How intentional was Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order aimed at BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) on Sunday? Very intentional. The Democratic Party leadership is lining up behind Israel and against BDS in the weeks leading up to the Democratic convention next month and a platform fight over the party’s positions on Israel.
Of all that separates Hillary Clinton’s and Bernie Sanders’s bases, the Israel issue is now the clearest, and BDS could be the embattled ground. The Green Party nominee’s endorsement of BDS surely resonates for many of Bernie Sanders youthful supporters.
While on the establishment side, J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami, who says he speaks for most American Jews– and surely does speak for the older generation– is trying to head off a “messy” convention by getting the Democratic Party to crush BDS now. Ben-Ami urges the adoption of a “consensus” platform that supports the creation of a Palestinian state and opposes Israeli settlements but opposes any punishment on Israel for its unending occupation — BDS. Times of Israel:
“[T]he truth is that American Jews overwhelmingly favor the two-state solution, they oppose unlimited settlement expansion, and want American leadership to end the conflict.” [Ben-Ami said]
Despite [Sanders platform committee member Cornel] West’s vocal support for the BDS movement, Ben-Ami said that the Democratic platform should also “express a very broad-based American opposition to the global BDS movement.”
“The movement fails to recognize Israel’s right to exist, to support a two-state solution, to differentiate between the occupation and opposition to Israel itself,” Ben-Ami complained.
Ben-Ami can say that he speaks for Bernie Sanders, a 74-year-old Jew who himself has opposed BDS. But will Sanders supporters go quietly into the night on the BDS issue? I’m not so sure about that.
The party is surely divided on BDS. On the public radio station WNYC this morning, Jesse McKinley, Albany bureau chief for the New York Times, said that Cuomo was moved by Jews who regard BDS as an “economic danger” to Israel, but said there “is a lot of traction for this movement… it is out there and it is certainly popular in some quarters, to be sure.”
Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin says smartly that the Cuomo took a controversial stand on BDS, because the leftwing base is pro-BDS. Tobin encourages more governors to take such a stand, but he expresses a clear understanding of the movement inside the party:
With the left wing of his party drifting farther and farther away from a position of support for Israel, a trend accelerated by the success of the Bernie Sanders presidential candidacy, Cuomo was to some extent sticking his neck out. That it came in the same week as an anti-BDS bill was eviscerated by Democrats in the California legislature, and following the failure of the Democrat-dominated New York State Assembly to pass a similar measure to his order, illustrates just how stark the divide in his party has become…
The fact that an anti-BDS law is stalled in the Democratic-controlled New York Assembly is a turn of events that shows the ability of the party’s ascendant left wing to thwart the intentions of more centrist members. It is also an indication that the pro-Israel consensus that once prevailed in Cuomo’s party is out the window.
Many of us on the left seek a battle over BDS not for any symbolic reason, but because Palestinian oppression is such an important American interest question and also human-rights question, one that is front and center in the wake of a Gaza slaughter killing 500 children and recent statements by leading Israelis that the country’s political leadership is fascistic.
Yesterday, an establishment Jewish congressman from Long Island, Steve Israel (formerly the head of the fundraising committee that backs Democratic candidates for the House) described BDS supporters in the party as “nuts,” according to Jewish Insider. Jacob Kornbluh reported on a debate at the American Jewish Committee’s global forum between Rep. Israel and Dan Senor, a lead promoter of the Jewish state, over which party is better for Israel.
Senor smeared Sanders’s leftwing base and adherents as “anti-Semitic.”
Senor suggested that the appointment of Dr. Cornel West and James Zogby to the Democratic platform committee is proof that the future of the Democratic Party is being shaped by the progressive energy that believes in standing against Israel and that party leaders are being intimidated by them. “The issue of Israel is the one issue where the Jewish community historically stood shoulder to shoulder with one another and with Israel across party lines,” he said. “The platform committee — that is the most anti-Semitic committee put forward by a national party in the history of this country, and not a single elected Democrat has spoken out against it. Not a single elected official has said these officials who’ve been appointed should step down.”
Rep. Israel, for his part, insisted that the anti-Israel and pro-BDS voices within his party are “nuts” and are not the face of the Democratic Party. “If you have some nuts, some crazies, to suggest that the Democratic Party’s energy is behind them is tantamount to suggesting that Republican Party energy is behind the use of concentration camps symbols to vilify American-Jewish journalists.”
“You got your nuts, we have our nuts; but the mainstream is holding steady on Israel and on the broad range of other critical Jewish values,” Israel summed up the debate. “On things that matter to Israel’s survival as a Jewish State, there’s no weakening in support among Democrats.”
Senor noted that polls show that Democrats are distancing themselves from Israel “in large numbers,” but Rep. Israel shot back that Donald Trump is going to be “neutral” on Israel. Reports Kornbluh: “Israel pointed to Trump’s questioning Israel’s commitment to peace, his comments about remaining ‘neutral’ on the conflict, and implying Jewish stereotypes in a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition.”
Rep. Israel is leaving Congress after this year, but his comments are yet another signal from the party establishment that Hillary Clinton will run to the right of Donald Trump on Israel, as she indicated in her speech to AIPAC, the Israel lobby group, at which she said that Trump has “no business” being president because of his wishywashy positions on Israel. Clinton also said she will take the US Israel relationship to “the next level” and bring Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House in her first month of office.
Sanders supporters saw that pandering AIPAC speech, along with Clinton’s letter promising to join with Republicans to fight BDS, which she wrote to Haim Saban, the largest donor to her Super PAC, as patent evidence that she is corrupted on this question by big money. And when Ben-Ami urges the establishment to crush BDS in the name of Jewish voters, his power also derives from money: political experts at a Ben-Ami-convened event this spring said that the amount of Jewish money Democrats need to run credible races is “gigantic” and “shocking.”
More nuts. Rep. Israel said that he didn’t vote against the Iran deal last year for political reasons, but because he’s Jewish. Kornbluh reports:
“…I voted against the Iran deal,” the Long Island Congressman said. “I voted against the Iran deal, not out of politics but out of my DNA. And I said that to the president during a 25-minute phone conversation.”
NY Senator Chuck Schumer made a similar type of statement last summer when, speaking to the “mishpocheh” or Jewish family, he said that the American interest and the Jewish interest were at odds over the Iran deal. He also voted against the Iran deal.
P.S. Rep. Israel’s comments reveal just how disingenuous his op-ed was in the NY Times in January saying he looked forward to being “liberated from a fund-raising regime that’s never been more dangerous to our democracy.” Israel never mentioned the state of Israel, nor the Israel lobby in that article; never identified the groups he had to go to to get money; but reaching out to Israel supporters for Democratic funds is obviously central to Rep. Israel’s activities. The Times did its readers a disservice by allowing him to get away with such a vague account. “This is your democracy. But as the bidding grows higher, your voice gets lower. You’re simply priced out of the marketplace of ideas. That is, unless you are one of the ultra wealthy,” Israel wrote. Yes, and Bernie Sanders short-circuited that corruption by raising money at $27 a pop, and now Steve Israel is denouncing him because that very process has allowed him to be independent on the congressman’s favorite foreign country.