DSA Palestine activists call for Jamaal Bowman to be expelled from the organization

The Democratic Socialists of America’s (DSA) BDS and Palestine Solidarity Working Group is calling for Rep. Jamaal Bowman (NY-D) to be expelled from the organization. Bowman’s recent trip to Israel and his vote for additional Iron Dome funding have prompted dozens of DSA chapters to make similar calls in recent weeks.

“Despite insisting that he is sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinian people, he has continued to show that he simply is not in solidarity with Palestinians, nor that he is willing to do what solidarity would actually necessitate,” reads a statement put out by the working group. “Building real solidarity and social bonds with Palestinians requires more than just recognizing and feeling bad for their plight. It requires following the lead of Palestinian civil society, and further, it also means empowering Palestinians everywhere to meaningfully change their own circumstances.”

Bowman has been a DSA member since 2019 and was endorsed by the organization when he ran against the staunchly pro-Israel Eliot Engel in the Democratic primary for New York’s 16th district. Although not a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, he defended the First Amendment rights of BDS activists on the campaign trail and insisted that military aid to the country should be conditioned. As a House member, he became a cosponsor of Rep. Betty McCollum historic bill aiming to end the detention of Palestinian children.

However, in September Bowman voted to provide Israel’s military with an additional $1 billion in Iron Dome funds. Fellow progressives like Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) all voted against the measure. In an interview with MSNBC, Bowman justified his vote by pointing to the dynamics of his district.

Last month Bowman was part of a J Street delegation to Israel. During his trip with the liberal Zionist group, he posted pictures standing next to West Bank children and called for an end to the occupation. However, he also met with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

“This evening at the Knesset, I met with a delegation of Democratic members of Congress,” tweeted Lapid. “I thanked them for supporting the replenishment of the Iron Dome missile defense system, and we discussed the importance of continuing to strengthen the US-Israel relationship.”

The working group engaged with Bowman for months and called on him to denounce the trip, explaining that such visits are “Zionist propaganda.” Bowman refused to criticize the trip and spoke about it at a J Street U Town Hall event. His participation “once again crossed what we communicated is a hard line” said the working group.

The calls for expulsion have generated their own backlash. “A knee-jerk response to write off or expel political allies who don’t completely line up with us will confine us to the continued marginality of purity politics,” wrote activist and writer Hadas Thier in Jacobin.

A statement signed by dozens of DSA members declares that, “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. 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.”

Olivia Katbi, national U.S. organizer for the BDS Movement and one of the original founders of the working group, made a strong distinction between DSA and other groups that aim to pressure Democrats from the left.

“There are a lot of great orgs out there that do a lot of important advocacy work. And those orgs are nothing like DSA,” she tweeted. “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,” she continued. “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.”

These sentiments are echoed at the end of the working group’s statement: “Will we be a socialist organization that builds electoral power that is accountable to our socialist values, or will DSA devolve into a congressional advocacy organization that trades out its values for access to anyone on Capitol Hill offering us crumbs?”

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