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Several Democratic candidates take stands against BDS, amid signs that Israel is becoming politicized

on 19 Comments

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. 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.

Republican Rep. Albio Sires of NJ, Ambassador David Friedman and US Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida at the new US embassy in Jerusalem. July 1, 2018.

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.

Ocasio-Cortez is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America which has endorsed BDS, but she has reportedly avoided taking a position on BDS in her general election campaign.

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. 





Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

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19 Responses

  1. JWalters on October 15, 2018, 9:18 pm

    These “Democrats” need to parrot the Zionist boilerplate cover story to ensure their share of the corrupt Israeli money meddling in, nay – dominating American politics.

  2. Rob Roy on October 16, 2018, 6:54 am

    Cowards. We need a Green Wave.

  3. lonely rico on October 16, 2018, 9:35 am

    > Rob Roy

    We need a Green Wave

    Quite so –

    US Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.

    When asked about military aid to Israel, Stein responded she would end all military funding, adding that, “This would be decisively against our common values, to support apartheid, to support home demolitions, to support occupation, to support violations of international law.”

    … Stein supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, or BDS. She places Israel in the company of non-democratic American allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

    • CigarGod on October 16, 2018, 11:44 am

      Ok, but I can’t hear her.
      Most of America either has never heard of her, or wonders if she is still alive.
      What is Jill doing to make sure she is heard?

      Principled stands…like those made by many fine people here…are not heard in the big room.

      • annie on October 16, 2018, 12:00 pm

        What is Jill doing to make sure she is heard?

        what are you doing to make sure jill is heard? when the msm and the power elite are in opposition to you one relies on ones followers to spread your message. groups like justice dems, dem socialists for america, the green party, etc, they organize online campaigns and speaking tours. if you go to their websites you can follow them, get on mailing lists, volunteer to work with them. but that doesn’t guarantee everyone will hear about it. “What is she doing to make sure she is heard?” implies a candidate can “make sure” they are heard. i am not sure that is the case, especially for candidates in opposition to policies entrenched in the 2 party system. it requires a movement, a movement requires the people to make sure, not the candidate.

      • Mooser on October 16, 2018, 12:11 pm
      • ckg on October 17, 2018, 2:46 pm

        Most of America either has never heard of her, or wonders if she is still alive.

        On her daily program Rachel Maddow shows a photo of Jill Stein over and over. Stein is sitting at a table with Michael Flynn and Vladimir Putin. Maddow never points out Stein because she’s after Flynn…for now.

      • CigarGod on October 20, 2018, 11:14 am

        I understand your comment, Annie.
        But, where is Jill on Kashoggi?
        This is another example of her not capitaizing on an opportunity to raise her profile…and raise it in a principled way.

      • annie on October 20, 2018, 12:05 pm

        she’s made a few statements. press tv picks up one here

        Saudi Arabia’s murder of a US-based journalist should be the last straw for US support of a brutal regime that imprisons, tortures, crucifies & beheads dissidents, & is intentionally starving millions of children to death in Yemen.
        No more US support for Saudi tyrants!

        and here’s another from a few days later.

        Jamal Khashoggi was murdered & dismembered by the Saudi regime, like so many Yemeni children killed by US missiles in the Saudi-led war. It’s time to end this blood-drenched relationship, starting with an immediate halt of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

        my point, which maybe wasn’t clear, wasn’t directed at stein per se, but any candidate running against the mainstream. the press doesn’t cover them unless, like sanders, that can’t avoid covering them (which as i recall for sanders was when he became a real thorn in the side for hillary and the dnc). even when sanders won 5 caucuses in one night the mainstream skipped right over it.

        and when you say “her not capitaizing”(sic) she can’t force the msm to publicize her statements. only media like press tv etc picked it up. in what way could she capitalize her opinion? throw a press conference? a rally? according to current news reports she’s speaking at the Women’s March on the Pentagon (WMOP) this weekend and her focus lately seems to be on election transparency. i don’t really follow her, again, ‘she’ is not my point. it’s this idea that a candidate can get access to media when the media intends to make their voice invisible or silent. i’m not sure they really can aside from doing something horrific. the media would be all over her if she made an ass over herself.

      • CigarGod on October 20, 2018, 12:32 pm

        Google gets worse and worse. I didn’t find her comments on the first page before I made my comment (I also couldn’t find the 17 details on K’s death that Yeni Safek had initially published).
        I get your point about our narrow/shallow/compromised press.
        I’m not suggesting she put on a pink pussy hat and strip off her blouse.

