-Israel Jews. Stephanie Schriock of Emily’s List said at a J Street event last year that Democratic congressional candidates have to take the AIPAC line on Israel in order to get Jewish donors, whose role she said was “gigantic” inside the Democratic Party. J.J. Goldberg said there’s only one game in town:
“You ask a Democratic fundraiser, where do you get the money from? ‘Well from trial lawyers, from toys, from generic drugs, from Hollywood. From Jews.’ Those are all essentially Jewish industries… When you are raising money, you need to find rich people who are not right wing, and there are not– pardon me for saying this, there are not many rich goyim who are not right wing. Forgive me for saying that.”
Bill Clinton rode pro-Israel donors to his victory over George H.W. Bush in 1992 by running to the right of Bush on settlements. Neocons flocked to him. His wife’s recent campaign spent way too much time working on pro-Israel statements and opposition to BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) so as to keep donors happy. “[H]as she made a clear statement on Israel yet? I get this question from donors all the time,” her campaign manager fretted in 2015.
At the same time, the Democratic Party thinktank Center for American Progress invited Benjamin Netanyahu to come by and trash President Obama’s Iran Deal, so that it could land a big pro-Israel donor, even if that meant crushing staff morale.
By contrast, Bernie Sanders freed himself of dependence on those big conservative donors by collecting money $27 a pop; and the Vermont Senator came out with the most progressive statements on Israel and Palestine we’d ever heard from a mainstream politician: slamming Israel’s human rights abuses in Gaza, daring to say that Netanyahu is not always right, and describing Israel’s expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to create the Jewish state.
We saw this battle when Sanders’s man Keith Ellison almost became party chair — till Clinton’s man Haim Saban stepped in and called him an “anti-Semite” and “anti-Israel.” And we’re going to see it again with the Boycott legislation that AIPAC is pushing. Bari Weiss is a neoconservative, but neoconservatives have long held a place at the Democratic table. Think Joe Lieberman.
P.S. I happen to share Weiss’s concerns about identity politics on the left. But there is something disingenuous about her claim about identity politics and the woke left when she is practicing her own form of identity politics: she’s a vigorous supporter of Israel and Jewish nationalism inside the Jewish community. In recent weeks she received a journalism award from a pro-Israel publication, led a discussion by Zionist feminists inside a New York synagogue. On that podcast, she gets gushing treatment from Mona Charen, also a Jewish supporter of Israel who seeks to rally Jews against Israel’s enemies.
But Weiss’s Judaism and Israel politics never come up in that interview. Meaning that identity politics is a big problem, so long as it’s anti-Zionists who are trying to get a platform. When Jewish nationalists speak up for Jewish nationalism, they don’t have to cop to their identity politics.
Thanks to Allison Deger and James North.