Arielle Angel: Hello and welcome to On the Nose, a Jewish Currents podcast. I’m your host, Arielle Angel, Editor in Chief of Jewish Currents. And I’m here with Mari Cohen, our Assistant Editor, Alex Kane, our Senior Reporter, and Dylan Saba, our Fellow. And we’re going to be talking today about the recent, I don’t know, fracas–what’s a good word for what it is–with Jamaal Bowman and the DSA. I’m gonna kick it over, actually, to Alex Kane, who just published a really fabulous piece in Jewish Currents yesterday, really getting into the strategic concerns for DSA regarding Jamaal Bowman and his refusal to endorse BDS and his participation in J Street junket trip. Definitely, if you haven’t seen that article, check it out. It’ll be in the show notes. Alex, why don’t you get us up to date on what happened so far?
Alex Kane: Thanks, Arielle. Yeah, so this story begins when Congressman Jamaal Bowman, who represents the 16th congressional district in Southern Westchester County and the Bronx, when he voted yes to send Israel an extra billion dollars in military aid, specifically allocated to Israel’s Iron Dome system. This was a high-profile vote on military aid to Israel. Israel advocates and most Democrats cast this as a vote for a defensive military system that Israel had depleted during the May assault on Gaza. As Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups were firing rockets, the Iron Dome system shot down many of them, and as a result, Israel requested that the US send over more money to replenish its Iron Dome system, which the US has long funded. The spotlight fell on progressives because of the small-but-growing shift in progressive sentiment on US military aid to Israel. And so, Bowman voted yes on sending Israel an extra billion in Iron Dome.
Now, about a month later, the Madison, Wisconsin chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America became the first chapter to call for Bowman’s expulsion from DSA, which Bowman is a member of, because of his Iron Dome vote but also a couple of other things, like a tweet that was sort of praising Colin Powell. But really, the Iron Dome vote was the central spark that led the Madison DSA chapter to say that Bowman should not be a member of this socialist organization, which has endorsed the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Now, that kind of fell off the radar until Bowman went on a trip to Israel/Palestine with J Street, which is, as many of our listeners will know, a sort of liberal Jewish lobby group that supports US military aid to Israel and its current package, which is $3.8 billion per year, but also wants to restrict how that US military aid is used so that Israel doesn’t use that aid to carry out any actions that are detrimental to a two state solution, meaning annexation of Palestinian land they also backed a bill that would also restrict that aid from being used to, for example, arrest Palestinian children. But on that trip, Bowman was photographed with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who is, of course, a right-wing Israeli prime minister, former leader of the Israeli settler movement. Of course, someone who said that, “He’s killed lots of Arabs in his life, there’s no problem with that,” he was referring to his time in the Israeli army. Bowman’s participation in this trip really fueled a lot of calls from within DSA to expel Bowman, or at the very least, center him although most chapters were saying, expel him, because he’s not adhering to the principles that we endorsed in 2017, which is BDS. And the sort of background to that is that Bowman was endorsed by DSA as part of his federal congressional race in 2020...
AA: Against Eliot Engel, who’s sort of a major AIPAC favorite. And they have decided, at this point, in a statement, not to expel Bowman, but to sort of condition future endorsements on his moving left on this issue. And also to, I think it sounds like they’ve committed to reexamining their endorsement process as a whole. Is that right?
AK: Yes, yes.
AA: So I think I’d actually like to start with a conversation that we all started having on Slack and tried to save it for this podcast, which is about BDS itself, you know, Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions. I think it was Alex–or maybe it was Mari, sorry–speaking about a point that Yousef Munayyer, a contributor to Jewish Currents, brought up about the fact that the sanctions kind of often gets short shrift in this discussion and sanctions itself requires the government to sanction another government. And so, in essence, we’re talking about, in a certain sense, an electoral strategy, or a strategy advanced by congressional or governmental bodies. It does seem, on a certain level, that some of this conversation breaks down along electoral lines, like how much should DSA be engaging with congressional powers, or like endorsing or caving to, or kind of allowing for a certain kind of flexibility with congressional Democrats who may identify as socialists?
