Progressives saved Ed Markey’s career, now they’re demanding the Senator stand up for Palestine

Less than a couple years ago, Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey’s political career appeared to be all but over. An August 2019 poll showed that he was down 17 points to Joe Kennedy, a Representative roughly half his age from a political dynasty that had never lost an election in the state.

What happened next is nothing short of incredible. Progressives sprung into action and resurrected Markey’s campaign. The Senator had co-authored the Green New Deal with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and young environmentalists saw the election as a referendum on the historic legislation.

“Markey was the most prominent figure on the Green New Deal aside from AOC,” Sunrise Movement executive director told the New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg last year. “If he goes down in a Democratic primary, immediately the story that gets spun out of that is, ‘The Green New Deal is a losing political proposition.’”

So progressives spent hours canvassing, calling, texting, and registering voters. Markey’s army of supporters grew an online presence so robust that it developed a name: The #Markeyverse. The 2020 Massachusetts primary produced the highest voter turnout numbers in almost thirty years and Markey won by more than 10 points.

Now that same coalition that propelled Markey to victory are pressuring the Senator to act on Palestine. On May 11 Markey made a series of tweets addressing escalating violence in the region, but he faulted both sides for the situation and didn’t mention the United States’ economic connection to Israeli atrocities. He also asserted that Israel had the right to defend itself against Hamas rocket attacks.

Markey’s comments generated an immediate backlash. Hundreds of former staffers, volunteers, supporters, and endorsing organizations signed a statement expressing their disappointment and calling on Markey to take a stance against Israel’s actions.

“As the young people, organizers, and advocates who are responsible for Senator Markey’s victory, we are upset and disappointed by his recent statement on Israel’s illegal occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine,” it reads. “He followed in the footsteps of Mitt Romney and Donald Trump by saying it’s a ‘both sides’ issue, which ignores the current and historical power imbalance between Israel and Palestine — and couldn’t be farther from the truth. Senator Markey’s refusal to support justice in Palestine is antithetical to the Green New Deal and the progressive movement that won him re-election.”

The document lays out a number of legislative steps that Markey could take to assist Palestinians: demand a congressional investigation into how U.S. arms sales to Israel are being used, develop a Senate initiative aimed at stopping the forced displacement in East Jerusalem, demand the enforcement of arms export laws, and introduce a Senate companion to Rep. Betty McCollum’s (D-MN) historic bill seeking to end U.S. complicity in Israeli human rights abuses.

The Palestinian cause has permeated progressive circles in the state and the pressure on Markey reflects this shift.

Calla Walsh was a campaign fellow and a leader of the group Students for Markey. She told Mondoweiss that the Palestinian cause had permeated progressive circles in the state and that the statement reflected that shift.

“It has been incredible to see so much momentum building for the Palestinian liberation movement, and I’ve heard from many longtime organizers that they can’t imagine having this much support even 2 or 3 years ago,” said Walsh. “I certainly have not been paying attention to this issue for long enough, largely because I have always been told that it’s “too complicated” for me to understand the history or take a position. I think that notion has been dispelled because many folks, especially young people like me, are realizing that no matter how complex the history of Palestine is, there is only one right side to take on an issue of apartheid and human rights abuses.”

That growing momentum is certainly symbolized by the Markey backlash. He’s been part of Massachusetts politics for almost fifty years and has never faced this kind of opposition for his pro-Israel positions. A Jewish Insider piece published during the Senate campaign pointed out that both Markey and Kennedy had a history of blaming Palestinians for failed peace talks while deflecting any criticism of Israel. Markey also cosponsored two bills opposing the BDS movement.

Liza Behrendt, a volunteer for Markey’s 2020 campaign, told Mondoweiss that the shift mirrors changes in the local Jewish community.

“I think the power of Palestinian activists has grown so much,” said Behrendt. “Part of that is the BDS movement, part of that is Palestinian leadership in local and national human rights movements. Part of it is also a weakening of influence when it comes to entrenched Zionist influence within Jewish community. I think that split is much more in the open. If you look at Massachusetts, I think there’s been four attempts to penalize BDS and each attempt has failed. The mainstream Jewish organizations who backed those bills have stepped away from them because they realized it is a losing fight.”

There’s mounting evidence of Palestinian-led movements gaining power and anti-Palestinian movements losing power

Liza Behrendt

“I do think there’s mounting evidence of Palestinian-led movements gaining power and anti-Palestinian movements losing power,” she continued.

Markey’s stance is all the more striking when juxtaposed with the recent words and actions of his progressive colleagues, who he often allies with on domestic issues. Last week his Green New Deal partner Ocasio-Cortez referred to Israel as an apartheid state in a tweet. This week she led a resolution aimed at blocking a new weapons sale to Israel.

“There’s a very long legacy of U.S. politicians being progressive except Palestine and that’s just beginning to crack,” Palestinian community organizer and BDS Boston member Lea Kayali told Mondoweiss, “Even Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez just started to get on message with Palestine compared to where she was a short time ago. My read is that Senator Markey is continuing on that legacy of trampling Palestinian dignity. He’s been getting away with it because there’s been a lack of accountability for politicians who don’t live their values when it comes to Palestine. I read this as him thinking he will continue to get away with that, but hopefully that’s no longer the case.”

So where are the Palestinian voices in mainstream media?

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