After progressive challenger Alex Morse failed to unseat incumbent Rep. Richard Neal in Massachusetts’ 1st district, the lobbying group Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) tweeted out their endorsement scorecard, which was 27-1. “If you think anti-Israel positions appeal to Democratic voters, think again,” read the tweet.
The implication from DMFI (a group that was created to stave off a growing sympathy for Palestinians within the Democratic party) is clear: candidates who were critical of Israel lost, while pro-Israel Democrats prevailed. This proves that Democratic voters aren’t particularly interested in altering the United States foreign policy consensus in any real way and that lawmakers who rock the boat on this issue will suffer defeat.
These assertions fall apart pretty quickly upon examination, but it’s important to establish what DMFI is actually referring to when they say “anti-Israel positions” first. Almost nobody who runs for office in the United States says that they’re a supporter of the BDS movement and nobody claims that Israel shouldn’t exist. When DMFI says “anti-Israel”, they’re referring to people like Morse who have said that they’d be open to conditioning aid to Israel over the country’s human rights record.
DMFI did endorse 27 politicians who won their races, but they didn’t back the challengers who ran against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ilhan Omar, or Rep. Rashida Tlaib. All three of those congresswomen support conditioning aid to the country.
They also didn’t endorse Missouri Rep. William Lacy Clay, who lost to progressive challenger Cori Bush in the state’s 1st district. Not only does Bush support conditioning aid to Israel, she’s defended the BDS movement, something that few elected officials have had the courage to do. “In these times, it is important to be specific with our language and direct in the actions we take. In our current geopolitical economy, money talks far louder than speech alone,” read Bush’s website. “This is why nonviolent actions like the BDS movement are so important—and why the effort to mischaracterize and demonize the BDS movement by its opponents is so urgent.”
They stayed out of Illinois’ 3rd district, where one of the House’s most pro-Israel Democrats, incumbent Dan Lipinski, lost to Marie Newman. “The U.S. has a responsibility to examine how aid to Israel is used and that we should ensure that this aid is not used to support actions and policies that undercut our values,” Newman has said.
So, where does the 27 come from? If you go on DMFI’s website, you’ll see that they’ve racked up wins by endorsing people like Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Hakeem Jeffries, and Steny Hoyer. Their one loss is easily the most important and the one that they have seemed to use the most resources on. DMFI spent $2 million in a failed effort to boost Rep. Eliot Engel in New York’s 16th district. Engel, a rabidly pro-Israel politician who has been in congress since the 80s, lost to middle school principal and local activist Jamaal Bowman. “As Netanyahu calls for expanding settlements and annexing the West Bank, we should seriously consider placing conditions on the billions of dollars of military aid our government provides him in order to make sure that the rights and dignity of both the Israeli and Palestinian people are respected,” Bowman told Jacobin last year.
DMFI methodology aside, there’s no way to deny this fact: in 2021, the number of House members who support conditioning military aid will have increased. Nobody who supports this policy was ousted, but multiple candidates who support it will be taking control of seats.
DMFI’s observation that Democratic voters don’t support such policies is simply untrue. Pretty much every recent survey examining this issue has shown that Democrats want U.S. military aid conditioned. A 2019 Data for Progress poll found that 64% of Democratic voters want to reduce Israel’s aid over the country’s human rights abuses. A Center for American Progress poll ended up with even higher numbers: 71% said they wanted aid conditioned.
Some of the most striking poll data on Democratic views of Israel comes from a recent University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll. Among Democrats who had heard of the BDS movement, 48% said they “strongly or somewhat” supported it.
The data is clear. Like Medicare for All, or the Green New Deal, conditioning aid to Israel is largely popular among Democratic voters and emerging as the mainstream position among the growing progressive movement in congress.
As soon as Morse lost, there were calls for him to run again in two years. Many progressive are asking the same of Jessica Cisneros, a 26-year-old AOC-backed activist, who came very close to toppling Rep. Henry Cuellar in Texas’ 28th district earlier this year. The establishment of the Democratic party found Cisneros’ candidacy threatening enough to send Nancy Pelosi to Texas to stump for the anti-abortion, pro-gun (DMFI-endorsed) Cuellar. Bush and Newman both ran and lost in 2018 and now they’re going to congress. What’s to stop Morse or Cisneros from doing the same?
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has dismissed the concept of conditioning aid as “outrageous” and it has yet to permeate the party establishment, but it’s clearly picking up steam quickly and the writing is in the wall. In order to deny the shift, one has to rely on some very fuzzy math.