Monthly Archives: August 2017

Why the Democratic Socialists of America Vote for BDS Is a Turning Point in American Left Politics (Alternet)

America’s largest socialist organization votes to stand in solidarity with Palestine.

DSA members vote almost unanimously to support BDS at their 2017 convention in Chicago (photo by Annie Shields via Twitter)

For a few veteran members of the Democratic Socialists of America like Eric Lee, this year’s annual convention in Chicago was a rude awakening. The DSA’s ranks suddenly swelled with thousands of new members, mostly younger activists mobilized by the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders and inspired by the success of socialist Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K. Lee shared their excitement about Sanders, and about the prospects of socialism gaining traction among middle-class voters worn down by decades of neoliberal austerity. What he could not stomach, however, was the new DSA generation’s enthusiastic support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Forged out of a consensus of Palestinian civil society organizations, BDS is a movement sweeping grassroots activism in the West that calls for the right of return of Palestinian refugees, equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel and an end to the occupation. On August 5, DSA members voted almost unanimously in support of a resolution to back BDS.

Immediately after the measure passed, spontaneous cheering erupted along with chants of “Free Palestine” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” as someone waved a giant Palestinian flag.

The vote to endorse BDS passes! 

The vote sent Lee into a rage, and ultimately out of an organization he had been affiliated with for decades. “I cannot in good conscience be a member of an organization which promotes a boycott of the Jewish state,” he wrote in a post on his personal blog. “I consider the BDS campaign to be antisemitic and racist. I oppose it as a socialist and as a Jew. I am appalled that DSA would take such a position.” (In a previous blog entry, Lee boasted of his service in the Israeli military and defended its occupation of the Palestinian West Bank.)

Though the old DSA had its share of anti-Zionists, it has typically avoided contentious votes that might have rankled the sensibilities of left Zionists like Lee. But at the DSA’s convention this year, its members voted to end the party’s 35-year relationship with the Socialist International, a constellation of center-left parties that include the corruption laden Mexican PRI, the increasingly neoliberal Socialist Party of France and Germany’s SPD—all parties that supported the special relationship with Israel in one form or another. The vote set the stage for approving the resolution in support of BDS.

Formed in 1982, DSA grew out of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee and the New American Movement. Membership has more than tripled in the last two years to over 25,000, owing largely to the momentous energy behind Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, anger with Trump and widespread disillusionment with the Democratic Party. The new members have brought fresh life and vital new perspectives to the group, allowing it to shake off whatever vestiges of Zionism remained among members, particularly that handful who still believed in the ethnically exclusive “socialism” of the kibbutzim. For the new generation of DSA members, supporting the Palestinian civil society boycott of Israel made more sense than seeking common ground with liberal-left Israeli parties like Meretz or Labor whose leadership had thrown their weight behind Israel’s past three wars on the Gaza Strip.

The question of how to respond to Israel has long been an issue that divided DSA members. The breakdown among the ranks went something like this: certain members (usually older), tried to reconcile socialism with Zionism by condemning the Israeli right while ignoring the many human rights abuses carried out by so-called leftists in the name of engineering a demographic majority for Jews in Palestine. Other members (usually younger), supported BDS unequivocally, recognizing it as the latest manifestation of a time-tested means of nonviolent protest and the most powerful force to combat Israeli apartheid in the 21st century. These contradictory stances led to some interorganizational disputes, but without a vote on the official stance, determining how many people believed what, and what they thought DSA should do about it, remained a challenge.

Support from France’s Mélenchon and a direct challenge to Democrats

Chip Gibbons joined DSA earlier this year after being involved in BDS activism since 2007. An architect of the BDS resolution, he sees Palestine solidarity as an essential component of the socialist tradition of internationalism.

Gibbons told me that a representative of La France Insoumise, the party of French leftist presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, commended the delegates after they passed the measure.

The text’s other main author, Delé Balogun from DSA’s North Chicago chapter, saw Israel’s occupation up close when he joined the African Heritage Delegation to Palestine, a special trip to Israel-Palestine aimed at fostering Black solidarity for the Palestinian struggle. At this past weekend’s convention, Balogun was elected to the 16-person National Political Committee, DSA’s primary governing body.

DSA’s resolution arrives at a crucial moment for the BDS movement. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland recently introduced a bill called the Israel Anti-Boycott Act that would make boycotting Israel a felony punishable by up to a $1 million fine or 20 years in prison. After a major public backlash, Cardin amended the bill so it would not apply to individuals and would not apply criminal penalties to violators, but the language remains disturbingly vague.

The DSA resolution took direct aim at Cardin, declaring that “DSA strongly opposes the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which would make it a felony to advocate or support boycotts targeting Israel, as well as all similar legislation at the state and local levels.” With this statement, DSA has recorded its formal objection to the reactionary brand of hate speech laws that have already led to the arrests and convictions of BDS activists in France.

Rising anti-imperialism in DSA’sranks

Though DSA has come under fire from some quarters for its perceived indifference to imperialism, the organization’s critics may surprised to learn that over 90% of the delegates voted for the BDS resolution on Saturday morning. The 700 delegates’ votes, representing 42 local and statewide chapters, were so close to unanimous than an official tally wasn’t necessary.

