The NY Times Magazine published a lengthy story today titled “How Oct. 7 Drove a Wedge Into the Democratic Party.” That is a fair summary of part of the article but if you keep reading it’s not just about how the wedge was introduced but about what it could mean for the progressive outliers in the squad who are facing reelection this year with a lot of pushback from the more moderate left.
Since Hamas killed around 1,200 people and took about 240 hostages, and Israel retaliated by shelling Gaza, leaving more than 26,000 dead, there has been a sense within the Democratic Party of a divide that cannot be bridged, an eruption of ill feeling that will not dissipate…
After the enormous George Floyd protests that swept across cities in the pandemic summer of 2020, the fervor around social-justice issues gradually waned. It has since surged back. To follow a pro-Palestinian march through the streets of a large city is to see 2020 reborn, with Black Lives Matter swapped for Free Palestine. But the moment, for now at least, offers several stark differences. In 2020, the racial reckoning was backed by powerful politicians and elite institutions. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, and other Democratic members of Congress, put on Kente cloth and took a knee on the floor of the Capitol. Corporate America rushed to publish statements on social justice, race and policing. College administrators engineered new diversity initiatives. But as Israel’s war in Gaza grinds on, Amazon and Nike are not issuing statements in support of Palestinian civilians. No Senate and House leaders are wearing kaffiyehs. Universities, after facing intense criticism for allowing pro-Palestinian protests that some perceived as targeting Jews, have since course-corrected, issuing condemnations of antisemitism and in some cases banning anti-Zionist activist groups.
In other words, the pro-Palestinian left is a large and noisy fringe of the Democratic party, not a view that has unified the party the way BLM briefly did. It’s worth noting that even BLM’s moment of unity was short-lived. It wasn’t long before you had moderate Democrats around the country denouncing “defund the police” and “abolish prisons” as they came to see these BLM-inspired ideas as too extreme for most Democrats.
And that brings us to the House where the outspoken proponents of anti-Israel politics have been members of the Squad. Many of those members are now in real danger of losing their seats over this issue.
Some of the progressive Democrats known as the Squad could lose their re-election bids because of a large influx of pro-Israel cash as well as disaffected voters who believe that advocacy for Palestinians veers into antisemitism…
Cori Bush might be the most endangered House Democrat in America. Rising to prominence in the crucible of the Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, Mo., Bush has been an unflinching leftist in Congress. A steadfast critic of the Israeli government, she sponsored a House resolution in October calling for a cease-fire in the war in Gaza…
Bush, like Tlaib and Omar, has backed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which calls for cultural and economic boycotts of Israel and is regarded by some as antisemitic. A third rail in American politics, B.D.S. is now one reason Bush is in a primary battle she might very well lose. Her opponent, Wesley Bell, a reformist St. Louis county prosecutor, is also Black and has promised he will not “waver” in his support for Israel. Many of the Democrats I spoke with told me that PACs affiliated with AIPAC and Democratic Majority for Israel are expected to spend millions in a bid to boost Bell and sink Bush. (Bush’s prospects may be further dimmed by a Justice Department investigation into whether she improperly used campaign funds for her personal security.)
The article compared the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) as the foreign policy equivalent of defund the police. It’s basically a signal to other progressives that you hold the most extreme possible stance against Israel. But several socialists connected to the Squad have realized BDS may be the third rail. So AOC hasn’t endorsed it. Both Bernie Sanders and Jamaal Bowman have said they do not support it.
But it’s not clear if that will be enough. Bowman may not have endorsed BDS but he did refer to the war in Gaza as “genocide” and praised Israel critic Norman Finkelstein before backtracking.
The bottom line here is that this divide among Democrats looks like a lose-lose issue. Progressives who speak out too strongly have a real chance of losing their reelection bids and at the same time Dems who seem too tepid in denouncing Israel run the risk of losing the younger, pro-Palestinian voters they need to win elections. This comment from a Jewish New Yorker sums up the feelings many have about the anti-Israel left.
It’s a scary moment in time. As a Jew living in New York, I am horrified by the normalization of actions like protesting outside a children’s cancer hospital because they accept donations from “Zionist” supporters (aka Jews). I am in anguish over the lack of moral clarity in which we’ve somehow accepted as a society that it’s OK to take a position that the Hamas terror attacks are somehow justified.
Antisemitism, it has become clear to me and all the people in my community, is an unstoppable force that won’t go away. We used to believe that simply calling it by its name or pointing it out would make it disappear into the private spaces where blatant ugliness is tolerated. Now we understand that you can rape and murder Jews – no matter their age, gender, or political stance – and even that won’t shock the conscience of the public.
All that is apparently required is to find the right language to hide behind (decolonization, oppression, Zionism, genocide), and everyone who supports the most vile actions against humanity can go home and sleep well.
Here’s hoping the Squad takes a serious hit in the election this year. It’s the only way Democrats will learn.