Bowman, The DSA, and Palestine

The Bowman Saga Continues

A couple newsletters ago I wrote about the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) chapters that are calling for Rep. Jamaal Bowman to be expelled from the organization. Bowman’s been a DSA member since 2019 and was backed by the organization during his congressional run in New York’s 16th district. He unseated congressman Eliot Engel, who had solidified himself as one of the most pro-Israel Democrats in the House over the course of multiple decades

By now you probably know the details. On foreign policy Bowman is certainly no Engel. For instance, he’s cosponsored Rep. Betty McCollum’s historic child detention bill. However, this fall he voted to send Israel an extra $1 billion in Iron Dome funding. Last month he joined a congressional delegation organized by the liberal Zionist group J Street. The group traveled to Israel, meeting with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

It’s probably worth remembering that Bowman isn’t the only progressive to vote for Iron Dome funding or join J Street in Israel. Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan also did both. However, Pocan is not a member of DSA.

This week DSA’s BDS and Palestine Solidarity Working Group put out their own statement calling for Bowman’s expulsion. They also laid out their reasoning. According to the group, they have engaged with Bowman’s team for months and these meetings have effectively proven fruitless. They couldn’t get him to voice support for BDS or apologize for his “propaganda trip.” In fact, Bowman attended a J Street U event where he talked about his visit.

 “As it was communicated to us, although Bowman desires to be good on Palestine, he is not ready to take on the Zionist lobby yet and principally stand by his stated values,” reads the statement. “Therefore, it is clear to us that Bowman’s shortcomings on Palestine, unfortunately, are not matters that can be corrected solely through political education. Instead, he and his team continue to place political expediency ahead of Palestinian humanity.”

Calls like this have generated a predictable amount of backlash. A good portion of it is from people who should always be ignored, but a lot of its also coming from within the organization.

“Our power to move (or remove) elected officials comes from the organizing we do in their districts, but this conversation is not being driven by the members of DSA on the ground there,” reads a statement signed by dozens of members. “Most calls for expulsion have come without any discussion or even acknowledgement of any path that could lead to reconciliation or to healing the harm caused by Bowman’s actions.”

In Jacobin activist and writer Hadas Thier argues that DSA should not expel him. “Protest or expulsions shouldn’t be written off as possible tools,” reads the piece. “But the first order of business is to give politicians who are generally on the right side of things but who make mistakes (including big mistakes) a chance to change their positions.”

I reached out the working group and asked what they made of criticisms like this. They responded in an email:

The way this article and these responses are conveyed ignored Palestinian voices and concerns from within and outside DSA, which we believe to be part of a broader problem where much of the internal and external discourse surrounding the Bowman situation in DSA has not centered Palestinians. Hadas Thier did not reach out to the Working Group and proceeded to strawman our statement and make assumptions about our process. If she reached out and asked us for clarity, she would have learned about our actual process and the timeline that led up to these demands, which as we stated publicly earlier this week, is not recent at all. Instead, ironically, she took to Jacobin and Twitter without ever reaching out to leading Palestinians and Arabs in our group to learn more about the process we would go on to lay out publicly in our second statement, as well as other organizing work our group has done over the past year, such as mass education efforts, strategy around building electoral power, and building true solidarity via networking with grassroots Palestinian-led organizations.”

Bowman’s chief of staff admitted that their rejection of some of our basic demands to uphold Palestinian rights and BDS was a political calculation. We have spent months working through an accountability process with Bowman and his staff and we have offered political education and come to the table in good-faith. He has made it clear that this is not about needing more education, but that he is simply not willing to take on the Zionist lobby. He sat through a meeting where Palestinians and other organizers of color in DSA explained to him the harm he had caused with his Iron Dome vote and why Zionist lobby trips and events cause harm through normalization of Israeli Apartheid, and then a few days later participated in another Zionist lobby event.

When people vaguely talk in DSA, or anywhere for that matter, about building power, we have to ask “building power for whom?” If this so called “power” you are building in Congress looks like someone who has consistently caused harm by voting to fund a military occupation that ethnically cleanses Palestinians, participated in a Zionist propaganda trip that normalizes apartheid, and then attended another Zionist propaganda event after a months-long accountability process including political education from Palestinians, then we have to come to the conclusion that their idea of “building power” is being done by trading out on Palestinian rights and humanity.

The Bowman saga could be a big moment for DSA, but it also shines a light on the progressive relationship with liberal Zionism and how that terrain is shifting. When six human rights organizations were smeared as agents of terror by the Israeli government, J Street condemned the designation in strong language. However, it didn’t meet with those groups while visiting Israel and was apparently supplied with “secret evidence” about the situation from Israeli officials while there.

If you look at Bowman’s remarks during the aforementioned J Street U speech, you see the same contradictions on display. He admits that there’s no political momentum for peace coming Israeli leaders. He admits that the Israeli government doesn’t really care about Palestinian pain. He says they have an “arrogance” toward American Jews that oppose the occupation. He says no one is really committed to advancing a two-state solution and that its prospects seem bleak.

But! He still supports that framework, despite everything. “Of course, I still believe in it and working toward making it happen,” he told the students. It’s safe to say that these positions are not sustainable.

Torres vs. Ice Cream

Congressman Ritchie Torres represents the poorest district in America and he’s working to improve lives of South Bronx residents by…demanding that the SEC crack down on an ice cream company?