    • pjdude on October 17, 2018, 3:41 pm

      Hell no jill stein would be a disaster. just because you like her stance on Israel doesn’t make her a good candidate. electing her and her ideas would be national suicide for the US. I’m a radical in american politics as a social democrat but I can see jill stein is a nut job. She is cozy with dictators, she is a defender of putin. =

      • RoHa on October 18, 2018, 2:57 am

        Why is sitting at a table with Putin a Bad Thing?

      • pjdude on October 18, 2018, 11:47 am

        I don’t have a problem with talking to dictators cozying up to them and whitewashing their crimes like she does with putin is the problem. Why do you have 2 standards of how you Israel’s crimes handled and russia crimes handled? She literally went to russia and bashed the US human right record next to one of the worst human right abusers alive today. she also supports russia actions in ukraine denying the ukrainians the right to handle affairs in their own country. acting as if she is a great canidate just because she opposes some of Israel’s behavior isn’t being rational. yes she has the view i want on that topic but everything else about her is terrible.

      • RoHa on October 18, 2018, 11:10 pm

        So sitting at a table with Putin isn’t Bad?

        Which Russian crimes are you referring to? Those in Chechnya, perhaps? Aside from annexing Crimea, I haven’t seen Russia “denying the Ukrainians the right to handle affairs in their own country”.

        I don’t know Jill Stein, but, if American Greens are like Greens in other countries, she probably is a nut.

  4. Misterioso on October 16, 2018, 10:59 am

    The wheels are turning. Slowly, but surely with gathering momentum, Americans are comprehending the truth regarding Zionism and its spawn, the entity known as “Israel,” for the abomination it is.

    A reminder:…
    “Congressional Research Service, U.S. Foreign aid to Israel, Jeremy M. Sharpe, Specialist in Middle East Affairs, April 10, 2018.”
    “Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. To date, the United States has provided Israel $134.7 billion (current, or non inflation-adjusted, dollars) in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding. Almost all U.S. bilateral aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance, although in the past Israel also received significant economic assistance. At a signing ceremony at the State Department on September 14, 2016, representatives of the U.S. and Israeli governments signed a new 10-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on military aid covering FY2019 to FY2028. Under the terms of the MOU, the United States pledges to provide $38 billion in military aid ($33 billion in Foreign Military Financing grants plus $5 billion in missile defense appropriations) to Israel. This MOU replaces a previous $30 billion 10-year agreement, which runs through FY2018.”

    If Americans Knew Blog, Sept. 23/18
    “Sheldon Adelson spending $100 million to keep control of U.S. policies on Israel”
    “Casino billionaire’s total contributions on behalf of Israel in 2016 & 2018 reported to surpass $100 million, possibly making him the largest single donor in American politics today”
    By Amir Tibon, reposted from Ha’aretz

  5. Marnie on October 16, 2018, 12:03 pm

    I hope that americans can see how they’re being manipulated by AIPAC, Adelson and the zionist state and that is to require anyone seeking public office to take an oath of loyalty to a foreign government (not russia, not saudi arabia, because tRUMP has already done it for everyone). This is incomprehensible treason.

  6. niass2 on October 16, 2018, 9:58 pm

    Jill Stein, really????? R u from the same planet as the rest of us here in Massachusetts? I’m from Lexington also. If she’s a clown we need one for the April 19 anniversary of the Republic. She can march with the VFW Trumpites. I would also end all military aid to Israel. Who cares. When do I get sworn in? If we are o ever get anywhere with a third party it can’t be her, she’s done more to make the Greens seem like an irrelevant joke than anyone else and she is the face of their party, if they exist besides in their minds or on paper. On the ballot they don’t exist. She is why. The election is coming…what green party?

  7. Jasonius Maximus on October 19, 2018, 12:49 am

    Unfortunately, until the mainstream media actually stands up and call BS on Israel and holds it accountable for decades of manipulating every aspect of US politics and foreign policy, our leaders will have all the cover they need to carry on as is.

    Just look how they are now scrambling, when the media refuses to let go the latest Saudi horror story go! Even the mighty Teflon Trump is checking himself. Imagine if CNN or MSNBC went after Israel with half this fervor when they were massacring protesters at the Gaza border in May? Nearly every Democrat and a good few Republicans looking to November would have changed their tune.

    Of course that will never happen when they keep inviting the likes of Dershowitz and every single Israeli member of government on their shows and censoring every and all Arab voices. Not even Jews critical of Israel are allowed screen time. Period.

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