In recent days, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has offered herself as the great progressive hope of the Democratic Party by calling out Citigroup on the Senate floor and saying that the government is setting itself up for more bailouts of big banks that will rob the middle class. Lionized by MSNBC and TPM and NPR, while refusing to rule out a presidential run, Warren has plainly made the calculation that she has a lot to gain by alienating a key donor class, the financial industry; Chris Matthews says she has set herself up to run for the party’s progressive base against Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Here at this site we have often expressed frustration at Warren’s distinct absence of progressivism on the Israel/Palestine question: refusing to criticize the Gaza slaughter, saying that killing Palestinians “is the last thing Israel wants to do,” refusing to come down hard against settlements, saying Israel lives in a terrible neighborhood and is right to attack Hamas, indeed, positioning herself to the right on these questions. And she does so out of a similar political calculus to her Wall Street reckoning: she needs Israel lobby money to run for higher office.
Well, here’s some encouragement to Warren to move left on the question. The Democratic Party base is shifting as we speak, and young Democrats are actually progressive. The explosive news is buried in a long story from Shibley Telhami in the Washington Post: the “core constituents of the Democratic Party” are not being represented by their leaders on the Israel question. And young Democrats (18-29), when asked which side the US should lean to, say Palestine over Israel by 12 to 10.
The report is by Telhami, the leading scholar of these questions, at Brookings and the University of Maryland, along with grad student Katayoun Kishi. We covered the one-state findings in the poll, already. But here are the findings about the Democratic grass roots:
The core constituents of the Democratic Party — women, African Americans, Hispanics and younger Americans — take positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that diverge not only from the positions of Republicans but also from the positions of their elected leaders. This gap is likely to widen given that the two segments that diverge the most, Hispanics and young Americans, are likely to play an even bigger role in the future of the party. Whether they will care enough about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to influence politics remains to be seen, but the fact that even those who care most deeply about the issue within the Democratic Party diverge on important issues from their leaders is telling.
The Washington Post sells the story blandly, “Widening Democratic Party divisions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.” And Telhami and Kishi lead off by noting the cleavages:
while Republican political leaders are in harmony with their grass roots when it comes to their policy stances toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Democratic leaders are not. This begs the question: What is driving this gap, and how much is due to changing American demographics? Could Democratic leaders start to feel some of the heat from their publics on this issue? Findings among two segments of the public that are important for the future of the Democratic Party – Hispanics and young people – indicate that this gap may grow further.
The two political scientists say the party split is explained in part by the large number of evangelicals in the Republican Party:
[Pro-Israel] attitudes of this group tend to be even stronger than those of Jewish Americans. Nearly half of evangelicals favor the “Jewishness” of Israel more than its democracy, compared to only about one-third of Jewish American respondents.
They offer an insight into the composition of the grass-roots Israel lobby, more Christian right than Jewish right:
When asked why they would want the United States to lean toward Israel, 38 percent of evangelicals said they felt it was their “religious or ethnic duty to support Israel,” while only 24 percent of Jewish Americans responded this way.
Of course, 24 percent is a lot, for a largely Democratic constituency, which is why we say that the older conservative Israel-loving portion of the Jewish population dominates the question, inside the Democratic Party. They are the donors, not something that Telhami and Kishi get into.
But on to progressives. Women and African Americans are progressive leaders on the question, we learn. Look at the way African Americans get the problem:
Among various ethnicities, African Americans had the highest proportion (78 percent) of those who favor Israel’s democracy rather than its Jewishness.
But it’s the young and Hispanics who are the biggest surprise. First, Hispanic Democrats take the issue more seriously than others.
Hispanic Americans have become increasingly central to U.S. electoral politics… Twelve percent of Hispanic respondents rank the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the single most important issue for U.S. interests, compared with 4 percent of non-Hispanics. This contrast is even more pronounced among Democrats, with 17 percent of Hispanic Democrats ranking it as the top issue versus only four percent of non-Hispanic Democrats.
In general, Hispanic Americans want the United States to remain neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more than the rest of the population. Even more telling: Among Hispanic respondents who want the United States to take a side, the ratio of those who want it to lean toward Israel versus the Palestinians is much closer than among the rest of the population. In fact, among Hispanic Democrats, the ratio is roughly 1:1, with those who want the United States to lean toward either Israel or the Palestinians each making up 13 percent of the Hispanic population.
The same trend is visible among young Dems. Here comes the news, Senator Warren:
Generally, younger adults (ages 18 to 29) tend much more to want the United States to lean toward neither side. But among young Democratic respondents, the results are more striking: Among those who want the United States to lean toward one side or the other, more young people want the United States to lean toward the Palestinians than toward the Israelis (12 percent vs. 10 percent, respectively). This attitude is unique among this age group, as only 5 percent or less of Democrats in each older age group want the United States to lean toward the Palestinians. This contrasts sharply even with female and African-American respondents within the Democratic Party.
That’s a stunner. Young Democrats are more favorable to the Palestinians than the Israelis. A stunner.
As a friend writes to me: Telhami may be pointing to an eventual showdown in the Democratic party’s grassroots. Those views are barely represented in Congress today. And recall how Antonio Villaraigosa ran roughshod over the popular outcry at the Democratic convention in Charlotte in 2012. Telhami’s shift was already signalled more broadly demographically in this summer’s Gallup polls. If this stuff ever does come to the fore it may well be explosive. Will it be like the Republicans’ Southern strategy or will most Jewish voters buck the take of establishment organizations such as the ADL and AIPAC? And, of course, what will the larger donors do?
Thanks to Adam Horowitz.