Mari Cohen: I think some useful context there also has to do with kind of the divisions within the Palestinian Solidarity Movement itself that kind of breakdown around government policy, DC advocacy, versus perhaps more grassroots or less electorally focused advocacy work. If we think even about this Bowman situation of the things that the DSA’s committee ultimately said in its statement when deciding not to expel him, was that they had heard from Palestinian groups that didn’t want to expel Bowman. And obviously, there were other Palestinian groups, including the DSA, BDS Palestine working group itself that were in favor of expelling Bowman. And that breakdown was sort of evident in terms of who tends to work more on policy and electoral politics and who doesn’t, which I think is generally the case for almost every major left political issue and movement. There tend to be these kinds of divisions within the movement and among groups around what that kind of engagement should look like.
And it’s sort of interesting, I think, to think about BDS in that regard, because in a lot of ways, BDS is kind of considered this major tactic in the Palestinian Solidarity Movement. And sometimes it is posed as this alternative to electoral politics to say, well, working in the policy shops, trying to get this country to change the way it interacts with Israel and Palestine is not going to work. You know, the pro-Israel policy consensus is so entrenched and also perhaps people’s own ideology doesn’t fit with this idea of electoral reform. And so, BDS is the grassroots alternative. On the other hand, there are people who think of the sanctions element of BDS as being the most potentially impactful and important, and that these other parts in terms of boycott and divestment, they’re really mostly important in terms of building consensus that can ultimately create political momentum to pass sanctions, which will actually impact Israel the most to end the occupation of Palestine. And I don’t think that’s like a universal theory of BDS. I think some people would certainly disagree with that, but I think that kind of indicates that there’s kind of different theories and ideologies about what BDS is supposed to do and what how it’s supposed to be impactful. And what its relationship to electoral policy work ultimately should be.
Dylan Saba: I think that’s largely correct. And I think we need to recognize that BDS is an international movement as well, right? So it’s not something that was formed in the United States and is built around different avenues of US based advocacy. It’s supposed to be a broad-based movement that people all around the world can participate in, depending on the kind of conjuncture and where they’re at. So, I think that people who have a longer electoral horizon, with regards to BDS work in the US, correctly say that we’re nowhere near in a position to actually materially advanced sanctions in the United States. And that’s why I think there’s a larger emphasis on pushing forward with more grassroots organizing and strategies where there is some momentum. So in labor unions and churches, that’s where the real BDS work is happening. It’s totally a pipe dream in Congress. And that’s just reflected in the fact that for all of the noise about BDS, like we only have like one Congress person who’s even able to say that they support it. That’s not the case around the world. You have left-wing governments in Latin America who basically have a mandate to advance anti-Israel policy. And that’s where sanctions are actually a live conversation. So I think it doesn’t, I think you’re right that that tension exists in the US movement, but I think also like that international context is, like helpful for understanding where people are, are boycotting and where people are sanctioning.
AA: It’s sort of ironic in a weird way, because there’s like an agreement that sanctions would be sort of like the goal or that that would be the thing that would have the most impact. Like, wouldn’t we say, let’s act now in a way that sort of makes that road, or sort of like, tills that ground or something? Like, isn’t that the kind of prefigurative work that might have to go into it or was the strategy that like, actually, we’re never gonna be able to do it this way, and if we don’t just put effort into the grassroots work, there’s no point in trying to go after this pipe dream? I mean, the reason I ask is because it does seem conceivable to me that like, there could be another round of violence, and then things shift quicker than we would expect. Like I would say that even May itself, with all of those house reps on the floor talking about Palestine, was pretty unprecedented. I mean, now, how many of those reps are on record in support of BDS? As we said, Rashida Tlaib. But still, I think it’s sort of not unforeseeable that there might be some kind of sea change among some members of the Democratic Party, like broader, a broader group, perhaps than, than we were thinking before. And that perhaps, like giving them room to move, or like supporting them and making that transition might be useful in some kind of way.
AK: I mean, I think what has gotten sometimes too lost within the DSA discussion, which of course, spilled outside of DSA circles. There was a lot of talk about Bowman as a pro-Israel representative, as a Zionist representative or a supporter of Israel, which flattens Bowman’s record. Bowman, of course, represents a district with I think about, you know, 10% of his district is Jewish in Southern Westchester and the Northern Bronx, like Riverdale, Scarsdale, those communities. And despite that, he was among the first members of Congress to call out Israel’s unequal vaccine policies. You know, Israel sort of not giving vaccines to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. He was one of only 30 members of Congress to sign on to Betty McCollum’s bill. And he was on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s landmark bill to block the sale of bombs to Israel. To Dylan’s point, of course, those bills have not gotten anywhere, because there’s only 30 members of Congress on McCollum’s, and there was less than that on AOC’s bill. But yeah, I mean, just to speak to that, Bowman’s, he’s, he’s on the left end of the spectrum. Now, maybe that’s an indictment of the spectrum. And maybe that’s where people are so down because they believe that because the spectrum is so limited, it’s not worth it to engage in electoral politics.