Last week Torres sent a letter to SEC Chairman Gary Gensler expressing consternation about Unilever’s regulatory filings. Unilever is the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s and the staunchly pro-Israel House member is obviously upset that it’s no longer doing business in illegal settlements.

Torres loves to speak about intersectionality, but his entire perception of the concept immediately falls apart when Palestinians attempt to link their struggles with others.

“Unilever is a widely held company with a current market capitalization of $135 billion, which places in jeopardy the manifold United States institutions, pension funds, and endowments which hold its shares on behalf of its beneficiaries,” reads the letter. “We believe that these actions require the SEC to request that the regulatory filings of Unilever be amended to disclose the material risk factors.”

The letter was also signed by Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Andrew Garbarino (R-NY), and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ).

Last week twelve attorney generals sent a letter to Unilever, demanding that the company resume its sale of ice cream in illegal settlements. Those were the AGs from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Indiana, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.

“Today I was proud to lead a 12 state coalition in calling on Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s to reverse their ill-advised boycott of the State of Israel. Israel is a strong ally of the United States and remains the only democratic nation in the region,” declared Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt. “Further, if Unilever is so interested in virtue-signaling, why not announce a boycott of countries like China, Russia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, or especially Iran, who has promised the complete destruction of Israel? Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s should reverse their boycott immediately.”

Virtually every component of this statement is incorrect and/or misleading so let’s just take a random part and debunk it: Ben & Jerry’s is not boycotting Israel. They are continuing to sell their product throughout the country, but have stopped sales in what’s called the occupied territories. In fact, activists continue to pressure Unilever to pull out of Israel altogether.

Odds & Ends

🇬🇺 As part of its effort to “counter China” the Biden administration is enhancing its bases in Guam and Australia.

🇮🇱 At The Intercept Alice Speri writes about the new film Boycott, which examines legislative attacks on the BDS movement.

🐘 Colorado congresswoman and COVID advocate Lauren Boebert called Rep. Ilhan Omar, but refused to apologize for her Islamophobic comments. After Omar hung up on her, Boebert released a video where she ranted about terrorism and claimed she was being canceled. It’s almost like the whole thing was a stunt to drum up reelection excitement within her base. Imagine that.

🇵🇸 Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney attended a Palestine Solidarity Day rally in the city.  Israeli Consul General in New York Asaf Zamir had urged the mayor to skip the event.

🇵🇸 On the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, Rep. Betty McCollum released a statement for the congressional record. It calls on Israel to end the occupation and halt its expansion of illegal settlements.

😬 President Biden has invited Juan Guaidó to represent Venezuela at “The Summit for Democracy.”

🇮🇱 DMFI put out a statement condemning Boebert’s Islamophobic comments. Not sure if there’s a Democratic group that’s done more to help foster such hateful narratives. A quick reminder that a member of the group’s board called for a genocide against Palestinians and she remains there.

🇹🇷 Responsible Statecraft and The Intercept partnered on a story about a shadowy dark money group pushing pro-UAE/Saudi policies. Here’s Eli Clifton and Murtaza Hussain:

The Turkish Democracy Project, a political advocacy group launched this summer with the stated goal of promoting democracy in Turkey, has the surprising characteristic of having no Turkish members on its leadership board. In a press release announcing its creation the organization said that it was “committed to encouraging Turkey to adopt more democratic policies.” The two Turkish people publicly involved with the project — former Turkish politician Aykan Erdemir and academic Suleyman Ozeren — were removed from its website’s list of advisory council members not long after its launch.

Despite having no actual Turks publicly affiliated with the group, the Turkish Democracy Project boasts a roster heavy with hawkish former U.S. public officials and diplomats with close ties to Israel and the Gulf Arab states, including former Bush administration counterterrorism official Frances Townsend, former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, and President Donald Trump’s famously aggressive former national security adviser John Bolton. “It’s time to sound the alarm on Turkey,” Bolton, best known for his advocacy of U.S. confrontation with Iran, said on Twitter at the time of the Turkey Democracy Project’s launch.

🇵🇸 Olivia Katbi (former co-chair of Portland DSA) did a Twitter thread about the Bowman saga:

Your periodic reminder that the D in DSA is for lowercase democratic. We’re not the f*cking Democrats and we’re not a Congressional advocacy org. We’re a mass socialist organization, a pre-party formation, even.

There are a lot of great orgs out there that do a lot of important advocacy work. And those orgs are nothing like DSA. Their strategies for engaging with elected officials are and should be different than ours, as a mass democratic member run organization.

Part of Not Being The Democrats means actually holding public officials who are members accountable to the positions we democratically decided. Unlike the Democratic Party. Sorry. It is really not that complicated.

I think Bowman can and should be engaged and educated and pushed further on this issue by the advocacy orgs that have relationships with his office. That’s not what DSA exists for.

📺 CNN’s Chris Cuomo was suspended by the network for secretly trying to help his brother, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, fend off his sexual harassment scandals. Yesterday Brian Stelter said, “We’re heading into a holiday season. I think it’s possible he will be on the bench for several weeks. I think it’s possible he’ll be back in January.”

In 2018 Marc Lamont Hill’s contract with the network was terminated because he called for Palestinian freedom during a speech at the U.N.

🕎 I was off last week and didn’t have a chance to wish a Happy Hanukkah to all who celebrate. We will be publishing our annual holiday gift guide at the site soon.

Stay safe out there,

Michael

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