Centrist Democrats vs. Anti-Israel ‘Progressives’



For more than two years, there has been an alarming spike in anti-Israel and anti-Jewish rhetoric within far left factions of the Progressive movement. Such sentiment has placed great strains on the coalition of groups that make up the bulk of the Democratic Party. 

Historically, support for Israel and opposition to anti-Semitism were strongest among Democrats. After all, it was Harry S Truman of Missouri who recognized the State of Israel just 11 minutes after it declared its independence on May 14, 1948. Members of Congress like Henry “Scoop” Jackson and Hubert Humphrey were among the most steadfast and consistent supporters of Israel, the rights of Soviet Jews and other issues of concern to the American Jewish community.

But in more recent years, polls have suggested that the degree of solid support for Israel has shifted from a dependable bipartisan majority to a significant difference between members of our two major parties. 

If support for Israel becomes another bitterly divisive partisan issue, it could create a deep split within the American Jewish community. 

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In the midterm elections, where Democrats regained a majority in

the House of Representatives, some self-identified progressives expressed support for the BDS movement, which calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions to force Israel to change its treatment of Palestinians. Some progressives no longer support the mainstream goal of a two-state solution to bring about a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. 

Outside the halls of Congress, there has been friction within various causes largely supported by Democrats, including the Black Lives Matter movement and the national Women’s March on Washington.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, a former chair of the Democratic National Committee, published an opinion piece in USA Today last month that was headlined: “Why I refuse to walk with the Washington Women’s March.”

“I walked away from the Women’s March on Washington two years ago absolutely electrified by the promise of what a movement built around sisterhood and solidarity could accomplish,” she wrote.

“Today, sadly, I must walk away from the national Women’s March organization, and specifically its leadership.”

Wasserman Schultz stressed that though she still firmly believes in its “values and mission, I cannot associate with the national march’s leaders and principles which refuse to completely repudiate anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry. I cannot walk shoulder to shoulder with leaders who lock arms with outspoken peddlers of hate.”

Wasserman Schultz noted the refusal of some of the Women’s March national leaders to firmly and explicitly condemn Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, who has had a long record of hatred towards Jews. Farrakhan has called Adolf Hitler a “great man,” and recently referred to Jews and “termites.” He has also called Judaism a “gutter religion” and called Judaism a movement of “the Satanic Jew and the Synagogue of Satan.” 

Wasserman Schultz specifically criticized Tamika Mallory for failing to clearly denounce Farrakhan. Instead, she said, Mallory has attended Farrakhan’s speeches and posted her support of him on social media, calling him the “GOAT” —the “Greatest Of All Time.” 

At the same time, a group of centrist Democrats has formed a new political group designed to “counter the rising skepticism on the left toward the Jewish State.”

According to a New York Times story by Jonathan Martin, a recent Pew Poll indicated that while 56 percent of voters over 65 sympathize with Israel more than with the Palestinians, only 32 percent of those under the age of 30 said they feel the same way. He wrote about the new group and its possible influence on Mideast policy, saying:

 “With such polls and others showing that liberals and younger voters are increasingly less sympathetic to Israel, and a handful of vocal supporters of Palestinian rights arriving in Congress, the new group—the Democratic Majority for Israel—is planning to wage a campaign to remind elected officials about what they call the party’s shared values with one of America’s strongest allies.”

Martin added: “For many traditional Democratic supporters of Israel, there is a deepening concern that voters in America’s two major political parties appear to be drifting apart in how they view the country.”

The new group is not advocating an “Israel right or wrong” approach to issues that have caused cracks in its support among American Democrats. Instead, it seeks more fair-minded and less biased coverage of Israel by the media — to criticize Israel when warranted, but not to overlook positive aspects of the Jewish State as the only democracy in the Middle East.

Much work needs to be done at the grass roots level to rebuild support for Israel among younger and more liberal voters. The principled stance by Debbie Wasserman Schultz on anti-Israel and anti-Jewish elements in the Women’s March, and the formation of the Democratic Majority for Israel, are welcome steps in the right direction.