The Anti-Israel Left and the Dems

By Jonathan S. Tobin


August 9, 2016

In the last week, two influential groups issued platforms that demonstrated just how far the left has gone in attacking Israel. Both the Black Lives Matter movement and the Green Party are now on record as opposing the legitimacy of the Jewish state and supporting not merely the end of aid to Israel but an active policy of opposition to its existence. This is a matter of no little concern to liberals who have become invested in BLM and who may worry about the defection of some Bernie Sanders supporters to the Greens in November. But does it really matter if organizations that are seemingly outside of the political mainstream take deplorable stands?

Unfortunately, it does. Far from lacking in influence, the Sanders campaign demonstrated that the left is on the rise in the Democratic Party. Even if Hillary Clinton supporters beat back the far left’s attempt to tilt their platform against Israel, there is good reason to worry that we’re witnessing a sea change that will ultimately drag the Democrats down the same anti-Israel path. At stake here is not just the fulminations of extremism but also the growing normalization of anti-Semitic attitudes.

The publication of a Black Lives Matter platform that went out of its way to target Israel took many Jewish liberals by surprise. BLM was praised and petted throughout the Democratic convention in Philadelphia last month. Though the shootings of police ought to have marginalized a group that seemed as interested in delegitimizing law enforcement as saving black lives, the opposite has happened–at least as far as the Democrats are concerned. The BLM mantra has been adopted as part of the informal catechism of liberals, to the point where saying that “all lives matter” in response is now regarded as evidence of racism on college campuses and other footholds of the left. Thus, the decision of the group to formally adopt an anti-Israel stand is significant.

But it shouldn’t have surprised pro-Israel liberals that a faction many of them see as a natural ally would embrace the “apartheid state” libel or single out Israel for condemnation. Such opinions have long been commonplace on the left and indeed, found a voice even within the Sanders campaign. The false narrative about the Middle East, in which Palestinians are depicted as the moral equivalent of the victims of America’s Jim Crow era rather than a people who have repeatedly rejected peace and are dedicated to the eradication of Israel, is regarded by the left as accepted truth.

The same is true of the decision of the Green Party to go even further in its embrace of BDS. The Greens, whose presidential candidate Jill Stein is getting four percent in the Real Clear Politics average of polls in a four-way race, are openly anti-Zionist in that they embrace the “right of return.” This means the end of a Jewish state. While Stein, a Jewish radical cut from the same cloth as Sanders, and her party may be dismissed as marginal players, their ability to siphon off some of his support has raised their profile in 2016. That means their platform, which echoes some of the slanders of Israel uttered by Sanders, is a troubling indicator of just how far the left is willing to go in rendering Israel defenseless. It should not go unnoticed that the BLM and Green platforms, which single out Israel and brand its supporter as racists, are informal endorsements of anti-Semitism.

The Democrats can still point to their platform that denounced BDS and backed the Jewish state, and they can note that their Congressional caucus embraces the pro-Israel community. But it’s the positions of BLM and the Greens that portend what may lie down the road for their party.

We already know that Democrats are, as polls have told us for a generation, less inclined to support Israel than Republicans. But the generational shift among Democratic voters is particularly worrisome when one considers the way so many young voters got behind Sanders and are enthusiastic backers of BLM. With each passing year, support for anti-Zionist agitation grows. Indeed, if Hillary Clinton is elected president she may find herself subjected to great pressure from her party’s base to maintain her predecessor’s hostility to the Israeli government and perhaps exceed it. Looking even farther down the road, it’s likely that the next Democratic nominee will echo Sanders and Stein’s positions on Israel and not the nominally mainstream pro-Israel rhetoric of Clinton.

As I wrote in COMMENTARY last December, the history of the last 40 years has shown a steady decline in backing for Israel among Democrats. But the left’s acceptance of radical anti-Zionism and what are for all intents and purposes anti-Semitic stands indicates that in the years to come that tilt will become even more extreme and dangerous.