DS: Yeah, I have a couple thoughts on that. One is that, while all of that may be like relatively commendable, it’s also not incompatible with just a liberal Zionist position. And there are other progressive members of Congress on this “progressive,” with scare quotes here, on this issue that DSA has not endorsed and there’s really not any conversation around DSA endorsing. You know, Jayapal, Barbara Lee, etc. The other thing that I would just add, and I think that this is a bit unrecognized in the discourse, is that there is a fatigue among Palestinians of being asked to kind of read between the lines of a particular electoral situation and put faith that a politician has these covert feelings of solidarity that they’re, they’re not quite able to express because of the political conjuncture. I just, speaking personally, talking to, like, members of my family and Palestinians, like, there was such this feeling like Barack Obama represented this possibility, because he had some nice words about Palestinians and spoke actually to Palestinian humanity. And I just watched over the eight years of his presidency as the horizon of what actually could happen shrunk more and more and more until we’re in the last two years of his presidency and everyone’s just hoping that he’s not gonna block a bill representing Palestinian statehood at the UN. And we just watched that kind of like fall between our fingers. And I think that that was a very jading experience for, for a lot of people. And I think a lot of people, very reasonably, basically took on the posture of “I’m just gonna believe what politicians say they believe and look to that, and really infer nothing more.” And I think that that explains some of the frustration and some of the strong reaction to being, in a way, condescended to about like the real nature of the political moment and the political concerns. As if Palestinians were just unaware of that, or not thinking pragmatically.
AA: “Liberal Zionist” gets used, rightly, as just like kind of a slur in this conversation a lot, as a way of like, basically saying, like, “They’re liberal Zionists, so like, there’s nothing here.” But like, one of the questions that I keep having, Is there a way to distinguish between, and I really don’t know the answer to this, between like shades of liberal Zionism that actually are like, predicated on the idea of a sovereign Palestinian state, which is what many Palestinians want? Bowman, for example, there’s that photo op that got cited a lot about Naftali Bennett, and at a J Street U town hall after that, you have Bowman basically saying the Palestinians have no partner for peace, the Israeli government is so right wing that there’s nothing we can do with them, which is pretty interesting, you know, that that’s what he got out of that photo op. So--
AK: Just quickly I will say that Palestinians who believe in a Palestinian state also believe in Palestinian refugee return. I mean, that’s, that’s also at the heart of Palestine political thought and organizing.
AA: For sure. And I think it’s very clear that, like, J Street is not about to come out with like, a plan for, for refugee return. However, I’m not like sure about this, but I do think that, that J Street is an organization that actually, if we were on the precipice of such a deal, certain kinds of conversations would be on the table if you were dealing with a J Street audience. Like, I don’t think that if you’re talking to people who are generally involved with J Street at this point, they’re basically saying never return, never like, I think especially the people who work there have had enough contact with Palestinians to understand that that’s a part of what the deal is. Now, of course, like, do we have to like trust them or something? No, like, absolutely not. But I don’t know. It’s like, the question of what J Street can say right now is also a question on the table.
MC: I mean I think what in some ways what you’re pointing to, Arielle, is kind of two versions of like the two-state solution, as symbol, as policy position, as placement in this kind of discourse in politics. There’s a version of the two-state solution that is just, kind of, basically a rhetorical prop that basically any US politician and many politicians around the world and sometimes in Israel, though, not even as much anymore, but like that any figure can basically use to kind of defend their actions, because they’re like, “I care about a two-state solution.” And as I believe that Josh has written for us in the past, basically it’s broadly known that there’s very few political conditions to make a two-state solution possible at the moment. So that’s just used by these politicians as a prop to kind of defer any meaningful action in the present because they’re like, “I’m maintaining a two-state solution and this is why I’m Zionist.” But like, because there’s no actual momentum towards a two-state solution, that doesn’t mean anything and just gives them cover. And the Republicans can say it, anyone can say it, even people who do not mean it, do not care about Palestinians or Palestinian statehood. Then there’s this other idea of a two-state solution among these two-state, kind of, peace groups, I guess J Street, you’d probably say Americans For Peace Now, obviously people, some people on the ground in Israel and Palestine, who actually do make it their advocacy focus to try to advocate for a two-state solution. And then there’s I think, different forms of criticism in terms of what does that theory of change mean? What is their refugee rights position mean, in terms of justice? Is that actually going to happen? And are they creating, by focusing so much on a two-state solution, are they blocking other things? Are they still endorsing nationalisms? Like, are they muting the Palestinian Solidarity Movement? You know, so I think there’s like two different questions there. And I would agree that J Street is in that latter category, in terms of how we think about it, while many American politicians are in that former category, and that is this empty signifier.
