DSA fails Palestine test by giving Jamaal Bowman a pass

Two men in suits with their backs towards one another

Congressman Jamaal Bowman turned his back on earlier commitments by voting to re-arm Israel.

Bill Clark CQ Roll Call

Congressman Jamaal Bowman survived an effort to expel him from the Democratic Socialists of America on Thursday.

This came after several Palestinians and Arab Americans stepped in to shield the New York Democrat from growing grassroots anger over his support for Israel.

Bowman, a member of the new intake of “progressives,” defeated heavyweight pro-Israel incumbent Eliot Engel in a hotly contested battle last year.

Yet Bowman quickly betrayed the hopes and expectations of many supporters.

Earlier this week, the DSA’s Palestine solidarity working group called for Bowman’s expulsion.

In November, DSA members met Bowman and concluded that the congressman was “not ready to accept our most significant demands.”

DSA members want Bowman to end his relationship with J Street and other Israel lobby groups. They also demand his unequivocal support for Palestinian human rights groups falsely labeled as “terrorist” by Israel and that he oppose any further US funding for Israel.

DSA fudge

In a forceful condemnation on Thursday, DSA’s National Political Committee called Bowman’s recent pro-Israel moves “egregious.”

The group cited Bowman’s September vote to give additional US funding to Israel’s Iron Dome missile system and his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a November junket organized by J Street.

The National Political Committee said there was “no excuse” for Bowman’s decision “to increase funding for the Israeli military” in violation of his earlier pledges.

It called his participation in the J Street “propaganda trip” to Israel part of an effort to “legitimize an apartheid state.”

Bowman’s support for the standalone Iron Dome bill in September followed his July vote for a foreign aid bill that included more than $3 billion in military funding for Israel.

The congressman endorsed the aid only months after Israel’s horrific massacres of entire families in Gaza.

But after laying out a seemingly clear-cut case for Bowman’s expulsion, DSA’s leadership opted for a fudge: The progressive group will not expel Bowman but neither will it re-endorse him in 2022 “unless he is able to demonstrate solidarity with Palestine in alignment with expectations we have set.”

DSA’s platform states that the group will “stand in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle against apartheid, colonialism and military occupation, and for equality, human rights and self-determination, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.”

At this point, however, it is hard to see how Bowman could reverse the damage he has done to Palestinians or why he should be given another chance.

At the very least, he should have been expelled from DSA but invited to re-apply for membership when he has clearly met its political conditions.

Instead, DSA has demonstrated that it will allow celebrity members including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bowman to violate fundamental principles with little meaningful accountability.

Notably, Ocasio-Cortez – along with Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush – was among only three Democrats to vote against the July appropriations bill providing billions to Israel.

But in September, amid tears on the House floor, Ocasio-Cortez switched her vote on the additional Iron Dome funding from “no” to “present.”

Crossing Palestine’s picket line

Last month, Palestine’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee denounced the J Street junket attended by Bowman.

“Visits by politicians and parliamentarians to Israel that are organized by Israel lobby groups, including AIPAC and J Street in the US, cross our nonviolent Palestinian BDS picket line and harm our struggle for freedom, justice and equality,” the group said.

J Street has a long history of opposing basic Palestinian rights and BDS.

While marketing itself as kinder and gentler than AIPAC, J Street’s goal is to bridge the gap between “progressives” and Israeli war criminals.

DSA’s slap on the wrist for Bowman will comfort J Street and other pro-Israel liberal groups. Their goal is to co-opt effective left-wing solidarity into mere rhetorical support for the moribund “two-state solution” at the expense of Palestinian rights and liberation.

In that respect, Bowman is a dream come true for J Street.

In May – the month after Ocasio-Cortez did her own pandering performance in front of the Israel lobby group – Bowman took part in an online event with the Jewish Committee Relations Council of New York.

During the event Bowman agreed with his host’s characterization as anti-Semitic of many of the groups that have endorsed Representative Betty McCollum’s bill to bar Israel from using US-funded weaponry against Palestinian children.

Bowman has co-sponsored that bill so it was particularly egregious how he threw other supporters under the bus.

“I do not align myself with those groups, I do not support the BDS movement,” Bowman asserted.

“Israel has a right to exist, it has a right to its homeland. It has a right to self-determination and I’m here to support that right,” the congressman added.

Bowman is doing everything of substance that the Israel lobby could ask of him, from voting for bombs and bullets for Israel to opposing even nonviolent Palestinian resistance.

But he’s adept at throwing occasional symbolic crumbs that appease the gullible and allow opponents of Palestinian rights to sugarcoat his support for Israel.

