Originally published March 27, 2019
The annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference occurred this week. An event that is normally a bipartisan ground for high-ranking politicians and Presidential hopefuls from both parties to deliver remarks about the strong US-Israel alliance is now under increased scrutiny by the growing base of the socialist and intersectional left. Democrats with an eye on the Oval Office in 2020 are now catering to that base, and are increasingly at odds with their colleagues in Congress. This is causing a rift within the Democratic Party, whose support of Israel going forward is in doubt.
Some would lay blame for the increased friction between Democrats and pro-Israel lobbying groups on freshman Democrat Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, ardent supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, or on Linda Sarsour, Women’s March founder and activist. However, the anti-Israel sentiment has been growing in the Democratic Party for years. At the 2012 Democratic National Convention, recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was dropped from the DNC platform. After severe blowback from pro-Israel groups and Jewish donors, the committee held a vote to reinstate that recognition in their platform. According to the rules, that would require two-thirds support from the assembled crowd. When the vote was called, it was impossible to tell whether the “Ayes” or the “Nos” for the change were louder, but the committee clumsily claimed (after three attempts to vote) that the “Ayes” had it, and the recognition was reinstated. As the committee left the stage, loud boos were heard from at least half the crowd. (Credit is due to President Obama, who apparently called the party leaders to try to reinstate the line.)
In 2015, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited by the Republicans to speak to a Joint Session of Congress about the Iran deal. Fifty-nine Democrats decided to skip the event in protest. Prominent Democrats included Vice President Joe Biden, Tim Kaine (Hillary Clinton’s Vice-Presidential running mate), 2020 Presidential Candidates Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, and many other prominent Democrats. Many other high-ranking Democrats, including 2020 Presidential hopefuls, attended the speech, despite supporting the Iran Deal in the end. Boycotting the Prime Minister of Israel only added fuel to the anti-Israel fire.
That figurative fire became literal at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Outside the convention hall, Democratic Socialist protestors, upset that Hillary Clinton secured the nomination over their preferred candidate Bernie Sanders, set fire to American flags and, for some reason, Israeli flags. Palestinian flags were waved, and chants of “long live the intifada” were heard. At the Democratic Socialists of America Convention in 2017, they overwhelmingly voted to endorse BDS. The vote was followed up with a cheer from the crowd, who waved the Palestinian flag and chanted “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
In February 2019, the Senate voted 77-23 for a bill that makes it illegal for government contracts to be awarded to companies that support BDS. Democratic Presidential Candidates Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren all voted against it, claiming that the proposed law would violate the First Amendment right of free speech of companies who want to discriminate against Israel through their business. However, as Marco Rubio said in an Op-Ed for The New York Times, “The problem is that there are no such rights. While the First Amendment protects the right of individuals to free speech, it does not protect the right of entities to engage in discriminatory conduct.”
So in January and February of 2019, when Ilhan Omar got herself in hot water for anti-Semitic statements three times in her first two months in office, and the Democrats refused to officially condemn her, it is important to realize that this is not new, and they are trying to placate their base. Whereas in previous presidential elections, it was common for candidates to speak at AIPAC, now Democratic presidential candidates are pressured to not speak at AIPAC, and they are acquiescing. Anti-Semitic activist Linda Sarsour (who has said that there is no room in the feminist movement for supporters of Israel, is friends with Louis Farrakhan, and has introduced Kirsten Gillibrand at rallies) posted a list last Thursday on Facebook of the 2020 candidate skipping AIPAC. Along with the list, she wrote, “The tide is turning. The status quo is no more. Thank you Representative Ilhan Omar for reaffirming the voices and decades of work of Palestinian and Palestine solidarity activists. We are a generation of justice, and we will be heard.” The list includes check marks alongside the names of Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, and Beto O’Rourke. There were no check marks next to the names Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker. Kamala Harris spoke there in 2017, claiming it was “an honor” to speak there. These Democrats are kowtowing to an online petition circulated by MoveOn.org, a self-described “force for social justice and political progress.”
AIPAC also holds an annual leadership reception, a networking event typically populated with a majority of Congressional members and AIPAC leadership. As reported by Jewish Insider, this year former President Barack Obama held another networking reception for freshman House Democrats during the same block of time. The new members of Congress had to decide between attending an event that is already growing more and more unpopular amongst the Democratic base vs. attending an event hosted by the former President and DC’s uber-networker Ambassador Esther Coopersmith (whose home will be the venue for the event).
All of this is, thankfully, a far cry from the established Democrats, who are currently the policy leaders of the party in Congress. Ahead of AIPAC, Democrats Jerry Nadler and Brad Schneider introduced a House resolution condemning the BDS movement. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at the conference on Monday, saying it was “a mistake” for the Democratic Presidential Candidates to skip the conference. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said to the AIPAC crowd on Sunday, “I stand with Israel, proudly and unapologetically. So, when someone accuses American supporters of Israel of dual loyalty, I say: Accuse me. I am part of a large, bipartisan coalition in Congress supporting Israel. I tell Israel’s detractors: Accuse us.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke on Monday night at the conference, saying, “When someone suggests that money drives support for Israel, we must call it out… You can be a Jew and care about Israel and it doesn’t make you any less of an American. You can be a Jew and lobby for Israel and it doesn’t make you any less of an American. It makes you a better American…” Nancy Pelosi spoke at AIPAC Tuesday morning, reaffirming Israel’s right to self-defense, and saying that you can be pro-Israel “without questioning loyalty or patriotism.” Kamala Harris, despite not attending the conference, tweeted on Monday night, “Great to meet today in my office with California AIPAC leaders to discuss the need for a strong US-Israel alliance, the right of Israel to defend itself, and my commitment to combat anti-Semitism in our country and around the world,” along with a picture of her and the California AIPAC delegation.
All of this leads to a conclusion that there is a civil war in the Democratic Party with regard to support for Israel. There is a growing base of socialists who are interested in injecting their policies into the Democratic Party. These policies are not limited to single-payer healthcare or redistribution of income; they also include the literal destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. There are new and old elected officials in the Democratic Party who actively support (or don’t condemn) the BDS movement, an anti-Semitic movement that attempts to economically suffocate Israel. However, there are Democrats who will proudly stand in support of Israel, as well.
The concern that every pro-Israel Democrat must have is the stark age gap between these two sides. Harris, de Blasio, Schumer, Pelosi, and Hoyer are 54, 57, 68, 79, and 79 respectively. Omar, Sarsour, and Tlaib are 37, 39, and 42. As of December 2017, the median age of a member of the Democratic Socialists of America is 33, as opposed to 68 in 2013. The future of the Democrats is an anti-Israel one. As the old guard says, we must call it out now, before it’s too late.
You can follow Moshe Hill on Twitter @TheMoHill.