AA: Yeah, I would agree with that just to be clear. Like, I am also not a supporter of the two-state solution. It’s just like, I’m just curious in terms of like, what is it that people want to see? And like, is there a way to actually not flatten the conversation so that AIPAC and J Street are exactly the same? Or like, Bowman talking about the two-state solution in one kind of way is the same as him talking about it in another. Now of course, to Dylan’s point, this may just be discursive. So I don’t know.
DS: Yeah, I mean, I think like, you’re pointing to real tensions. And I have my own set of opinions about the compatibility of like, two-state anti-Zionism and two-state Zionism, or what have you. And I think these are interesting avenues to explore, but I would also say that probably the more pressing question for people, and what’s upsetting more people, is the more immediate question of the boot and the neck, right? So the question of dollar support for Israel military spending, right, that factors into theory of change, and it factors into, kind of like the long horizon of solutions or what have you. But it also factors into what’s happening right now, right? So the issue with Iron Dome funding is not, it’s not an abstract point, right? It’s not, We need to be scaling back support for Israel’s military and not going in the other direction. It’s that the Iron Dome system plays a real material role in the conflict as it exists today. And it’s not, it’s not really pleasant to talk about because you’re talking about civilians dying. But the Iron Dome system basically takes off the table the ability for militants in Gaza to have any kind of deterrent effect to actually meaningfully impact what public opinion looks like in Israel at the time that these massacres are, are ongoing.
AA: Yeah, it makes, it’s totally costless, you know? An engagement with Gaza in many ways is totally costless right now for, for the Israeli public.
DS: And you know, I don’t, I don’t mean to suggest that those kinds of like, geostrategic nuance make their way into like, the broader, kind of like, constituent building politicking. But it’s to point out that these are not abstract frontlines, that these are very much material frontlines. And so, I think that there’s a really sharp frustration and anger when, when there’s some kind of like discursive suggestion that this is like a matter of purity politics, or the perfect being the enemy of the good, when it really has material impacts for oppression that’s happening presently.
AA: Right, but I mean, I think, I agree with that completely. And, but I think that the reason that these conversations assert themselves, right, is because like, whether or not DSA expels Bowman for this action, the majority of politicians, the vast majority, the overwhelming majority, are gonna vote for Iron Dome funding. I mean, I think like, that’s kind of where the crux of it comes, you know. Cause if we were in a situation where Jamaal Bowman was a deciding vote, or like a symbolic vote in a certain kind of way that made, that made this seem like, like it had some kind of momentum, then I think we’d be having a very different conversation. It would be very clear that he would need to be kind of, like, resoundingly condemned on all of these terms. I think where it becomes difficult is where the, where the reality of the boot on the neck, as you say, is just so far away from where the discussion is, not just in Congress, but in the American public, you know. And so like, that’s, I think, where it becomes really difficult. I mean, like, the way in which questions about BDS and like, Iron Dome funding and all of these kinds of things that we’ve been talking about, mirror questions about, for example, like, Defund the Police, and, for example, I think like, Nathan did a really good interview with an activist at Yes 4 Minneapolis, who was essentially organizing on a defund bill that like, refused to call it a defund bill and was sort of trying to pivot away from that language. It almost passed. It was pretty heartbreaking, I would say. So then the question is really like, what do you do in that case? I feel really torn because when I look at like those J Street junket trips, like, I feel like, every Jewish parent in America should go on a trip like that, like no joke. Like, I think like, the fastest way to like, stop the funding of the occupation is to send all of our parents on a trip like the one that J Street just took. And like, yeah, that’d be like a massive BDS faux pas on some level, but at the same time, like, you might really get some very tangible financial results out of showing people what’s actually going on. Like, I mean, I would imagine that if you took the entirety of Congress that goes on AIPAC trips, on the trip that J Street just took, which most of them will not take, we would have a very different foreign policy quickly. Like, I don’t underestimate the power of these trips to like, kind of create a kind of personal movement, because I’ve seen so many people like, that’s the premise of encounter and blah, blah, blah. I don’t know that many people who go on those trips and are just like, “Yeah, fuck this,” or whatever, like, “This didn’t change anything, this didn’t like, supplement my knowledge about what’s actually happening.” Now, like, obviously, like in a congressional situation, there’s, things are really different, but I just want to say like, we’re starting from very little movement. And so, what would we do otherwise?