This was on full display during the J Street junket in November, during which Bowman posed for photos with Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank.

“There are streets they cannot walk and places they cannot go, simply because they are Palestinian,” Bowman tweeted. “When I asked about their dreams, their answer was simple: freedom.”

“The occupation must end,” he concluded.

All that is rich hypocrisy from someone who voted to give Israel more weapons to kill Palestinian children and ensure the occupation never ends.

Far from supporting these Palestinian children’s “freedom,” Bowman was cynically using them as human shields to deflect criticism of his support for Israel.

And it worked – at least for some.

Protecting politicians or holding them accountable?

Among those who rode in to defend Bowman as he faced possible expulsion from DSA were a handful of Arab Americans that the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz generously described as “leading Palestinian activists.”

They included James Zogby, longtime Democratic Party stalwart and president of the Arab American Institute, and his former deputy Omar Baddar.

Also urging that Bowman be given a break were Margaret Zaknoen DeReus, director of the Institute for Middle East Understanding, and Yousef Munayyer, former director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.

“Working with Congress can be full of frustration and contradictions – we have a lot of work to do to ensure that the US isn’t complicit in Israel’s oppression of Palestinians,” Zaknoen DeReus tweeted.

“I don’t believe we do that by alienating members of Congress like [Representative Bowman] from our movement.”

Instead, she suggested that supporters of Palestinian rights “push and build power with” Bowman “on our path to a better world for all.”

But pushing and building power is exactly what DSA members were trying to achieve by calling for Bowman’s expulsion. They wanted to send a message that their political principles matter and cannot be violated without a cost.

That would tell politicians seeking the endorsement, donations and on-the-ground work of DSA members that they must uphold the political commitments they make.

By contrast, Zaknoen DeReus and others, including ultimately DSA’s National Political Committee, appear to believe that maintaining insider ties to politicians is more important than holding them accountable.

Instead of defending Palestinians from the hostile and lethal actions of politicians, the “progressive” cause becomes defending politicians from Palestinians and their supporters. This enables and prolongs the phenomenon of “Progressive Except for Palestine.”

Presumably the promise is that at some indeterminate time in the future – due to clever enough “advocacy” – Bowman will see the light and reverse his headlong rush into the arms of the Israel lobby.

But that is never how politics works. As anyone who has watched the Democratic Party establishment’s ratchet ever further to the right knows, calls for those on the left to be “pragmatic” are almost always demands that they accept the status quo.

Bowman will undoubtedly be happy to “engage” and “dialogue” with liberal groups like the Arab American Institute or the Institute for Middle East Understanding forever, while he continues voting to fund Israel’s crimes against Palestinians.

Waleed Shahid, a senior Democratic Party strategist, touted Zaknoen DeReus’ intervention as a reason to oppose the expulsion of Bowman from DSA.

But while party operatives undoubtedly appreciated the efforts to shield Bowman from accountability, the grassroots reaction was far less positive – at least judging from the scathing criticism on social media.
Writer Steven Salaita observed that just as DSA and the left-wing magazine Jacobin “were (rightly) getting criticized” for their Bowman apologia, “the think tank Arab Americans (and their liberal Zionist cheerleaders) all jumped in at the same time to run interference.”

There is only a slim hope that anti-Palestinian policies will change in the US as a result of electoral activism. But that hope is negated entirely when Palestinian Americans – of all people – step in to protect politicians from the justifiable outrage at their complicity in Israel’s horrific crimes.

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Thank you Ali Abunimah for your incisive article. DSA exposes its allegiance to the Democratic Party by their failure to hold Bowman accountable. One can't be a Democratic Party leader and a true socialist. Socialists want to get rid of capitalism.

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Bowman is facing electoral realities. The people who voted him into office are largely pro-Israel liberals, and no DSA condemnation or expulsion is going to change that. Most American voters with an opinion on the issue support the 2-state solution.

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Thank you for your thoughtful analysis. I am a member of Madison DSA chapter, and I am pleased to point out that this chapter was the first in DSA to call for Bowman's resignation. Madison has been doing a lot locally around the rights of Palestinians; a recent story in the chapter's online publication, Red Madison, is here:
https://redmadison.com/2021/12...

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Why should DSA expel him? The DSA National Political Committee voted to disagree with Bowman's position, yet not expel him from the group. It also voted not to endorse him. I would have voted to condemn, but not to expel him, as well. Avoid sectarianism. Agree to disagree on some issues but work together on issues of common estimate. That's what members of mass, (100,000 members qualifies as "mass" in US left terms) progressive organizations do--or should do, anyway.

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Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.