Last week the New York Times ran an article about four congressional candidates who are testing the Democratic Party’s blanket support for Israel, suggesting that Israel is finally going to become a political football. There has been a lot of pushback on the story from pro-Israel Dems. Rep. Eliot Engel said those new Democrats “need to be educated,” and Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street wrote to the Times to complain that it had focused on outliers, and missed the story of a “growing majority” of Democrats who support both Israel and Palestine.
Meanwhile Republican supporters of Israel have seized on the article to say that Dems are going off the reservation. “This is an IMPORTANT and chilling read.
@USJewishDems what’s your plan to address this??” Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition taunted.
Democrats are on the defensive. Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida responded to the challenge in the Times of Israel, saying, “Despite claims in the NY Times, plenty of Democratic reps and candidates… oppose BDS,” referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.
If the Democrats recapture the House majority, it will be because of the overwhelming majority of candidates – the real “new wave” – who will continue our party’s strong support for America’s relationship with the lone democracy in the Middle East… .And they understand that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (“BDS”) movement that questions Israel’s very right to exist unfairly treats Israel differently than every other country in the world; moreover, BDS undermines the prospect for a two-state solution and the Israeli, Palestinian, and American advocates working toward it.
Democrats have been helping to lead the fight against anti-Semitism and BDS, and strengthening our security relationship with Israel.
Deutch is surely correct that plenty of Democratic candidates for higher office oppose BDS– and need to say so in their races so as to keep Israel from becoming a political issue.
For instance, Baltimore Jewish Living interviewed Ben Jealous, the Democratic challenger to Gov. Larry Hogan, and Jealous said he would not reverse Hogan’s executive order denying state contracts to firms that support BDS.
I believe the BDS movement is counterproductive and simply another hindrance to peace. I would not rescind Maryland’s anti-BDS executive order, so long as the executive order withstands any court challenges….I oppose BDS and believe the greatest chance of securing peace is a two-state solution that protects Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish democracy.
Jealous noted that he sought out Susie Turnbull, a Jewish organizational leader, as his running mate, and she asked him about BDS.
When I recruited Susie to be my running mate, she specifically asked about my stance on BDS and how I would support Israel.
Here’s Turnbull, in a Jewish newspaper, when she came on to the Jealous campaign last December:
When she was chair of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, she worked tirelessly on the issue, particularly on college campuses.
“[BDS] is the wrong approach. It doesn’t get you anywhere,” she said, adding that, if elected, she would continue Hogan’s stance against BDS “unless the First Amendment challenge to it is upheld.”
(By the way, Jealous also describes Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu as a “resource to Susie and me as we achieve our education, health care and economic goals.”)
Democrat Scott Wallace is in a tight race with Brian Fitzpatrick in Pennsylvania’s first district, and BDS is an issue in the Philadelphia suburbs. Per the Times:
[Scott] Wallace ran an organization that dispensed more than $330,000 in grants to boycott, divestment and sanctions groups; Mr. Wallace has disavowed the movement and said he did not exercise authority over those funds.
Here’s Wallace’s disavowal from his website:
I firmly oppose the BDS movement, which is hostile to Israel and incompatible with any balanced approach to a two-state solution. I expressly disavow the BDS grants which were made in the past by my family’s foundation, the Wallace Global Fund. They were made at the initiative of another board member, from discretionary grant funds not controlled by me. I am unequivocally pro-Israel, pro-peace and pro-democracy.
BDS is also an issue in Florida. “Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for Florida governor, has accused his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, of having ties to anti-Israel groups, citing financial support he received during his primary race from Dream Defenders, an organization that backs boycotts, divestment and sanctions,” the New York Times reports.
Gillum is emphatic against BDS on his website:
I will continue to support anti-Boycott, Divest and Sanctions [BDS] legislation passed last year with overwhelming support in both houses of the legislature. The legislation prevents Florida from investing in or doing business with companies participating in boycotts of Israel. As Governor, I will continue to push back against anti-Israel efforts, like BDS, that question Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, and will support bipartisan measures that help deter such practices.
Beto O’Rourke, who is challenging Ted Cruz for Senate in Texas, has been called out by Cruz for having “the most anti-Israel record of any Senate Democratic candidate,” due to his vote against Iron Dome funding for Israel in 2014, a vote that Cruz mentions on the campaign trail. O’Rourke has been highly critical of the BDS campaign, saying that “manifestations” of anti-Israel “bias” include the “Boycott Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement.”
But O’Rourke is endorsed by the liberal Zionist group J Street, which maintains that the only way to counter BDS is genuine support for the two state solution. O’Rourke shares that view:
[T]he settlement problem is putting at risk the very viability of the two-state solution. And I think that it is in our interest and in Israel’s interest for those settlements to cease if there is to be any hope for lasting peace; and that if settlement construction does not stop, a two-state solution will be unobtainable and Israel will lose the ability to be both a democratic and Jewish state
That Times article focused on “a cluster of activist Democrats” who are not reflexively pro-Israel and may enter Congress in next month’s election: Ilhan Omar in Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib in Michigan, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, and Leslie Cockburn in Virginia.
Tlaib and Omar both have positions consistent with BDS: they have said they would cut military aid to Israel due to human rights abuses.
Cockburn has faced an onslaught of criticism from Republicans, and has backed off from highly-critical comments about Israel she made years ago. As J Street says of her stance, in endorsing her:
[I]f elected to Congress she will stand by the US’s commitments to Israel, including security cooperation. She is also dedicated to promoting the peace process between Israel and Palestinians, with the US playing a critical role in encouraging Israel and the Palestinians to cease hostilities and find a two-state solution. She supports freezing the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which threaten prospects for peace.
We can throw in a sitting congressperson, Pramila Jayapal from Washington state, who is also endorsed by J Street, and “refuses to endorse BDS, that most restrained form of protest,” (as Nada Elia reports).
In criticizing the New York Times article last week, Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street wrote that it focused “on a handful of Democratic candidates who have faced heavy right-wing criticism for their positions on Israel” and missed the “larger evolution” in U.S. politics.
Instead of relying on the outdated idea that support for Israelis and Palestinians must be mutually exclusive, a growing majority of Democratic candidates increasingly recognize that it is possible and necessary to promote policies, like the two-state solution, that benefit both peoples.
They understand that criticizing some policies of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — like settlement expansion — is actually vital to defending Israel’s long-term survival as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people.
Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace also had a letter to the Times, under the headine “Jewish groups note a change in unquestioned support for Israel.” She thanked the paper for running the story about the insurgent candidates, and then endorsed BDS.
A growing number of Jews — especially young Jews — oppose Israeli policies and support B.D.S. (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), the Palestinian-led civil society movement pressing Israel to respect Palestinian rights.
My organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, has long criticized Israeli policies and American support to Israel. We endorsed the B.D.S. call in 2015, and have only grown in size since taking that step: We have more than 15,000 dues-paying members, 70 chapters nationally and more than 250,000 online supporters.
The complexities of the Jewish community’s opinions about Israel and B.D.S. can no longer be ignored, nor can the Jewish community be simplified as a monolithic group. In the end, support for Palestinian rights is not based on one’s religion or ethnicity; it’s based on values and hopes for a shared, just peace for both Palestinians and Israelis.
Few political candidates are likely to echo JVP’s stance. No, nearly all Dems are likely to reject that stance. And J Street has been dedicated to keeping Israel a bipartisan cause. Yet the progressive Democratic base is surely growing sympathetic to boycott initiatives; and the fact that more and more politicians are talking about BDS is itself a sign of change.
Thanks to Allison Deger.