AK: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s part of where the split comes down to, within the Palestinian Solidarity Movement, and as you said, within other movements, like around reforming the police versus defunding the police versus abolishing the police. It’s like, in, in the Palestine context, which I know best, in the sort of heyday of the Palestinian Nationalist Movement in the late 60s and 70s, when the PLO was a united force, when, when there was real armed struggle from leftist factions at their height in Palestinian society that were acting as part of the PLO, namely the PFLP. That revolutionary fervor of that time period has totally dissipated. And so, the question that people in the United States are asking is, What do you do with the political situation that we’re in? And some people have gone to Washington and others still cling to the hope or the feeling that the way forward is in that revolutionary fervor or, at the very least, in like a revolutionary, sort of grassroots situation led by Palestinians. And it’s just that the political reality that produced the movements of, say the First Intifada, and even the Second Intifada, are very different. And that now, because that energy has dissipated, some people’s energy have turned to electoral politics. But that, of course, frustrates people because of how much of a slog it is and how much of a block the Israel lobby seems to have on moving US policy.
MC: I think also, it’s just worth thinking, in that sense too, kind of about like, what the question of marginality means here. And, Alex, I think some of what you were just talking to kind of points to a piece that you sent us before this by Steven Salaita on his blog, that’s a little bit about kind of feeling a lot of frustration with the Palestinian Solidarity Movement lately in the US, in the parts of it that seemed to have been, sort of, disciplined into an electoral policy oriented consensus and sort of feeling that in many ways, when the position was more marginal in US culture to Salaita, it actually felt more powerful and more potentially revolutionary. That felt like it wasn’t coopted by these sorts of electoral concerns, and that it was more able to really marshal the spirit of opposition to Empire, and to both American imperialism and Israeli colonialism and all of those things. And I think that’s actually very interesting. I found it very interesting to read, because I think that that kind of question of marginality is often, in other parts of the left, sort of considered as a negative, or as like an expression of purity politics, in that people say, “Oh, people who are very, like, express the sort of revolutionary leftism actually have this sort of like, attachment to being marginal, because they don’t want to be part of this mass movement.”
AA: Or maybe it’s that they don’t want to be part of the power structure.
MC: Right. And a lot of organizations along the left very quickly break down in disputes very easily over a lot of things. And a lot of them are around these questions of concession to power. And I think there often are these questions like some people really are opposing everything we do, well, they don’t even want us to build power, and they just want to stay marginal. And then marginality is kind of considered this, sort of like, slur or expression of, sort of like, negative anti-pragmatism there, whereas kind of, it’s sort of interesting to see Salaita kind of celebrate that as actually, marginality can be this really powerful way to express this revolutionary sentiment that doesn’t play into power structures. So I think I found that very interesting. At the same time, it does kind of seem, okay, so if you have this revolutionary marginality, well, where do you go from that to make material change? And maybe in the United States, if you kind of have that position, but then you’re working with an on the ground movement that has a lot of power and spirit that’s very different than in a moment when those things are less internationally developed.
DS: I think one thing that’s important to recognize is that, like, look, we’re in decade eight of hard occupation. Revolutionary fervor has not liberated Palestine, electoralism has not liberated Palestine. When the material reality is a brick wall, everything looks like idealism. So it’s definitely the case that people’s worldviews impact what their takes are at a particular moment, and their kind of like, broad trajectory. But I think that any, any position that suggests that it’s kind of like the, the idealism of their, like, ideological neighbors, that’s preventing real change, like kind of needs to like, take, take a take a step back.
