Every few months we announce that support for Israel in the Democratic Party is about to crumble and fall into the sea! Call us ahead of the curve, but here’s the latest evidence of the trend in the media. And yes I know, the Democratic presidential debate last night avoided the subject entirely. But young progressives are unhappy that the Dems weren’t forced to take a stand against the occupation.
First off, here’s star NY Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez saying on Tuesday that Israel is a “generational issue,” and young Dems are daring to criticize Israel, and “young Jews in Israel are sick of this.” She appeared on “Ebro in the Morning,” a talk show on NY’s WQHT radio:
Where we’re at in this country as far as Israel Palestine is very much a generational issue. And I think that when we start looking at it through that lens, a lot of this stuff starts to make sense… Young Jews in Israel are sick of this. The Netanyahu administration is very much like the Trump administration… The right wants to advance this notion that if you engage in critique of Israeli policy, that you are anti-semitic, but that is the furthest thing from the truth… The same way that me criticizing Trump doesn’t make me anti-American, criticizing the occupation doesn’t make you anti-Israel, frankly, it doesn’t mean that you are against the existence of a nation, it means that you believe in human rights. It’s about making sure that Palestinian human rights are equal to Israeli human rights and there are a lot of troubling things happening there.
There’s this conversation that gets started and frankly it’s advanced by the right wing, that if you engage in any critique that must mean that you are against the existence of the nation. But we don’t engage in any other country like that. We don’t talk about the UK like that, we don’t talk about China like that, we don’t talk about the United States… If you critique any other country, they don’t say, Do you believe in Britain’s right to exist? And I understand that there’s a very deep history. There’s a reason why we ask that question when it comes to Israel. Because Jewish people have been persecuted throughout all of human history.
I don’t think that by marginalizing Palestinians you create safety. I believe that injustice is a threat to the safety of all people. Because once you have a group that is marginalized and marginalized and marginalized–… Once someone doesn’t have access to clean water, they have no choice but to riot. And it doesn’t have to be that way. And I’m not even talking about Palestinians, I’m talking about communities in poverty in the United States. I’m talking about Latin America, I’m talking about all over the world. We experienced times like that in our country. We had riots in 1968 when the Bronx was burning. You know, social destabilization is what happens when people do not have a plan or feel like there’s no vision for their future.
AOC is not the threat, Democrats should be worried that Chellie Pingree, a 10-year congresswoman from Maine, has “turned against Israel,” voting against the anti-boycott bill that passed the Congress 398-17 last week, Tablet says.
Pingree is “generic,” i.e., a progressive in a predominantly-white district, and she used to be “a conventional, pro-Israel liberal,” but now feels safe criticizing Israel, Tablet’s KC Johnson reports:
Pingree [was] the only New England legislator to oppose the resolution and a sign, perhaps, of things to come. It’s likely Pingree, rather than figures such as [Ilhan] Omar and [Rashida] Tlaib, who represent the greatest looming threat to Israel in the coming years….
Pingree’s opposition to Israel… seems to be more tribal, caused by her fellow progressives coming to view the Jewish state skeptically…
Pingree’s transformation, then, illustrates how a generic legislator lacking deep concerns about Israel could shift to accommodate the newfound support for Palestinian nationalism among some quarters of the Democratic base.
White progressive Democrats are coming naturally to this Israel-critical position, because they are concerned about racism, David Brooks acknowledged last week in The New York Times.
Racial equity has become the prism through which many in this group see a range of other issues…. For most of the 20th century, for example, white liberals consistently sympathized with Israel more than with the Palestinians. But that has reversed. White progressives are much more critical of Israel than ever before. What had once been seen as an intractable regional conflict between a democracy and a series of authoritarian regimes trying to destroy it is now seen as a conflict between a white colonialist power and the brown people it oppresses.
In this new dispensation, the concept of white privilege is on everybody’s lips. As [Zach] Goldberg points out, in 1996 and 2010 about a quarter of white liberals thought racial discrimination was a very serious problem. By 2016, 58 percent did.
Here’s more data on those white liberals. Something snapped with all those Gaza slaughters, Zach Goldberg wrote in Tablet in June.
Along with the sweeping changes on race and immigration issues is the reversal of white liberal attitudes toward Israel. Between 1978 and 2014, white liberals consistently reported sympathizing more with Israel than the Palestinians. Since March of 2016, this trend has turned on its face. Currently, significantly more white liberals report greater sympathy for the Palestinians than for Israel.
The sudden souring of white liberal attitudes towards Israel bears some resemblance to the rapid attitudinal changes on racial issues. Like the police shootings of unarmed blacks during this period, Israel’s 7-week bludgeoning of Gaza [in 2014] became arguably the most extensive of its military campaigns to be captured on social media. It was also the campaign that drew the least support from White liberals. Consider that 65% of White liberals felt that Israeli actions during the 2002 ‘Operation Defensive Shield’ were justified. Although this figure declined to 47% during Operation Cast Lead (2009), it largely stayed there (46%) during Operation Pillar of Defense (2012). But by the time Operation Protective Edge rolled around less than two years later, the percent viewing Israeli actions as justified dipped to a low of 30%—the lowest level of support in two decades, if not ever. At around the same time, Google searches for topics relating to ‘Anti-Zionism’ reached a high point in August of 2014—the closing month of Israeli military operations.
