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Zionists fear the picket

Jacobin’s misdirection on Bowman and DSA

Joel Reinstein unpacks Liza Featherstone’s recent defense of DSA’s ostensible solidarity with Palestine, and finds logical fallacies and factual mistakes.

Several Palestine solidarity movement groups, including the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Palestinian Youth Movement, and National Students for Justice in Palestine have refused to work with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) until it reverses its retaliation against its Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) working group for public criticisms of DSA member and Democratic congressperson Jamaal Bowman. It has yet to do so.

Now Liza Featherstone is in Jacobin looking to rehabilitate DSA’s reputation, writing about how a new Zionist group—the New York Solidarity Network (NYSN)—is attacking DSA. Featherstone argues that this “positive sign” is a marker of DSA doing right on Palestine. There is a dishonesty to this article, as she uses the creation of NYSN as evidence to buttress the position of the DSA National Political Committee (NPC).

The NPC rejected a groundswell of member demands to expel Bowman for repeatedly voting to fund Israeli weapons, joining a propaganda trip to pose with Israel’s far-right leader, and stringing along DSA-ers who tried for months to change his position in private meetings.

The NPC instead punished the organization’s BDS working group, dissolving it and suspending its leaders from any national leadership position. Rank-and-file DSA members were so infuriated that NPC was forced to nominally reinstate the group, but the suspensions were left in place.

After all that, in an article about how a new Zionist organization promises to come after the DSA, Featherstone writes:

The question of how much to center this issue has been controversial within the group, with some members wanting to expel Congressman Jamaal Bowman from the organization after he traveled to Israel. When DSA leadership opted not to expel Bowman, heated debates ensued, especially on Twitter. But the consternation on the Right, reflected in efforts like NYSN, show that in the world outside Twitter, the organization — and the growing power of the Left — is seen as a threat to a foreign policy establishment that for decades counted on unquestioning support for Israel from the New York political class.

Imagine someone saying that Nancy Pelosi is a “threat to the establishment” because right-wingers paint her as a socialist. There’s nothing new about mainstream Zionists attacking liberal Zionists (just look at how they treat J Street, the organization who sponsored Bowman’s trip). It doesn’t tell us much if the kind of people who go to Israeli army fundraisers are sufficiently out of touch to think DSA leaders stand for BDS!

Perhaps a billionaire hedge fund-er chose to start a new Zionist organization to attack BDS because of DSA-endorsed candidates like Jamaal Bowman? It should be noted however that Zionists didn’t seem to mind when DSA refused to expel him and praised his “balancing act.” It is perhaps more likely that Zionists are actually worried by the eruption of rank-and-file DSA members demanding the organization take BDS more seriously. While DSA is mentioned, the main focus of NYSN is opposing BDS–an opposition that Bowman shares. The evidence that Featherstone presents might actually reinforce the position she is subtly arguing against.

Featherstone’s representation of the fight in DSA over Jamaal Bowman as something that took place “especially on Twitter” seems frankly dishonest to me. This is a version of the line repeated ad nauseum by the right-wing of the DSA (especially on Twitter, oddly enough); that the Bowman debacle was just self-righteous posturing from a few loud people on social media, divorced from “the world outside Twitter.”

In fact, in the world outside Jacobin magazine, dozens of DSA chapters representing thousands of members signed on to the demand to expel Bowman, and later over 1,000 members signed on to the petition demanding reinstatement of the BDS Working group. As mentioned previously, leading Palestine solidarity movement organizations publicly stated they’d refuse to work with DSA over the affair. Hundreds of DSA members attended local chapter meetings debating the issue, as well as multiple large national meetings hosted by the BDS working group and various caucuses. Even in an organization that has had difficulty creating spaces for political debate, the debate around Bowman has been one of the more widely debated political questions among members.

To dismiss all that as Twitter noise looks to me like a way to deliberately mislead readers, trying to marginalize an opposition that organized significant support, and against whom the right-wing of the DSA couldn’t win a substantive argument.

What’s at stake is whether we’re going to build both an independent socialist movement and an independent movement to boycott Israel. We need a mass movement with not only strength in numbers but clarity of purpose to accept nothing less than a complete end to U.S. money for Israel’s weapons. BDS needs to be supported as though it were a picket line. Movements can be co-opted and misled; supporting politicians who vote to fund Israeli weapons sabotages our building an independent movement.

Israel’s assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh was gruesomely familiar: an atrocity that should have shocked everyone, followed by empty condemnation from countries that support Israel including the U.S. Biden and his mouthpieces couldn’t even name Israel as the culprit, but Jamaal Bowman and many other “progressive” Democrats actually did. Bowman also voted for Israel’s Iron Dome and made clear he will do so again; he voted for billions for Israeli weapons alongside Ilhan Omar; he took a propaganda junket with the liberal Zionist organization J Street alongside the supposed “champion” of Palestinian rights Mark Pocan and several other “progressive” Democrats. Empty, phony condemnation substitutes for action, to mislead and manage people who are horrified by Israel’s crimes.

We can’t build an independent mass movement to boycott Israel while supporting Democrats who fund its weapons and bullshit us afterwards. Until we have that movement, nothing is going to change. The cycle of atrocity, shock, and empty condemnation with no real change will rinse and repeat.

Featured Image Credit: Photo by Mpls55408; modified by Tempest.

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Joel Reinstein View All

Joel Reinstein is a labor organizer who has organized with the DSA BDS and Palestine Solidarity Working Group.