Next week, South Carolina progressive Mal Hyman faces a runoff with South Carolina State Rep. Robert Williams to decide who will be the Democratic nominee for Congress in the state’s 7th District. And amazingly, Hyman is not mincing words about Israel’s slaughter of Gaza protesters.
“The Fourth Geneva Convention seems to have been broken, and if I was a member of Congress, I would be calling for the International Criminal Court to investigate not only the 2014 massacre but this current one,” Hyman told me.
The college prof has been just as outspoken on social media, offering condolences to the family of a slain Palestinian journalist, denouncing the “Shooting Spree at the Gaza Border,” and calling on the U.S. to abandon its “colonial mentality” and hold Israel to account.
You’d think that someone would have told Hyman to tone it down, but while the Israel lobby group AIPAC phoned to have a meeting, Hyman isn’t shaking in his boots. “Wonderful. We’ll meet; I’m sure they’re going to strongly disagree with me,” he says.
The would-be congressman’s sangfroid is surely a sign of things to come in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
“What Israel is doing…. is colonialism and it infuriates and humiliates Palestinians and it will never be a path to peace,” he says. “What Israel’s starting to do in Gaza– these are things that at the beginning of the Warsaw ghetto were done. That’s not the whole story of the Warsaw ghetto, but this is a ghetto and we’re doing things that do not stand the light of day and the American government is not allowing the international criminal court to do what it wants to do to expand an investigation there.”
He cites his own Jewish education: “I don’t think [what Israel is doing] is going to bring them security and I think they’ve betrayed Judaism with it,” he says. “I was frustrated and angry that Israel didn’t let congresspeople into Gaza to see what was going on.”
Few people ask Hyman about foreign policy on the campaign trail. Progressive Dems in South Carolina care more about kitchen table issues and social justice questions, like prison reform and health care. And though Hyman faces an uphill battle next week (Williams outpolled him 41 to 29 in the primary June 12), he brings up the Gaza massacre himself, and keeps at it in the face of pushback.
“I’ve had some people who write emails to me, and then I had one from one who said I’m an older Jew who escaped the Holocaust, you’re saying what a lot of us want to say, keep up the good work,” he relates. “And that’s all I needed, and I thought the other dozen were mistaken. I told them they should visit the region with an open mind. And when their rabbis start to visit the region, it will move more quickly toward peace.”
Hyman is clearly not alone. In a House district in Queens, New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is primarying an incumbent Democrat, Joseph Crowley, and she says her community was “in shock” last night when Crowley’s surrogate defended Donald Trump’s embassy move.
Last year, you’ll remember, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand backed away from support for legislation targeting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) after supporters of BDS challenged her repeatedly at a town hall, leaving her baffled. Last month Sanders and a dozen other senators sent a letter to the Secretary of State urging that the siege on Gaza be relieved in some ways.
Even this mild recommendation drew a sharp rebuke from Clintonite megadonor Haim Saban.
The battle over Israel is at last breaking out in the progressive wing of the Democratic party. Jim Zogby has called on progressive Dems to defy the Israel lobby; and Hyman’s fearlessness is surely a sign of things to come.
The public policy professor comes out of a grassroots spiritual background. He taught in prisons as a young man, he has helped monitor elections in Central America for the U.N., he promotes a day of prayer and fasting on the steps of the South Carolina statehouse next April on behalf of children’s rights.
When he lost a congressional race in 2016, he met Bernie Sanders, and the two exchanged notes on Jewish socialism.
“I heard he had been to a kibbutz. He said yeah in 1961, and it had an impact on him and his ideas about cooperation and democratic decision making. It did with me. I was on one in ’73 and I came back and I wanted to be a teacher. That sense of community inspired me,” Hyman says.
“Today I don’t see many people talking about that element of Judaism that was there as a stream of the Zionist movement. I see Zionism more as colonialism.”
Hyman went back to Israel during the first intifada and prepared affidavits for Palestinian human rights cases. The experience was an epiphany. As he wrote last month:
Having done human rights work in Gaza during the first Intifada, I am deeply troubled by these unconscionable conditions. Recent statements made by Israeli government officials imply that shooting civilians is deliberate and pre-planned.
Today he supports the two-state solution as a compromise that would forestall apartheid. And he sees foreign policy positioning as an important role for progressives, because everyone knows the U.S. has lost its way.
“The policy in the middle east has been a series of failures, and that’s opened the door to be more critical about where we want foreign policy to go,” Hyman says. “Things that used to be seen as really bold, now if you frame them well and your tone is more low key, you can get a hearing… People know we’ve lost our moral compass and the empire is sputtering.”
What a breath of fresh air. I can’t remember the last time I got an interview with a serious congressional contender. Seems like it’s going to be happening more and more.