Israel lobby group tries to stop Bernie Sanders in Iowa

Three people talk on stage

CNN pundit Paul Begala, at right, has temporarily left Democratic Majority for Israel following an attack ad by the organization’s political action committee against Bernie Sanders.

Nancy Kaszerman ZUMA Press

I support Bernie Sanders for president.

CNN pundit Paul Begala, it’s safe to say, does not.

Begala was serving on the board of Democratic Majority for Israel at the same time that the lobby group’s political action committee prepared a hit ad in Iowa against Sanders.

The closely watched Iowa caucuses on Monday will mark the first time American voters cast ballots in the 2020 presidential race. Iowans will be choosing who they want as the Democratic Party’s nominee to face Donald Trump in November’s general election.

Following questions about an obvious conflict of interest, Begala announced that “to avoid confusion, I will be taking a leave of absence from the DMFI board until the primary season is over.”

The 30-second ad – which can be viewed here – takes aim at Sanders’ election viability, socialism and health following a heart attack last year:

It says nothing about Israel and refers only to “DMFI PAC” without spelling out that this stands for the political action committee of Democratic Majority for Israel.

That unwillingness to mention Israel signals a sea change among Democratic voters who are moving away from Israel’s brand of apartheid and anti-Palestinian discrimination and gravitating toward a candidate willing to say, as Sanders has, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “a racist” and that Israel’s actions are unacceptable.

Good, not perfect

That said, and though he surpasses the other candidates on Palestinian rights, Sanders and his foreign policy adviser Matt Duss still do not support and show solidarity with the nonviolent Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for freedom and equality.

Sanders also joined with 11 other US Senators this week in signing a letter to President Trump that continues to support “the vision of a democratic Jewish state.”

As has been frequently noted, this vision is only possible at the expense of fundamental Palestinian rights.

This is akin to trying to convince Americans that a white supremacist Jim Crow Christian South would be a good idea. Indeed, it is like saying that such official racism would provide the “solution” to Black Americans being denied civil rights, because they could have their own separate bantustans.

When apartheid is being foisted on a people it is imperative to speak out for equal rights and not for supremacy of one people over another, or for political and physical separation of peoples based on race, ethnicity or religion.

The senators are smart enough to reject a “fragmented, disconnected and deeply unequal system of Palestinian islets surrounded by Israeli territory” but not brave enough to call it apartheid or bantustans – though Sanders adviser Duss did so from his personal Twitter account.

And Duss also indicated that he is researching how to put conditions on US aid to Israel.

These are positive signs and Sanders and his team – notwithstanding noted shortcomings – have been outspoken enough to upset Democratic Majority for Israel, an organization which is desperate to maintain bipartisan support for Israel at a time when grassroots Democrats are increasingly rejecting Israel’s brutality toward Palestinians.

Begala’s claim not to have known about the ad seems unlikely, but in any case DMFI already had a clear record of attacking Sanders.

DMFI sought in December to divide Sanders from campaign surrogate Linda Sarsour, smearing her as anti-Semitic.

The organization made a broader attack against Sanders and Sarsour as well as other unnamed surrogates and endorsers in October.

The group also criticized congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the first two Muslim women elected to the US Congress, over their plans for a trip to the occupied West Bank. Both congresswomen support Sanders.

Begala has no excuse for not knowing about all these attacks and smears as he sat on the board of Democratic Majority for Israel. It is also notable that he did not disavow the ad as he stepped aside from DMFI.

If the Sanders campaign is victorious in Iowa, or highly competitive, more such attacks can be expected.

Strikingly, however, such efforts may backfire as supporters of Sanders become more determined to back their candidate.

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Comments

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Begala is obviously lying when he states that he was not aware of the controversy .But hey, that is US politics ,truth is hard to come by.
Bernie for president and Tulsi for VP.

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I don't particularly like Bernie's socialist/communist party, but I do wish to point out that the fact that Bernie had a heart attack proves he has a heart.
That is more than I can say for Killary and Joe.

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Sanders' position on Israel/Palestine illustrates the impossibility of a candidate who tells the truth being elected President. The truth for a long time has been that a 2-State solution is a chimera. The Zionists were guilty of bad faith from the start. As Kermit Roosevelt remarked in 1948: "Americans do not realize the extent to which partition was refused acceptance as a final settlement by the Zionists in Palestine." UN Resolution 181, bad as it was, for the Zionists was a mere bridgehead. Had there been good faith from the Zionists, the 2 States could have been established long ago. It says something about democracy that to tell the truth is an absolute disqualification from office. The Jewish American lobby wields enough power to ensure this is so. Nevertheless, Sanders is an improvement, though if he wins in Iowa, expect the accusations of anti-Semitism to start flying.

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I take heart from Duss doing the hard policy work of determining just how to put conditions on aid to Israel. Slogans or soundbites are essential to getting the main message across but pretty hollow if not built upon workable policy positions. It doesn't worry me in the least that neither Sanders nor Duss have shown overt 'solidarity' with BDS (which I fully support) because I don't see its the primary role of serious politicians to align themselves with any form of serious activism. It is enough that a good faith politician support the right to BDS or to any form of activism that does not stray into illegality.

BDS is essentially a broad rights based grass roots movement. It is not tightly held by its Palestinian leadership and any instance of a badly worded statement by a BDS supporter that could be construed as anti-Semitic can be slated home to those who give BDS overt support. We know that if Sanders does well in the primaries, he is going to be given the Corbyn treatment and all the oxygen of his campaign sucked up by trying to explain, deny or worse still, apologise for alleged instances of anti-semitism. We all saw how disastrous that was for UK Labour.

I'd rather Duss continue to work quietly to flesh out real policies on how to condition American aid. I'd rather Sanders, in addition to upholding the right of Americans to boycott or pursue activism, start to reframe the I/P debate into how to move towards ensuring all have citizenship in a truly sovereign state and human/civil rights within the context that both can be either achieved or denied in a one state solution or a two state solution, that is, better one state with full rights than two states without full rights for all and vice versa.

I'd also say that BDS will be stronger without overt ties with mainstream politicians; any tomfool thing they say or do can also be used to denigrate BDS. I just want Bernie etc to support the right to BDS.

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Americans and American Jews for Peace regarding the Palestinian Israeli Conflict are developing an aversion towards Israel's brand of apartheid and Anti-Palestinian blatant discrimination, and are gravitating towards as Sanders that Prime Minister Netanyahu is a "racist" and that Israel's unfairness and brutality towards the Palestinians are completely unacceptable. In fact, Sander's advisor, Matt Duss indicates that he is researching how to place conditions on U.S. aid to Israel. Money talks.

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Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune, TheNation.com, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.