Democrats are now officially split on Israel, and we can thank Ilhan Omar and BDS

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In the last election cycle, it was demoralizing to watch Hillary Clinton promise Benjamin Netanyahu she’d take the Israel relationship to the “next level” if she became president and her party platform committee shoot down one resolution after another about Jerusalem and the occupation and settlements, sponsored by Bernie Sanders’ forces.

Those days are now over. Thanks in large part to the bravery of Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis and the organizing of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, progressive Democrats who hate the occupation and even imagine equal rights for Palestinians at last have a place inside the Democratic Party, and the party leadership feels the need to reckon with that force. This week it had to alter a resolution initially aimed at smacking down Omar for her remarks critical of Israel and the lobby so as to broaden its concerns.

Palestine Legal calls it a victory:

Thanks to thousands of activists mobilizing in support of Rep. Ilhan Omar, House Democrats were forced to rewrite a resolution meant to condemn her for statements she made challenging the Israel Lobby, falsely represented as antisemitic.

Politico agrees that “It was a clear-cut victory for Omar and her allies on the left.”

younger Democrats rallied behind Omar and objected to her being singled out, and the party’s leadership, desperate to defuse the situation, finally settled on a catch-all version of the resolution condemning all forms of hate speech

The new era is heralded angrily by Donald Trump and Tom Friedman. Today Trump made an appeal to Israel-supporting Jews to come into the Republican Party and away from the anti-Semites.

The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party, they’ve become an anti-Jewish party, and I thought that vote was a disgrace. And so does everybody else if you get an honest answer… The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party, they’ve become an anti-Jewish party, and that’s too bad.

While Tom Friedman wrote in the Times that Ilhan Omar is endangering the bipartisan consensus on Israel, and she’s a bigot.

Everything I have heard from her leads me to conclude that she dislikes Aipac because she dislikes Israel, because she does not really believe the Jewish people have a right to an independent state in their ancestral homeland.

Friedman went over Omar’s statements on BDS, which he views as “code for wanting to get rid of Israel.” While he is, he says, “devoted to Israel as a Jewish democracy,” in our “ancestral homeland.” And P.S. the ethnic cleansing needed to keep it that way is fine.

It is good to have the lines so clarified. Omar– who says she supports a two-state solution– is now a hero of the progressive left, including many Jews. She has stood tall throughout the controversy, refusing to apologize, made Nancy Pelosi seem like a heavy, and the Congress look like a proof of her own diagnosis in its rush to condemn her.

In 2012 Barack Obama could crush this movement when it rose on the floor of the Democratic convention to say Jerusalem is not Israel’s capital. Today no Democrat who ignores the movement is safe. Ilhan Omar promptly got backing from progressive candidates in the Democratic presidential primaries, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris. While Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker all criticized her.

Tim Alberta at Politico writes that Omar progressives are the Tea Party of the Democrats, and the party is “long overdue for an ideological reckoning.”

Democrats are dangerously close to entering into their own fratricidal conflict….

And Omar isn’t shying away from it. “I am certainly not looking to be comfortable, and I don’t want everyone necessarily to feel comfortable around me,” she told me, a mischievous smile tugging at her lips. “I think really the most exciting things happen when people are extremely uncomfortable.”

Can you even imagine Pelosi saying what she said to a rightwing Israel lobby group last year: “If this Capitol crumbled to the ground, the one thing that would remain would be our commitment to [Israel].”

The biggest loser in this disruption is the Israel lobby. Even Tom Friedman comes out against AIPAC, in his need to condemn Omar; and the organization’s image has suffered from its alliance with Trump. The renegade Jewish group IfNotNow is calling on all Democratic presidential candidates not to attend the policy conference in Washington later this month because AIPAC supports settlements.

As for the Israel lobby of the Democratic Congress, J Street has more power than it’s ever had but it is inheriting a mess. J Street had lined up with the Democratic leadership on the earlier version of the resolution aimed at Ilhan Omar, and joined right in the finger-pointing: “Harmful language that echoes long-standing stereotypes and anti-Semitic tropes concern us deeply.”

Last night on PBS Jeremy Ben-Ami aimed his main criticism at those who “weaponize” anti-Semitism charges so as to seek to eradicate criticism of Israel. He seemed to echo the non-Zionist young Jews of IfNotNow, who write:

three days ago, it seemed inevitable that Speaker Pelosi and Democratic Leadership were going to allow conservative members of their caucus publicly weaponize antisemitism to intimidate a member of their own caucus because of opposition to Israeli policy.

We are in a new era where criticism of unjust Israeli policies is not simply equated with antisemitism. That is a victory.

The “overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress support the U.S.-Israel relationship,” a conservative Democratic lobby group claims, and that seems true. As much as Batya Ungar-Sargon’s claim that 92 percent of Jews are Zionists. But the devil is in the details, and as Allison Deger noted, the Gallup poll this week makes clear that sympathy for Israel is sliding in the Democratic Party, with Democratic liberals sympathizing nearly as much with Palestinians as with Israelis.


Feb. 2019 Gallup survey of World Affairs showing American liberal Democrats plummeting in their sympathy for Israelis over Palestinians.

The percentage of Democrats siding more with Israel fell less sharply, from 49% to 43%; however, today’s figure approaches the lowest level of Democratic partiality toward Israel since 2005.

In terms of recent changes, however, most of the decline in net sympathy for Israel has occurred among liberal Democrats, from +17 in 2013-2016 to +3 in 2017-2019. What this means is that nearly as many liberal Democrats now sympathize more with the Palestinians (38%) as with the Israelis (41%), with the rest favoring neither side or unsure.

There has been one headline after another since the 2018 elections saying that Israel has never been so divisive in modern political history. This week brought proof that the Democrats are officially divided; and the question of American support and why is sure to be in the center ring of the 2020 primary process– a “litmus test” for young Jews.

I thought we were going to get this debate 13 years ago when The Israel Lobby was published. But the writers of that book were smeared and you had to read the book in brown covers in D.C., and it has taken that long for the discussion to get into the Capitol, thanks in great measure to the BDS campaign.

Next thing you know, we might even discuss Palestinian human rights!

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PHIL- “Those days are now over.” Dream on. The major effect of both the Jeremy Corbyn and Ilhan Omar situations is to take the not serious problem of anti-Semitism and elevate it to the status of a mythical serious problem which diverts attention from more serious issues like our militarized empire running amok. Why is it that I had to stumble on an article in Haaretz to learn that “Lethal attacks on U.S. Jews in… Read more »

“she does not really believe the Jewish people have a right to an independent state in their ancestral homeland.” – Tom Friedman Tom’s “right” obviously includes the unmentioned right to terrorize, mass murder, and rob the innocent indigenous people of Palestine, because that is an inherent factual part of his self-proclaimed “right”. Personally, I absolutely deny that Tom and his Zionists have any such right whatsoever. On what is his right based? I can tell… Read more »

I agreed with most of Thomas Friedman’s piece in the NY Times. I realize this site hates Friedman. Then see if you can relate to Michelle Goldberg’s piece in the Times. She is not comfortable with Omar’s rhetoric either.

I know that Phil is a glass half full kind of guy, while I generally see the other half on this issue, but he makes me a believer this time. At least enough to be glad that I read this. Of course, progress remains too slow to help most Palestinians anytime soon, but maybe there is progress on the way. In addition to the substantive points in Phil’s post, it brought back some less significant… Read more »

“As much as Batya Ungar-Sargon’s claim that 92 percent of Jews are Zionists.”

And the other 8% aren’t Jews anymore. But they’re included anyway, just to be fair.