OpinionBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

The Democratic Socialists of America’s civil war over BDS

Lesson learned? Even among radicals, the most militant BDS-ers are simply too unpredictable, uncompromising and unruly to cooperate with in the political arena.

At center-front: Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), along with other members of U.S. Congress, meet with Palestinian children in Hebron as part of a delegation organized by J Street, Nov. 10, 2021. Source: Jamaal Bowman/Twitter.
At center-front: Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), along with other members of U.S. Congress, meet with Palestinian children in Hebron as part of a delegation organized by J Street, Nov. 10, 2021. Source: Jamaal Bowman/Twitter.
Eitan Fischberger
Eitan Fischberger is a Middle East analyst based in Israel. His work has been published in National Review, NBC News, New York Daily News, Tablet Magazine and other news outlets. Tweet him @EFischberger.

If you were to have guessed the catalyst for the internal conflict tearing apart the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)—the far-left Socialist organization whose membership includes Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.)—chances are that Israel wouldn’t have topped your list.

But months of simmering tensions within the DSA regarding Bowman’s stance towards the Jewish state resulted in its national leadership disbanding the organization’s working group that focused on the BDS movement against Israel. In doing so, it incurred the ire of the most radical contingent of BDS activists who launched an open war with the DSA’s top brass.

The conflict began in September 2021 when Bowman—hardly a pro-Israel stalwart—fell into disrepute among many in the DSA after he voted to fund the country’s lifesaving Iron Dome missile-defense system. He garnered further contempt when he joined J Street on a trip to Israel, where he met Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

See, it wasn’t enough that Bowman mistakenly criticized Israel for not offering COVID-19 vaccines to Palestinians, co-sponsored House resolutions conditioning U.S. military aid to Israel and routinely castigates its government. No, the fact that Bowman simply recognized Israel’s right to self-defense and met with Israeli leadership was enough to plant the seeds for the eventual DSA rupture.

The final straw in the nascent conflict was the Israel Relations Normalization Act of 2021, which requires the United States to implement measures that strengthen and expand the Abraham Accords, a series of Trump-era normalization agreements between Israel and the Middle East states that transformed the region. When Bowman withdrew co-sponsorship from the bill in February 2022, both the WG and the National Political Committee (NPC)—DSA’s 16-person leadership apparatus—fought to take the credit for themselves.

After some infighting over the matter, the NPC voted 52% to 47% to “de-charter” (disband) the WG and prevent members of its steering committee from holding DSA leadership positions for one year, drawing waves of criticism in response.

This move caused what may amount to an irreparable fracture within DSA consisting of petty name-calling, internal dissent and disillusion among members.

On the one hand, members of the NPC accused the WG of harassment, personal attacks, smears and bullying of anyone who disagreed with them. They also stated that the WG’s behaviors “pose a serious threat to the reputation and trustworthiness of DSA.” In a lengthy Twitter thread, NPC member Gustavo Gordillo disparaged the WG for its radicalism, hostility and vitriol, which he claims has “caused viable congressional candidates to forego seeking or withdraw from endorsements in at least three to four chapters.”

On the other hand, the WG’s steering committee accused the NPC of perhaps the two gravest insults in the Socialist lexicon: being Zionist and right-wingers, neither of which are actually offensive.

Of course, the thought that the DSA are either right-wing or Zionist is laughable, as anyone who looks at their radical political platform endorsing open borders and abolishing the police can see. Furthermore, the DSA has repeatedly condemned Zionism and voiced support for the BDS movement, which aims to isolate and ultimately dismantle Israel.

So where does all this leave the DSA? Time will tell whether the organization’s reputation has been tarnished beyond repair. But supporters clearly feel there is something amiss.

NPC members themselves acknowledged that this whole saga is simply one “instance of a problem all DSA members have faced at all levels of the organization.” According to the British Communist Party’s magazine, Weekly Worker, “many prominent members of the DSA left have begun to resign from the organization.” This includes at least two NPC members and a co-chair of the DSA’s chapter in Richmond, Va.

Moreover, DSA’s chapter in Madison, Wisc., issued a scathing statement suggesting that “NPC’s decision will cause irreparable harm to our organization’s relationship to other Palestine liberation and solidarity organizations.” This appears to be correct, as multiple pro-Palestinian groups have vowed to boycott the NPC and reject its legitimacy following its verdict.

In light of the immense backlash they’ve received, the NPC voted to reinstate the BDS WG, though its steering committee is still barred from other leadership positions. Whether that decision is reversed or not, the organization and its leaders have learned a valuable lesson—one that the moderate center and liberal left have known for quite a while. And that is that even among radicals, the most militant BDS-ers are simply too unpredictable, uncompromising and unruly to cooperate with when it comes to the political arena.

Unfortunately for the DSA, the American public enjoyed an inside look at this episode and was exposed to the organization’s internal failings in the process.

Eitan Fischberger is an international relations and Middle East analyst focusing on Israel. Follow him on Twitter @EFischberger.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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