newsOctober 7

Israel’s Democrats Abroad board quits over umbrella group’s hostility

The board members felt "targeted by antisemitism from people who should be our allies."

Israel Border Police officers rescue people during Hamas's attack on the Supernova music festival near Kibbutz Re'im, Oct. 7, 2023. Photo: Courtesy of Neta David.
Israel Border Police officers rescue people during Hamas's attack on the Supernova music festival near Kibbutz Re'im, Oct. 7, 2023. Photo: Courtesy of Neta David.

Democrats Abroad Israel’s entire board quit in December over the anti-Israel animus and lack of sympathy displayed by its umbrella organization towards the victims of the Hamas attack on Oct. 7.

Democrats Aboard is “the official Democratic Party arm for Americans living outside the United States” and boasts 52 country committees across Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

In a sharply worded letter, the nine Israeli board members wrote that they made their decision in response to “the hostile environment in Democrats Abroad against Jews in general and … American Jews living in Israel in particular.”

The resignation took place on Dec. 22 but news of it was kept under wraps by the Israel group and the international organization until recently, Haaretz reported on Feb. 15.

The board members said they felt “targeted by antisemitism from people who should be our allies” and that the “terrifying antisemitic backlash” following Oct. 7 “has not bypassed Democrats Abroad’s members.

“The failure of Democrats Abroad’s leadership to distinguish between a terrorist attack on civilians and a sovereign nation’s response to that attack is a major reason behind our decision,” they wrote.

What sparked the dramatic move by the Israeli board was the indifference demonstrated by the international group to what Israelis had endured on Oct. 7 when Hamas terrorists rampaged through the country’s south indiscriminately slaughtering men, women and children.

It began when Ethan Kushner, chairman of Democrats Abroad Israel, while checking on the welfare of group members discovered that board member Hannah Katzman’s son had been killed on Oct. 7.

When he contacted the chairwoman of Democrats Abroad Global Leadership suggesting they send condolences to Katzman, he received a cursory reply. “It was kind of ‘OK, thank you for letting us know,’ ” he told Haaretz.

Dan Smith, another Democrats Abroad Israel member, learned that his brother and sister-in-law had been butchered by Hamas in Kibbutz Be’eri together with their Filipino caregiver.

No acknowledgment by the international group of their losses was forthcoming. “We found it was very difficult for us to get the leadership to say something that was—putting it lightly—adequately responsive to the magnitude of what had happened. … I would have expected them to be able to say, ‘Geez, Hannah, we’re really sorry about the murder of your son by the brutal Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7,” Kushner said.

It wasn’t that members in other countries didn’t know what was going on. The Gaza war was talked about online, in chat groups and elsewhere. The problem was that Democrats Abroad members were overwhelmingly hostile to Israel.

“In formal and informal chats there were people … just going off about how Israel is genocidal,” Heather Stone, Democrats Abroad Israel vice chairwoman, told Haaretz.

“When we tried to explain to them why we feel anti-Zionism and antisemitism go hand in hand, they didn’t care. Nobody really wanted to listen,” said Kushner.

Marc Schulman, author of Tel Aviv Diary, a daily newsletter on substack, who has served in the past on the group’s media advisory board, told JNS that Haaretz‘s report was “pretty accurate.”

Attempting to explain the hostility of Democrats Abroad members in other countries, he said, “My gut feeling is they tend to be even further left than the average Democratic Party activists in America. They live abroad. They imbibe even more of the pro-Hamas propaganda.”

As to the contradictory claim put out by the group’s international chairwoman Martha McDevitt-Pugh that “I and other leaders extended our heartfelt condolences to the families who endured an immense loss on October 7, as well as to the leadership of Democrats Abroad Israel,” Schulman said international’s response wasn’t “from what I understand, timely, let’s put it that way.

“We’re all trying to figure out where did this come from. It is anti-Israelism or just straight antisemitism,” Schulman said, admitting it was a “kind of mugging by reality.”

Though not an official member of Democrats Abroad, Schulman, who is active on its WhatsApp group, said none of the board was leaving the party altogether, but the board has joined another group, the U.S.-based Jewish Democratic Council of America.

Schulman said that maybe if the Republican Party was different, with Nikki Haley as a candidate, but as long as its Donald Trump’s party, the idea of voting Republican is beyond the pale for himself and others.

“He believes in isolationism,” Schulman said. “As I try to explain to Israelis, it doesn’t make a difference whether Trump likes us. If America becomes isolationist and doesn’t have influence in the world, Israel is in trouble.”

Schulman also argued that if pro-Israel supporters depart the Democratic Party, then Israel will soon become a partisan issue in the U.S. “in another 10, 15, 20 years.”

“Don’t forget, the Democrats who are 40 and above have a completely different view than these young people do. The young party activists are very problematic. But if we do nothing, the next generation is going to grow stronger in their beliefs about Israel,” he said.

While admitting he doesn’t love the Democratic Party at the moment, Schulman urges people in the States to register as Democrats in order to vote in the primaries and make a difference.

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