Opinion

The Israel lobby has lost its power to sideline critical Dems

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It’s a big news day. Senator Kamala Harris became Joe Biden’s running mate choice yesterday afternoon, and Rep. Ilhan Omar handily defeated a challenger funded by pro-Israel groups in Minnesota last night.

Omar’s victory represents an important trend: the Democratic street is progressive on Palestine. The Israel lobby is not ten feet tall. Three times in recent weeks it has tried to defeat the pro-boycott-and-sanctions movement inside the party (BDS), and been crushed. Jamaal Bowman knocked off pro-Israel heavyweight Eliot Engel in the Bronx/Westchester in June. Rep. Rashida Tlaib handily won reelection in Michigan last week. Now Omar wins by 17 points, in a race that was all about Israel.

So the “Squad” of young progressive people of color is just getting stronger and bigger in the Democratic Party.

But then what about the the Biden Harris slate? This is clearly a victory for the Israel lobby group AIPAC in the Democratic Party. Kamala Harris took an aggressively pro-Israel stance in her run for the presidential nomination last year. She went to AIPAC when others refused to meet the group; told the New York Times, absurdly, that Israel meets human rights standards (in the midst of its shooting unarmed Palestinian protesters); and was critical of the Obama administration’s parting shot, allowing that December 2016 UN Security Council resolution to go through that was sharply critical of Israeli settlements. The same UN resolution Trump tried to block for Israel as president-elect.

Biden surely didn’t choose Harris because of Israel, but her position surely helped her in the screening process. The inevitable Democratic nominee for president is an avowed Zionist who says, “Tell Bibi that I love him.” Biden compromised with Sanders forces on some progressive issues but wouldn’t budge on Israel. Harris helps Biden take the issue off the table.

Biden knows as well as Ilhan Omar does, where the money is in Democratic fundraising. A staggering $13.5 million was spent on Omar’s primary race. I’d conjecture that nearly half of that money was pro-Israel funding. Because Omar is pro-BDS.

Republicans are trying to raid that warchest by making Israel an issue. “They are looking for our donors,” a leading Dem explained last summer. At a New Jersey fundraiser three days ago Donald Trump reportedly endorsed Eliot Engel (!) and said that Democrats are abandoning Israel:

“We need more Jews in the U.S. that love Israel. Unfortunately there are Jews that don’t like Israel. You just lost a great supporter of Israel, (NY Rep.) Eliot Engel. We need more people that love Israel.”

How do all these facts add up?

The Israel lobby used to run politicians who are critical of Israel off the road. No more. MJ Rosenberg wrote me last night that this is a sea change in politics:

For two decades at least I have been writing and speaking about AIPAC’s power to destroy Members of Congress who dared deviate from the “correct” line on Israel/Palestine. After the primaries in NY, Michigan and Minnesota it is clear that have lost their juice. Yes they have the monied old guard but they don’t have the up and coming party activists, they don’t have the kids (Jewish kids are either indifferent to Israel or with IfNotNow, J Street, etc.). They can and do pour money into a candidate’s coffers but that’s it: no conviction and no energy. In short no troops, just cash.  2020 was the first election year ever in which the safe side of the issue is the side that recognizes Palestinian rights and that the US can no longer stand in solidarity with apartheid in the occupied territories and Jim Crow in Israel itself. 

The lobby is embattled in American politics. Donald Trump wants to make U.S. support for Israel an issue in November’s election. So does the progressive left in the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party leadership definitely does not want the issue politicized, and it is likely to have its way, with the help of recumbent media. I predict that despite our best efforts, the question won’t be prominent in debates or ads. Again: Harris helps Biden take the issue off the table.

But the issue is not going away. Progressive Democrats feel strongly about it, and in the year of Black Lives Matter they are going to organize on this basis.

The big news from last night is that the Israel lobby lost a marquee race again, for the third time this cycle. The Israel lobby lost again last night, despite spending a ton of money. This is the most important political trend when it comes to our issue, and it’s more than ray of sunlight, it’s a dawning.

Thanks to Michael Arria, Scott Roth, Donald Johnson, James North and Adam Horowitz.

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Yes, indeedy! And may the turning of the tables continue for the Palestinians, for human rights, for an end to ethnic-cleansing, for a right of return for the indigenous Palestinian peoples (the refugees and their descendants) to their homeland: Palestine, known as Israel. And for the zionists to learn to live in Palestine/Israel equally along with, have as friends, work alongside, with the Palestinians. Please.

Well done, Phil, except for one slight correction. Bowman has said he doesn’t support BDS, though he acknowledges Palestinian suffering. He’s about where Bernie is on the subject. Like Bernie, though, I think he can be convinced, in time, of the value of and need for, BDS to accomplish real change.