The Civil War of the Democratic Socialists of America against BDS

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If you had to guess the catalyst for the heartbreaking internal conflict the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) — the far-left socialist organization whose members include Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN. Y.) and Jamaal Bowman (DN.Y.) – chances are Israel wouldn’t have topped your list.

But months of simmering tensions within the DSA over Bowman’s stance on the Jewish state culminated in his national leadership dissolution the organization’s working group that focused on the BDS movement against Israel. In doing so, he has drawn the ire of the most radical contingent of BDS activists who have launched open warfare against the DSA’s top brass.

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

You see, it wasn’t enough that Bowman falsely criticized Israel for not offering COVID-19 vaccines to the Palestinians, co-sponsored House resolutions conditioning US military aid to Israel, and regularly lambasted its government. No, the fact that Bowman simply recognized Israel’s right to self-defense and met with Israeli leaders was enough to plant the seeds for the DSA’s eventual breakup.

The straw that broke the camel’s back in the budding conflict was the Normalization of Relations with Israel Act of 2021, which requires the United States to implement measures strengthening and expanding the Abraham Accords, a series of Trump-era normalization agreements between Israel and Middle Eastern states that transformed the region. When Bowman withdrew co-sponsorship from the bill in February 2022, the WG and the National Political Committee (NPC) – the DSA’s 16-person leadership apparatus – fought to take credit.

After some infighting over this, the NPC vote 52% to 47% to “decree” (disband) the task force and bar members of its steering committee from serving in DSA leadership positions for a year, drawing waves of criticism in response.

This decision has caused what could amount to an irreparable rift within DSA consisting of petty insults, internal dissension and disillusionment among members.

On the one hand, the members of the NPC accused the WG of harassment, personal attacks, defamation and intimidation of anyone who disagreed with them. They also said the task force’s behaviors “pose a serious threat to DSA’s reputation and reliability.” In a long Twitter thread, a member of NPC Gustav Gordillo disparaged the task force for its radicalism, hostility, and vitriol, which he said had “caused viable congressional candidates to forego seeking or withdrawing endorsements in at least three to four chapters.”

On the other hand, the GT Steering Committee accused the NPC of the two most serious insults in the socialist lexicon: being Zionist and right-wing, neither of which is actually offensive.

Of course, the idea that the DSA are right-wing or Zionist is laughable, because anyone looking at their radical political platform endorsing open borders and font removal can see. Additionally, the DSA has repeatedly condemned Zionism and expressed support for the BDS movement, which aims to isolate and ultimately dismantle Israel.

So where does all this leave the DSA? Time will tell if the reputation of the organization has been tarnished beyond repair. But the fans clearly sense that there is something wrong.

The NPC members themselves have acknowledged that this whole saga is just “one example of a problem that all members of the DSA have faced at all levels of the organization”. According to the magazine of the British Communist Party, 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 from the DSA chapter in Richmond, Virginia.

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

In light of the immense backlash they received, the NPC voted to reinstate the BDS working group, although its steering committee is still barred from other leadership positions. Whether that decision is overturned or not, the organization and its leaders have learned a valuable lesson – a lesson the moderate center and liberal left have known for quite some time. And it is that even among the radicals, the most militant members of BDS are simply too unpredictable, intransigent and undisciplined to cooperate with them when it comes to the political arena.

Unfortunately for the DSA, the American public enjoyed a glimpse of this episode and were exposed to the organization’s internal failings in the process.

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

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