“Those who struggle against oppression and for equality will always have our support,” said DSA Deputy National Director David Duhalde in an official statement. “Just as we answered the call to boycott South Africa during apartheid, we stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people.” Rawan Tayoon, a Palestinian activist with DSA’s youth wing (known as Young Democratic Socialists, or YDS), added, “Democratic socialists aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo and demand what’s right. We stand against imperialism, we stand against racism, and so we must stand against Israeli apartheid and occupation.”

An informal group within DSA calling itself Democratic Socialists for Justice in Palestine workshopped and revised the text multiple times in order to maximize the impact of the statement and ensure that it represented the spirit of democratic socialism. Olivia Katbi Smith, a Portland delegate and member of the group, felt a sense of urgency in drafting the document: “As an Arab woman and a democratic socialist, it was incredibly important to me that the BDS resolution passed, especially in the face of the disgusting anti-BDS legislation that’s currently being pushed nationally.” She saw the vote as a chance for DSA members to participate in campaigns with concrete goals and demonstrated successes—an opportunity to go beyond moral symbolism and performative politics.

“Frankly this organization should have endorsed BDS a decade ago,” says Smith, reflecting the mood of many longtime DSA members. “As socialists we have a responsibility to side with the oppressed and commit to their unconditional liberation, and it’s about time that DSA takes a public stand in solidarity with our Palestinian brothers and sisters.”

Rob Bryan is a journalist who has written for Jacobin and Mondoweiss among other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @rbryan86

DSA BDS Resolution

DSA BDS Resolution

The Resolution of the Democratic Socialists for Justice in Palestine to the 2017 DSA National Convention

Whereas, on July 9, 2005 all major Palestinian civil society groups, including all major trade unions, issued an open letter calling for “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel Until it Complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights (BDS Call);

Whereas, July 9, 2005 marked the first anniversary of the International Court of Justice finding that  Israel’s construction of a wall annexing Palestinian territory in the West Bank to be illegal;

Whereas, the BDS Call noted one year later, Israel continued “construction of the colonial Wall with total disregard to the Court’s decision;”

Whereas, according to the BDS Call “all forms of international intervention and peace-making have until now failed to convince or force Israel to comply with humanitarian law, to respect fundamental human rights and to end its occupation and oppression of the people of Palestine;”

Whereas, in light of this failure, Palestinian civil society has asked for global civil society and people of conscience to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel until it recognized the basic human rights of the Palestinian people by: ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall, recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and; respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194;

Whereas, Palestinian trade unions are unanimous in their support of BDS and all three major Palestinian trade union federations are part of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions National Committee (BNC);

Whereas, DSA would be joining other US-based groups and unions in supporting BDS, including the United Electrical Workers, the Connecticut AFL-CIO, UAW Locals 2865, 2110, 2322, AFT Local 3220, the National Lawyers Guild, the American Studies Association, the African Literature Association, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, the Association for Asian American Studies, Jewish Voice for Peace, among others;

Whereas, since 1948 Israel has denied the right of return to Palestinian refugees;

Whereas, today there are five million refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees;

Whereas, since 1967 Israel has militarily occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the Golan Heights;

Whereas, Israel has engaged in a program of rapacious colonization (“settlements”) of the Occupied Palestinian Territories,

Whereas, Israeli settlers in the West Bank are given the rights of Israeli citizenship, subject to civilian law, and are permitted to drive on roads barred to Palestinians;

Whereas, Palestinians in the West Bank are not Israeli citizens, are subjected to military law, including being tried in military courts with a 99% conviction rate, are forced to drive on different roads, go through military checkpoints, are subjected to collective punishment, such as house demolitions, and have their land annexed and colonized to build settlements in which they are forbidden to live;

Whereas, there are today at least 50 laws that discriminate against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship;

Whereas, all of the aforementioned constitutes apartheid;

Whereas, since 2007 Israel has maintained a ruthless siege of Gaza, home of 1.9 million Palestinians, including 1.3 million Palestinian refugees, limiting access to food, electricity, and other basic materials, restricting movement, and transforming Gaza into an open air prison;

Whereas, Israel has since the blockage engaged in three wars against Gaza, which included sustained aerial bombing and the use of white phosphorous;

Whereas, since Gaza, is one of the most densely populated areas on Earth any widespread bombing is by its very nature a war against civilians;

Whereas, Democratic Socialists of America has condemned Israeli settlements and its bombings of Gaza;

Whereas, Democratic Socialists of America already supports “partial BDS” (boycotts of settlement goods);

Whereas, Democratic Socialists of America has endorsed the Movement For Black Lives Platform, which includes support for BDS;

Whereas, Democratic Socialists of America and Young Democratic Socialists played an important role in the historic international movement against South African Apartheid, upon which the BDS call is based;

Whereas, BDS is an inclusive, anti-racist human rights movement that is opposed on principle to all forms of discrimination, including anti-semitism and Islamophobia;

Whereas, Israel is the largest recipient of US military aid, making the US complicit in Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights;

Whereas, socialists have a responsibility to side with the oppressed and are committed to their unconditional liberation:

 

BE IT RESOLVED:

  1. Democratic Socialists of America declares itself in solidarity with Palestinian civil society’s nonviolent struggle against apartheid, colonialism, military occupation and for equality, human rights, and self-determination.
  2. Democratic Socialists of America responds to Palestinian Civil Society’s call by fully supporting BDS.
  3. Democratic Socialists of America affirms that any political solution to the ongoing crisis must be premised on the realization of basic human rights, including all rights outlined in the BDS call.
  4. Within 30 days after passing, a copy of this resolution shall be sent to the BNC.