By Philip Weiss / Mondoweiss
In the last couple of days we have seen a historic moment in the life of the Israel lobby. And a sign of its eventual crackup.
As you know by now, on a panel at the progressive Democratic event Netroots Nation in Chicago Saturday, pro-Palestinian demonstrators demanded that Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky support a bill in Congress that would leverage U.S. aid to Israel so as to protect Palestinian children, a bill she has not signed on to; Schakowsky threatened to walk out; and Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who has signed on to the bill, tried to end the demonstration by saying that she was on their side.
As somebody who’s been in the streets and participated in a lot of demonstrations, I want you to know that we have been fighting to make it clear that Israel is a racist state… etc.
So Israel is a racist state. An “offhand” “gaffe,” liberal Zionists argued later. But all hell broke loose.
Within a day, “Israel is a racist state” was a giant scandal. Republicans leaped all over the comment. So did the Democratic leadership. It denounced Jayapal’s comment, and 40-some Democrats signed on, saying Jayapal’s comments were “unacceptable,” and the U.S.-Israel relationship is “ironclad.” The Republicans introduced a bill to reaffirm U.S. support for Israel because it is not a “racist or apartheid” state.
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Despite political cover from the Squad, Jayapal then walked her statement back Sunday night. Of course she doesn’t think Israel is racist! There are just “extreme racists” pursuing “outright racist policies” in the government.
Jayapal got tons of support from liberal Zionists. Michelle Goldberg wrote in the New York Times it was a “wise” clarification from Jayapal, and went on to explain Jayapal’s beliefs. She believes in a Jewish state. Don’t worry, she’s not an anti-Zionist, Goldberg said repeatedly.
Her words at Netroots Nation could have been interpreted as ideological opposition to Zionism, which does not reflect Jayapal’s views; like most Democrats, she wants to see a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian one…
[A] state’s leaders and policies can be bigoted without the state itself being irredeemable. That’s basically Jayapal’s stance, which is why she’s not an anti-Zionist.
Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street also rushed to assure everyone that Jayapal is not any threat to U.S. support for Israel.
Rep. Jayapal supports the U.S.-Israel relationship while also advocating for a negotiated 2-state solution and Palestinian human rights.
J Street threw in that the “malicious” pro-Palestinian protesters were antisemitic to be focusing on Schakowsky, who is Jewish. (When the truth is that they focus on any progressive who won’t sign this legislation–legislation J Street claims it supports but has never lifted a finger to lobby for! Like, say, urging Schakowsky to support it.)
What is the game here? What is going on?
Biden, Jayapal, and J Street are all rushing to prop up the Israel lobby in the run-up to the 2024 election. Democrats believe, even if they don’t say so, that the lobby is an existential issue. If the Dems alienate any of the big Jewish pro-Israel donors to the party (of whom there are many — a gigantic, shocking proportion), Biden might lose the election.
Let’s not make this more of a political wedge.
Progressives who support Israel need space to speak out against a far-right government’s policies or Israel will lose all support on the left.
He’s right. Israel is becoming a political wedge. Because as he says, Israel is losing “all support on the left.” And progressive Democrats like Jayapal are trying to represent their constituents, for a little while anyway.
Jeremy Ben-Ami and Pramila Jayapal and Michelle Goldberg are determined to show that you can be a Zionist and a progressive Democrat at the same time. They are determined to carve out that “space” where Dems can speak out against far-right Israel. But not too much!
They are worried about 2024 (as many of us are). They are worried about Trump, and the other Republicans, using the Israel issue to calve off pro-Israel donors from the Democratic Party or get them to sit this one out because they just don’t trust the Democrats on Israel. As Ben-Ami said,
It’s no accident that the Republican National Committee and its right-wing allies were among the first to promote this incident out of context.
Ben-Ami and Jayapal and Goldberg are working hard for Joe Biden to keep the Israel lobby intact through next year so that he can win — and so No Labels or some other pro-Israel Trojan Horse doesn’t arise as a third-party threat.
This puts liberal Zionists in a no-man’s land politically. In a disappearing space, to quote Ben-Ami. It means they must continually make arguments for Israel even as everyone else on the left sees that Israel is practicing apartheid and saying so.
Because when the Which-side-are-you-on question is raised, J Street and Goldberg and Jayapal answer, Israel’s.
Here’s an example. As the New York Times pointed out today, progressives in the House are planning to boycott the Israeli president’s speech to Congress tomorrow, but Biden’s House minority leader– Hakeem Jeffries– “traveled to Israel this spring to meet with Mr. Netanyahu and declare his solidarity with Israel.”
But so did J Street meet with the repellent rightwing Prime Minister. As we reported, J Street’s delegation of 15 Congresspeople in February met with Netanyahu. And the group threw J Street under the bus to do so, with J Street’s encouragement. Netanyahu refused to allow J Street staff in the meeting, and J Street told the Congresspeople, go meet with that racist anyway.
Liberal Zionists accept this humiliation because they support the existence of a Jewish state (no matter what) and (in fairness) fear that a one-state democracy will just produce endless sectarian violence and instability.
Though what we have right now is a one-state reality with endless violence directed at Palestinians.
In his Twitter thread on Jayapal, Ben-Ami urged the left to address “the real problem – endless conflict and the [Israeli] right-wing’s assault on democracy.”
Endless conflict is not the real problem. What causes the conflict is the fact that Zionism– however idealistic it once seemed to Jews– adopted practices of ethnic cleansing and apartheid. It is not a democracy for non-Jews. It is a racist state, as Jayapal said. (Just look at the Basic Law saying Jews have the exclusive right to self-determination in the entire land, and Arabic is a second-class language– a law whose passage five years ago catalyzed the many apartheid reports.)
Palestinians always come in last, even for liberal Zionists. Palestinians’ interests will always be sidelined in the name of more important political goals. At Netroots Nation, in the 2024 campaign, and in the White House too.
And every day this hypocrisy becomes clearer to progressives.
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-06.