The left sees Israel as a bastion of privilege, Goldberg laments.
[T]he same empathic outrage over the bigoted persecution by the “privileged” against the vulnerable that informs the changing policy positions on domestic issues is extended out to the international arena where Israel is a fixture of every moral drama. A white supremacist America holds people of color down and keeps the door shut for others, while a “Zionist supremacist” Israel behaves in much the same way toward its minorities of color. It’s a narrow and warped perspective but one that’s easily assimilated into a broader worldview in which human relations are defined by categories of oppressor vs. oppressed; and where the roles are assigned based on one’s placement in the privilege hierarchy… As Jews have become beacons of whiteness in the liberal political imagination—to the point that Israel is considered a white state despite having a slight nonwhite majority—they have come to be associated with an oppressor class.
To be clear, the young progressive Jews of IfNotNow (whom AOC surely meant when she spoke of young Jews getting “sick”) do not regard this as a warped perspective. They say progressive Democrats care about Palestinian human rights, so they want a debate over Israel, and they were disappointed by last night’s debate:
Another debate without any questions on addressing the Israeli Occupation, which violates the human rights of millions of Palestinians.
We’ve spent the past month asking candidates to address the crisis bc Jews & Dems want change. And the polls back us up
Democratic voters are virtually split on this issue — but you’d never know it from how Democratic leaders act.
– 27 percent of Democrats said they sympathized more with the Israelis.
– 26 percent said they sympathized more with the Palestinians…
Only 12% of Dems have a purely favorable view of the Israeli gov
In fact, the majority of Democratic voters — 56% — are so sick of decades of Israeli policies that only build more and more settlements they want the American government to use *more* than just words to change Israeli policy.
And P.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren hired Max Berger, one of the founders of IfNotNow, to do progressive outreach.
Eric Alterman complained in the New York Times this week that in order to be a progressive, you have to be for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions targeting Israel. And the young are being “permanently turned against Israel by their professors and fellow students.” (Reefer madness!)
B.D.S. has become a purity test of sorts for progressives in certain corners of American society — a defining part of what it means to be woke. I see it every day, in my triple role as a college professor, columnist for a left-liberal magazine and father of a college-age daughter who gives me regular reports about her school’s “Israel Apartheid Day.”…
[W]hy are so many people worried about B.D.S.? Partly, concern over the movement is driven by parents — with whom I can relate — who fear that their children are being permanently turned against Israel by their professors and fellow students. The rapid growth of anti-Zionist organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace, along with calls I get from my daughter, tells me that these fears are not entirely unfounded.
An important element of this trend is that Jews are not *centered* in the progressive story of Israel, to use the new word; though Jews remain centered in the Democratic Party leadership. Doug Rossinow, a scholar of Zionism, wrote in the Washington Post two days ago that it will be a while before these divisions “fracture the Democratic Party,” because Jews are still on board.
Today’s trends may spell the eventual demise of Democratic support for Israel. But eventual does not mean imminent. In the past five presidential elections, American Jews have given the Democrat, on average, 74 percent of their votes. In light of this strong Jewish support, the Democrats are not likely to get tough on Israel anytime soon, and the party’s leaders probably calculate that Jewish liberals, who may be relatively alienated from Israel, can be taken for granted in 2020.
The Dems are a “gerontocracy” dominated by pro-Israel “elites.” Like 72-year-old Eliot Engel.
[Engel’s] Trump-like views on Israel and Palestine may make him seem contradictory to young liberals…
Engel represents what Democratic Party liberalism used to be, including a fierce partisanship for Israel. The reigning elites of his party’s gerontocracy remain rooted in that earlier formation…
While several Democrats running for president have tried to keep their distance from the most ardent pro-Israel groups for now, only Sanders seriously promises to take U.S. policy in a new direction. Israel’s advocates, sensitive to the realities of American politics, may move now to extract the maximum benefits for Israel before the window of bipartisan support narrows further.
Democratic Majority for Israel is very concerned about these trends. They’re the AIPAC-linked group that sprung up inside the Democratic Party this year, trying to keep the Dems from dividing over this issue.
From email blasts from DMfI officials yesterday and today:
Given all the recent news and efforts to paint our party as anti-Israel, we want to show the candidates that the majority of Democrats support a continued, strong alliance with Israel…
[W]hen I listen to the candidates, it’s important that each of them voices their strong support and commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship….
Our message is simple:
I believe support for Israel is a core Democratic value. I hope you’ll re-affirm your commitment to a strong U.S.-Israel relationship during the second #demdebate! #standwithisrael
To be continued!
h/t Michael Arria and Allison Deger.