The day that Israel killed 62 protesters at the Gaza fence last May, Deb Haaland, a candidate of Native American ancestry running for Congress in New Mexico, tweeted that it was murder:
The murder of 60 Palestinians in Gaza just as Ramadan begins weigh heavy on my heart today. The youngest was just 8 months old. Here are their names.
Haaland did a series of tweets of the victims’ names and concluded: “Violence is never the answer. I believe in diplomacy-first.”
In the past it would be hard to imagine such an individual getting into the Congress; but Haaland is part of an important story from November 6: the election of at least nine women of color as new Democratic congresswomen.
As we have often reminded readers, the progressive Democratic base is shifting against Israel. “The core constituents of the Democratic Party — women, African Americans, Hispanics and younger Americans — take positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that diverge not only from the positions of Republicans but also from the positions of their elected leaders,” pollster Shibley Telhami said four years ago.
That gap seems to be closing; and eight congresswomen-elect appear to demonstrate the trend. Only one of the eight is endorsed by a pro-Israel group, per my researches: Haaland, who called the Gaza killings “murder.”
I may be missing others (and I’m leaving out Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida, who has Ecuadorian roots, because she has Israel lobby backing), but these women appear to represent a segment of the Democratic Party leadership that is responsive to the progressive base, not to the Israel lobby. While there may also be new male and/or white congresspeople who reflect the trend (and I’m not a student of intersectionality or identity politics), women of color have been one of the big stories this November, and they are likely to inaugurate a new era in the mainstream politics of Israel.
Let me go through the names, starting with three familiar ones.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York is the most famous of the group. She wrote “This is a massacre,” on that March day in Gaza; and though she has walked back some of her Israel criticisms, she’s sure to be a breath of fresh air.
Ilhan Omar in Minneapolis is also in the headlines. A Muslim and Somali-American, she has said clearly in recent days that she supports BDS, boycott, divestment and sanctions aimed at Israel. She’s taking a lot of heat for it, because she seemed to oppose BDS during the campaign, but is not giving ground. “Ilhan believes in and supports the BDS movement, and has fought to make sure people’s right to support it isn’t criminalized. She does however, have reservations on the effectiveness of the movement in accomplishing a lasting solution.” (link) Omar has also called Israel an “apartheid” state.
Rashida Tlaib of Michigan supports one state in Israel and Palestine, and she lost her endorsement from the liberal Zionist Democratic group J Street because of that position. She lately stood up for Omar on BDS.
My parents were both born in Palestine (Falastine). My sity still lives there. So when my sister
@IlhanMN is being attacked for supporting the #BDS movement (protected freedom of speech!) we can’t stay silent. Nothing is more American than the fight for justice at home & abroad.
In Congress, I will work to keep the strong bond between the United States and Israel. I strongly condemn the Trump Administration’s premature and divisive move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. My priority is to work towards a two-state solution, a pathway whereby Israel and the Palestinians can realize equitable and durable peace.
Haaland is endorsed by J Street. She was also endorsed by Jacpac. But Haaland is a true progressive. She went to Standing Rock, and she led the divestment of her state party from Wells Fargo because of its investments in the Dakota Access pipeline.
Jahana Hayes, the first black congresswoman from Connecticut, was endorsed by no pro-Israel group I could find. She hedged on support for Israel in a debate with her very-establishment primary opponent last July (whom she crushed in August):
Hayes had no clear answer to an audience question about whether the candidates would stand with the rest of the delegation in support of Israel. “This is a very complicated question,” Hayes said “I wouldn’t make a decision without all of the information.”
Xochitl Torres Small, the 34-year-old grand-daughter of Mexican immigrants who won a New Mexico race, is endorsed by no pro-Israel group I could find. Though Torres Small is a political insider in the Udall tradition, and I have little sense of her politics, she is in her 30s and — watch out — an attorney who specializes in water rights. That’s why she makes my list.
Ayanna Pressley in Boston and its suburbs is 44 and the first black woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress. She is more establishment than others mentioned here. The center-right Jewish Community Relations Council in Boston has said approving things about her. But Pressley’s website has a very nuanced statement that is somewhat equivocal about BDS and speaks of Palestinian trauma and right to self-determination. Also, she has reportedly supported H 4319 the bill sponsored by Betty McCollum of St. Paul, MN, that would bar US funds going to the “detention or mistreatment” of Palestinian children by Israel, which already has 29 sponsors. Pressley:
I have dedicated my life to working on issues of violence and trauma, and it is that experience that informs my approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Far too many Israelis and Palestinians have been, and continue to be, victimized by the ongoing conflict, and it is incumbent on the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, the United States, and the international community to work towards a resolution that ends the suffering, violence, and hostility. I steadfastly support a two-state solution that will safeguard Israel’s future as a Jewish and Democratic state, and establish a sovereign and independent Palestinian state. While there is no perfect plan to solve this enormously complex conflict and address the many legitimate historic and moral claims of both Israelis and Palestinians, a two-state solution is the only resolution that recognizes the right of all people to self-determination…
We must avoid efforts to unilaterally blame and deny legitimacy to either side, and should instead work towards building a just solution that recognizes the trauma suffered by both populations. We should hold both Israelis and Palestinians accountable when they take actions in bad faith that cause each other harm, and should encourage actions that build trust and demonstrate a real willingness to make peace. I do not support BDS as a means to achieve a two-state solution because I believe it does not acknowledge the efforts of those on the ground who are deeply committed to bringing peaceful coexistence to the region, and pushes Israelis and Palestinians farther away from the meaningful engagement and dialogue needed to empathize with each other’s struggle and acknowledge each other’s humanity. At the same time, I believe that others should be free to advocate it and that their 1st amendment rights should be respected.
J Street, JDCA, and Jacpac did not endorse Pressley.
Those groups did endorse a great number of the new class of 40-some Democrats. And as establishment voices David Brooks and Ruth Marcus said on PBS News Hour last night, most of that new class are very mainstream. “It’s not a caucus of lefty crazies,” Marcus said with relief.
Indeed, many of those Democrats say great things about Israel in ways that we are all familiar with. Katie Hill in California, endorsed by both J Street and the JDCA, lamented “the reports of violence” from Gaza last May 14 but went no further re the Israeli massacre. Jeff Van Drew in New Jersey (endorsed by JDCA) says:
There is arguably no more important relationship in the world than that of the United States of America and Israel.
Greg Stanton, Phoenix mayor who is assuming (Senator-elect) Kyrsten Sinema’s old seat in the Congress, and who is endorsed by J Street, has fostered Israeli business:
Supports a two-state solution, with the U.S. as a negotiating partner… As mayor of Phoenix, formed an economic partnership between Phoenix & Ramat Gan, Israel
Believes in Israel’s right to self-defense, and supports U.S. efforts to ensure that defense through systems like Iron Dome
David Trone, a wine mogul in Maryland, was surely too far right for J Street, in his desire to be Israel’s “champion” on the Hill, and just right for the JDCA.
The news though is that many of the new women of color in the House are highly sympathetic to Palestinians and likely to push that sympathy on Capitol Hill. These women know that their base has their back. That degree of autonomy is new in the Congress.
And yes, it also signals that the internecine battle in the British lib/left over criticism of Israel being the same as anti-Semitism is going to come to the Democratic Party soon.