Every day brings another sign that there is at last going to be a wide-open debate about American support for Israel in US politics, as the old Democratic Party consensus disintegrates.
We chronicled the efforts of Senate Republicans to push anti-boycott legislation and paint the Democrats as the anti-Israel party. The Women’s March is now riven by the Israel issue, with the Democratic establishment distancing itself from the organizers.
The Democratic leadership is also plainly stunned that two new congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, are both BDS supporters, and that star NY Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is critical of Israel. Tlaib tells the Intercept today that she wants to withhold American aid to Israel so long as it denies equality and dignity to her grandmother in Palestine.
Several mainstream figures are warning the Democratic Party not to let Israel divide them. Though Nancy Pelosi pooh-poohs the anti’s as a mere fringe: Don’t pay “attention to a few people who may want to go their own way,” she said last month.
A couple more signs. Buzzfeed has an article up by Emily Tamkin and Alexis Levinson titled, “Israel Will Be The Great Foreign Policy Debate Of The Democratic Primary.” It begins bracingly.
Some of the Democratic Party’s brightest new stars believe Israel is a rogue state that should be treated like apartheid South Africa.
It’s the latest sign that, after 50 years, support for Israel is no longer a bipartisan cause — a dramatic change that will be felt in the wide-open Democratic presidential primary. The young progressives who have ascended to power within the Democratic Party over the last few years want to force what were once fringe views into the mainstream, and significantly change US policy toward Israel.
“I think every 2020 presidential contender will be asked how can they stand by Benjamin Netanyahu when he openly supports Trump’s border wall and compares it to his own draconian policies,” said Waleed Shahid, communications director for Justice Democrats, an assertive progressive group that calls for more criticism of Israel, which rose to prominence in 2018 with its early backing of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The story recounts President Obama’s famous support for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital at the 2012 convention, when he defied the progressive rank-and-file and “personally intervened in response to donors and pro-Israel groups.” That’s honest, to cite the donors, who have traditionally dominated the Democratic Party’s positions on Israel.
And the article quotes Omar Barghouti and James Zogby– another sign that the Democratic Party is fielding the BDS debate at last.
In a radio segment on the women’s march today on WNYC, Brian Lehrer hosted New York Times writer Liz Robbins, who said that in addition to the Farrakhan issue, BDS and Palestinian rights were dividing organizers.
The BDS boycott divestment and sanctions–that’s also an issue. It came up in an article in the Nation in 2017 where Linda Sarsour said, “You either stand up for the right of all women, including Palestinians, or none.” So basically it was a zero sum game of feminism must include the rights of all women. Which, I don’t think thats an argument, but then she’s bringing in Palestinian women who are under occupation by Israel. So that’s a sticking point…. But these are the issues that are dividing the Jewish community both across the country and in New York.
Robbins referred to this exchange in the Nation between Collier Myerson and Sarsour, when Sarsour said that Zionism and feminism were incompatible, and that Palestinian women were always targeted by Zionists.
“You’ve probably seen that any visible Palestinian-American woman who is at the forefront of any social-justice movement is an immediate target of the right wing and right-wing Zionists….
When you talk about feminism you’re talking about the rights of all women and their families to live in dignity, peace, and security. It’s about giving women access to health care and other basic rights. And Israel is a country that continues to occupy territories in Palestine,
The rights of women under occupation is clearly not a divisive issue for many Jewish women. They would applaud Sarsour’s concerns– certainly the women of JVP.
The issue in all these developments is: What is legitimate for debate in the mainstream? Is anti-Zionism coming in to that frame? Yes.
Yesterday, Russ Douthat, a conservative columnist for the New York Times, said that Democrats must debate anti-Zionism. In a piece on the Women’s March he warned Democrats that they can neither sequester the Palestine issue nor allow it to take over the party in a revolution. Douthat analogized anti-Zionism to populist rightwing sentiments that were suppressed by the globalist wing of the GOP.
By trying to simply bury the “America First!” ideas that Pat Buchanan ran on in the 1990s, they created a return-of-the-repressed scenario, where a big swathe of their own voters felt chronically unrepresented and ignored and turned eagerly to Trump.
For Democrats this dilemma is likely to play out over foreign policy, and especially policy toward Israel. Anti-Zionism isn’t necessarily anti-Semitism, but the difference can get blurry quick, and the Israel debate is the place where rhetorical poison seems most likely to infect left-wing politics. Which means that most establishment Democrats would prefer not to have debates about Israel at all, just as most establishment Republicans circa 2013 hoped to stop debating immigration.
But for a party whose base is clearly less sympathetic toward Israel than Democratic elders in D.C., repressing the debate would be a mistake — because then anti-Zionism is more likely to percolate below the party’s surface and then bubble up as bigotry. The challenge is to figure out how to quarantine those kinds of hatreds and also represent your voters — because if you fail at the second task, even with the highest of principles the quarantine won’t hold.
It is unfortunate that Douthat cannot recognize the bigotry on the other side of this issue: the routine expressions of disdain, discrimination, vilification of Palestinians that pass for mainstream discussion in our liberal mainstream. But his point that the Democrats cannot suppress this discussion is surely accurate.
Finally, here is Mehdi Hasan asking Rashida Tlaib about cutting off aid to Israel, at the Intercept.
And just on BDS, you and Ilhan Omar have come out in favor of BDS. The first-ever members of Congress to ever do so, what does that actually mean in practice for a member of Congress to be pro-BDS? Does that mean you can’t vote for any military aid to Israel?…
RT: I can tell you what I’ve been very specific about is that I will not be supporting aid to any country that is not for equality or justice. I have to tell you my grandmother lives there. By me supporting any aid to a country that denies her human dignity, denies her equality, the fact that she has to go and, you know, through checkpoints to get to the hospital for health care, the fact that she is felt as if she’s less than in her own country, that is something I will not be supporting.
MH: So you won’t be voting for the current annual U.S. military aid package —?
RT: It has to be for leverage. We do it to states all the time where we say: “Look, if we —” and I can tell you, I mean, people know this. If we are going to tell states they have to support the Civil Rights Act, they have to support the, you know, same-sex marriage, anything that we believe in, we say: “Okay, you want this money, then you’re going to have to support these values. You’re going to have to support the federal law.” If we’re not doing that to Israel, Saudi Arabia and other countries, then we’re not doing our job as a country.
The great surprise here is– in a Democratic discourse in which Bernie Sanders repeatedly tempered his criticisms of Israel — how unapologetic Tlaib is. Her stance instantly makes her a leader, and defines the left side of Democratic Party politics. People will flock to her.
Thanks to Donald Johnson.