This is an incredible story about the power of the Israel lobby inside Democratic Party politics, and in Chicago.
Daniel Biss, a progressive state senator contending for the Democratic nomination to be governor of Illinois, has cashiered running mate Carlos Ramirez-Rosa over Israel issues — two days after Illinois congressman Brad Schneider revoked his endorsement of Biss because Ramirez-Rosa supported Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
Biss is anti-establishment by his own description, but his announcement of the news is pious about Israel:
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa and I have reached a difficult decision about our ticket. As of today, I’ll be moving forward with a new running mate.
Growing up with an Israeli mother, grandparents who survived the Holocaust, and great-grandparents who did not survive, issues related to the safety and security of the Jewish people are deeply personal to me.
I strongly support a two-state solution. I support Israel’s right to exist, and I support Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. I also care deeply about justice for Palestinians, and believe that a vision for the Middle East must include political and economic freedom for Palestinians.
That’s why I oppose the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS, as I believe it moves us further away from a peaceful solution.
When I asked him in the interview process prior to his selection, Carlos said he too supported a two-state solution and opposed BDS.
Since we’ve announced his selection, we have been asked about his position on BDS. After much discussion, it’s become clear that Carlos’ position has changed. While I respect his right to come to his own conclusions on the issue, it simply wasn’t the understanding we shared when I asked him to join the ticket.
In light of this, we have agreed that I will be moving forward with a new running mate. It was not an easy decision, but it was the right decision.
The statement concludes with two paragraphs about middle class families, etc.
Here is Ramirez-Rosa’s statement on stepping down. He says he always had a bifurcated position on BDS:
While I was honored to be chosen as Senator Daniel Biss’ gubernatorial running mate, it became clear over the past few days that while we share a total commitment to peace, security, and statehood for the Israeli and Palestinian people, and both oppose pursuing BDS at the state level, the difference of opinion we have on the role the BDS movement plays at the federal level would make it impossible to continue moving forward as a ticket.
This is tragic news; it shows the giant foothold that the Israel lobby still has in the Democratic Party. Biss is intelligent and leftleaning, a mathematician who got involved in politics in opposition to the Iraq War. I thought Biss could withstand these forces– no.
Bear in mind: Bernie Sanders also opposes BDS. Even though BDS is only what progressives have done with repressive orders from time immemorial, from the needle trades to the grape-growers to South Africa.
Bear in mind: at a forum held by the liberal Zionist group J Street last year, leading experts on Democratic politics said the influence of pro-Israel Jewish donors was “gigantic” and “shocking.” And Stephanie Schriock of Emily’s List said that if you want to raise money to run for Congress as a young Democrat, you have to go get your position papers on foreign policy from AIPAC, the Israel lobby group. (When are young progressive Jews going to take on these forces directly? Ever?)
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa deserves our praise. He refused to back down. His statement thanks “the members and organizational leaders of Reclaim Chicago, Our Revolution IL, and Democratic Socialists of America, and…thousands of activists” who stuck with him. I bet all those folks are for BDS.
Also, to be clear: Ramirez-Rosa is a person of color. And by and large, the Palestinian movement depends on people of color in America, as well as young heretical Jews and traditional conservatives, too.
But Daniel Biss must rely on the Democrats’ donor class; and the donor class is very pro-Israel. And by the way Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is going to Israel this week in order to drum up investment in biotech and water technology.
This is the same schism that almost broke the party over Keith Ellison last winter, with liberal Zionist party leaders like Josh Marshall joined by neoconservative Dems such as Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post and Bari Weiss of the New York Times to deplore the influence of pro-BDS forces inside the party (Bari Weiss, who is author of “op-eds about how identity politics are bad by a writer whose politics are her entire identity”– pro-Israel). The story in the Washington Post about the stunning development plays down the Israel angle, and BDS– the headline suggesting it’s about Socialism.
The party elders want to maintain the PEP line. Progressive except Palestine. They don’t want this to be an issue inside Democratic ranks.
But it is.
P.S. Here is the statement by Jewish Voice for Peace on the fact that BDS has become an issue in the Chicago governor’s race, without mentioning Biss or Ramirez-Rosa by name, but proudly standing up for BDS and rejecting Biss’s claim re “safety” for the Jewish people:
We reject the idea that safety for our community can come at the expense of human rights and security for Palestinians living the effects of the State of Israel’s brutality.
We are proud to support the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for Palestinian rights.
Boycott, divestment and sanctions are tactics to build pressure on the State of Israel until it ends its brutal occupation of the West Bank and cruel blockade on Gaza. It demands an end to systematic discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel. And it states, quite simply, that Palestinians who were displaced in 1948 and in the ensuing decades have a right to return home, an issue that particularly hits home for Chicago’s Palestinian community, the largest in the United States…
As the movement for Palestinian rights enters the mainstream, people of conscience must decide whether they want to be on the right side of history.
There is no reference in the statement to the Israel lobby.
Thanks to Scott McConnell and Donald Johnson.