They’re driving a change in conversation about Israel in Washington and forcing Democratic leadership to choose between listening to an activist base increasingly critical of Israel or sticking with the status quo. The Democratic base is looking to do for Palestinian rights what they’ve done on issues like Medicare for All and what Ocasio-Cortez is now doing with the Green New Deal: push once-fringe ideas into the heart of the party platform.“The Democratic Party is caught between a base ready to move forward on Palestinian rights and an establishment weary of what that means for donors who are more conservative,” said Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights.The Democratic Party’s more critical view of Israel is being pushed by a base that’s younger and populated by people of color and women, constituencies more likely to show sympathy for Palestinians. A 2018 Economist/YouGov poll found that 46 percent of men believe Israel is an ally, compared to only 29 percent of women. The poll also found that white people and older people were far more likely to see Israel as an ally than youth and black and Hispanic Americans.In addition, American Jews, who voted for Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections by a 76-19 percent margin, are growing increasingly alienated from Israel’s right-wing leadership.
“The Democratic Party is caught between a base ready to move forward on Palestinian rights and an establishment weary of what that means for donors who are more conservative.”
The divide became even more apparent following the massacre of 11 Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh last October, when Israeli officials doubled down on their support for Trump, even as many American Jews blamed the president for empowering white supremacists like the shooter.“There has been tremendous evolution of Israel politics in the Democratic Party over the last several years, tremendous movement away from pro-Bibi, Israel-is-always-right positioning, the mainstay of American politics on a whole until four or five years ago,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street, a liberal Israel advocacy group.These cracks in the perennial pro-Israel consensus have already prompted the establishment of a new group with ties to AIPAC, called Democratic Majority for Israel. Led by establishment Democrats like former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, its sole focus is keeping Democrats pro-Israel.
“There is obviously a new generation less connected to Israel and to the bonds between the two communities in Israel and the United States.”
The partisan cross-currents over Israel have come to a head in recent weeks as Republican leaders in the Senate advanced legislation targeting the BDS movement. Sponsored by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the Combating BDS Act would give federal blessing to individual states that penalize companies and contractors that choose not to do business with Israel or Israeli-owned enterprises. It’s a provision the ACLU has condemned as a violation of the First Amendment, arguing that states do not have a legal right to impose political litmus tests on companies seeking state business.
“Recently, we've seen bad faith and disingenuous efforts by Republicans to turn boycotts into a wedge issue, and to threaten Americans' right to free speech.”
In many ways, Tlaib’s declaration of support for the BDS movement alongside Omar has blasted through a red line that won’t be easily put back in place. It has its roots in fundamentally different stances on how the U.S. should view Israel, a key Middle East ally that receives over $3 billion in U.S. military aid every year, more than any other country in the world.Instead of seeing Israel as a democracy in a sea of Middle Eastern tyranny, as establishment Democrats and Republicans do, a growing bloc of Democratic members of Congress are willing to criticize Israel’s human rights violations despite the risk of being deemed anti-Semitic.“The right-wing, extremist government of Benjamin Netanyahu and its apartheid-like policies are at the core of what is alienating Democrats and a growing number of Americans,” said Congresswoman Betty McCollum, a Democrat from Minnesota who authored a bill during the last session of Congress to prevent U.S. military aid to Israel from subsidizing the abuse of Palestinian children. “What has changed is that there are now members of Congress who are not willing to ignore the Israeli government’s destructive actions because they are afraid of losing an election.”————Mairav Zonszein is an Israeli-American journalist who writes about Israeli politics, American foreign policy, and human rights. Alex Kane is a New York-based freelance journalists who writes on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties issues.Cover: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., left, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., second from left, and Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, second from right, wait for other freshman Congressmen to deliver a letter calling to an end to the government shutdown to deliver to the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
“That every Democratic presidential candidate either voted no or did not vote for this law is a sign of a fundamental shift in political calculus on Israel in Washington.”