Israel lobby forces progressive out of Illinois governor’s race

Chicago Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, right, was on Illinois State Senator Daniel Biss’ gubernatorial ticket for a week, before Israel lobby pressure forced him off. (via Facebook)

Pressure from the Israel lobby has forced a promising progressive politician out of the 2018 Illinois governor’s race.

Only a week ago there was much grassroots excitement when Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, a member of Chicago’s city council, was named as the running mate of Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, State Senator Daniel Biss.

Ramirez-Rosa, who was a Bernie Sanders delegate during last year’s Democratic Party convention, is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

His selection was also a nod to the growing political role of Illinois’ Latino population; Ramirez-Rosa represents a diverse, majority Latino ward on Chicago’s northwest side. He has previously spoken about how experiencing discrimination as a gay person and a Latino has shaped his progressive politics.

DSA has seen a huge surge in membership since last year’s election, and just last month the socialist grassroots organization overwhelmingly endorsed the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign for Palestinian rights.

But that support for Palestinian rights has come up against the hard reality of the Israel lobby’s continued grip on elite sections of the Democratic Party.

Dumped from ticket

“While I was honored to be chosen as Senator Daniel Biss’ gubernatorial running mate, it became clear over the past few days that while we share a total commitment to peace, security, and statehood for the Israeli and Palestinian people, and both oppose pursuing BDS at the state level, the difference of opinion we have on the role the BDS movement plays at the federal level would make it impossible to continue moving forward as a ticket,” Ramirez-Rosa wrote in a Facebook post announcing his departure from the Biss campaign.

Ramirez-Rosa appears to be indicating that he does not contest the first-in-the-nation anti-BDS bill passed by Illinois in 2015, but does oppose pending federal legislation, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, that has been widely criticized as violating First Amendment free speech rights.

In his own statement, Biss asserted that he strongly supports Israel’s “right to exist” as “the homeland of the Jewish people.” He also claimed to care “deeply about justice for Palestinians.”

But Biss emphasizes his total opposition to the nonviolent BDS movement which Palestinians lead in pursuit of that justice.

The goals of the BDS movement are to end Israeli military occupation, secure the rights of Palestinian refugees and equality for all Palestinians whose rights Israel systematically denies.

“When I asked him in the interview process prior to his selection, Carlos said he too supported a two-state solution and opposed BDS,” Biss wrote of his former running mate.

“Since we’ve announced his selection, we have been asked about his position on BDS,” Biss added. “After much discussion, it’s become clear that Carlos’ position has changed.”

What Biss makes clear is that opposing a nonviolent movement for Palestinian rights is still a condition for participation in mainstream Democratic Party politics.

Pressure from “lifetime” AIPAC member

Chicago DSA said it was “disappointed, but not entirely surprised” that Ramirez-Rosa had been dumped. The chapter reaffirmed that “we unconditionally support the BDS movement” and said the group was proud to have Ramirez-Rosa as a member.

Biss “met the first challenge of his run for governor by abandoning principle” and yielding to pressure, Chicago DSA added.

As Zaid Jilani reported for The Intercept, the pressure began when Illinois congressman Brad Schneider wrote a Facebook post on Sunday attacking Ramirez-Rosa for his “affiliation with a group that is an outspoken supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.”

Jilani notes that Ramirez-Rosa’s own statements on the question of Palestine “have been critical of the status quo but hardly extreme.” He has, for instance, pointed out that the US has “subsidized the oppression of the Palestinian people” and stated that “people stand with Israel, but they also want to make sure that Palestinian people have [justice].”

Schneider, by contrast, has been an extreme supporter of Israel. According to Jilani, the congressman “has long been affiliated with the right-wing pro-Israel lobby, which tolerates little dissent on the issue.”

Pro-Israel money was a major source of funding for his 2016 election campaign – a whopping $318,000 dollars.

Schneider is also reportedly a “lifetime member” of the powerful Israel lobby group AIPAC.

Billionaire Democrats

Ramirez-Rosa’s selection – albeit for the second spot on a ticket – provided a sharp contrast to the rest of the Democratic field.

Among the prominent names seeking to challenge Illinois’ unpopular Republican governor is Chris Kennedy, the nephew of President John F. Kennedy, who played a key role in the 2014 firing of Steven Salaita by the University of Illinois over tweets critical of Israel’s attack on Gaza.

Another Democratic contender is J.B. Pritzker, the billionaire scion of a prominent pro-Israel family, who has supported such anti-Palestinian causes as Friends of the IDF, an organization that raises tens of millions of dollars a year to support soldiers in the Israeli army.

The flap over Ramirez-Rosa and BDS is clearly another front in the ongoing battle between big-money Democratic elites and grassroots movements that are increasingly supportive of Palestinian rights.

Earlier this year, a national poll found that 56 percent of Democrats back economic sanctions or tougher actions on Israel over its continued construction of settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

Grassroots fighting back

Biss may hope that by dropping Ramirez-Rosa he can placate the Israel lobby and make the issue go away.

But as the Chicago chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace noted, the dumping of Ramirez-Rosa shows that BDS “has become an issue in the ongoing Illinois gubernatorial race.”

“As the movement for Palestinian rights enters the mainstream, people of conscience must decide whether they want to be on the right side of history,” JVP Chicago added. “We encourage all candidates to support boycott, divestment and sanctions and the movement for Palestinian freedom and human rights.”

“There’s something much more powerful than money and political machines, and that’s organized people,” Ramirez-Rosa said at the 31 August event announcing his spot on Biss’ ticket.

What his short-lived candidacy shows is that while organized people may be gaining ground, the money and political machines still hold formidable power.

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Comments

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So, where are all those liberals that are so disgusted that a foreign government could have such an impact on an American election?? Oh, that's right! NOBODY criticizes Israel or ANYTHING Israel related!

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Israel is spending billions trying to neutralise the BDS movement. However, Qatar has just come out in support of this movement, support of Palestine and condemnation of all Israeli payments to US officials.

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It seems we need these lessons to remind us of the strictures under which we live. Nobody elected the oligarchs. Nobody elected AIPAC or its sister organizations. Yet they lay down rules that must be followed in the political arena. And they administer punishment to those who transgress those rules. In this case, all it took was one statement from an Israeli-fed Democratic machine hack, and craven obedience was the instant result.

Incidentally, it appears from this and other coverage that the lieutenant governor's position in Illinois is the gift of the winning gubernatorial candidate. No primary contest for the second spot seems to have taken place. Nor, evidently, is the office of lieutenant governor one that's openly decided by the voters in a general election. Illinois operates as though it were staging a federal election for the Presidency, wherein the nominee chooses a running mate, whom he or she may subsequently dispose of in favor of another. To my way of thinking, this is a pretty naked method of bypassing voter's concerns by throwing a "ticket" at them. If the office of lieutenant governor were separately decided, the sort of travesty just witnessed would be impossible. Governors ought to be obliged to work with whomever the voters preferred. They- and their financial backers-shouldn't get two for the price of one.

This episode of blatant interference by Israel in a local election offers a lesson that won't be lost on progressive voters- or genuine conservatives, for that matter. The BDS movement is strengthened by these shenanigans, because people are getting fed up.

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Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

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.