AA: I think that’s a great point, but I guess like the thing that you just said sounds to me like something that should make more room as opposed to less room. Like the recognition that like, none of the things that we have tried have worked. And that like, that’s like why I kind of feel like, let’s just throw shit at the wall. Like diversity tactics, like, like, you think this? Okay, like, do it this way. You think that? Like, do it that way. Like, what that would mean to me is that there is actually a role for J Street. It’s not the role I want to play. It’s not, I don’t want to like get involved over there or whatever. But like, I think at the end of the day, it was the right decision not to expel Bowman for those reasons, that, that like there needs to be just a little bit more room considering the broad context of what we’re doing. I mean, the other the other point that I hope we can shift into talking about a little bit is like, what it says about DSA’s power itself. I mean, Alex, there were some really powerful quotes I think in your piece just about the fact that like, DSA didn’t really support Bowman when he went out on a limb on some of the other positions that he took on Palestine and DSA wasn’t instrumental in getting him elected or in like heading off other kinds of threats when he has stepped out on this issue. So that’s another question. It’s like, the ability to kind of like revoke an endorsement or expel someone is only as powerful as you make yourself in their campaign. Unfortunately, I think one of the like losers in this whole situation, like in terms of the optics is DSA itself because I think they’ve had to sort of admit that they are a little too weak right now at the congressional level in terms of like, what they can actually provide for this to matter. Like, I mean, we’ve kind of cynically been speculating on our slack that this is going to be good for Bowman, that in his district, being able to say, “I’m separating myself from DSA, or I’m not like, in thrall to whatever they have to say,” will actually probably give him some cover to do more on Israel/Palestine. And in fact, like we have some, maybe some early indications that he may move a little bit farther in, in the wake of that.
MC: Yeah, I think that’s very live here. And I was thinking about that a little bit too earlier when Dylan was saying, “Well, you know, Bowman’s not necessarily that different than some of these other progressive Congress people like, you know, Jayapal and other people who are not and never were considered to be endorsed by DSA. I mean maybe, I think Bowman’s, the fact that he comes from this district that used to be Engel might be relevant. But did it make a difference that DSA need to endorse Bowman? I think that’s what’s been really challenging about this whole debate is that really, it’s over something that could have been probably best handled retroactively. Like, we’re litigating something, because probably, it didn’t necessarily make sense for DSA to endorse Bowman in the first place. Because if DSA is hoping that its elected officials will hold to the DSA position on BDS, which is, sort of like, the sign of a healthy and strong party, if your officials will sort of carry out the, your ideological platform, then they probably shouldn’t have endorsed anybody who was not going to be ready to take those positions in his district anytime soon. And also, where there’s not real evidence that being endorsed by DSA made a major difference for Bowman in his race. And so now, DSA is kind of in a position where, in order to, kind of, enhance and shore up its own legitimacy in terms of its platform and its relationship to elected officials, and also its own kind of stated expression of solidarity with Palestine. It’s trying to enforce a level of ideological discipline that it also doesn’t really have the power to enforce based on the current conditions on the ground.
And so then DSA just comes off looking flat footed. And I think a lot of that could have probably been avoided if DSA didn’t necessarily endorse Bowman in the first place. And I think that still leaves open a lot of opportunities for conversation between DSA and Bowman locally. I mean, I think there can still be conversation between those activists and the officials, maybe not necessarily through an official national party endorsement. And I suspect that that’s going, this is going to be kind of a, in some ways, cautionary tale for DSA going forward into its endorsement process in terms of whether it’s jumping the gun to make an endorsement over something that’s going to end up causing kind of a crisis around party discipline in this way. At the same time, DSA also does want to be able to have its endorsed officials that it has close relationships with, that it can actually make demands of and work together with. And so I mean, that is kind of the goal. I think the question around all of this is like, When do you have enough power to implement those goals? And what does it mean to build that power? I mean, I do think that if we think about pre-2016, pre-Bernie, that DSA is even in a position to have some, sort of, kind of power relationship with, like a handful of elected officials, is a major change. At the same time, it’s clear that there’s still a long way to go.
DS: Arielle, I just, I want to kind of call back to what you were saying about diversity of tactics. And I agree that humility with respect to theory of change does counsel that. You know, I don’t disagree that there may be some kind of net positive impact, maybe, like contained within the community of Jewish moms or dads of running these, these trips. But, you know, that’s not really relevant to DSA’s calculus. And I’m kind of the eternal optimist, but I, I kind of think that this conversation is like, good to have. I don’t actually think that like this is, represents some like tragedy.
AA: No, no, I don’t think it, I would, I don’t think that the conversation itself shouldn’t be had. And I think it’s, it absolutely should be had. And I also want to say like, I don’t think DSA should be concerned with Jewish moms and dads. I think that if DSA is interested in specifically this issue, then they are one power center in the United States for what happens with it. You know, I mean, like, I agree we should have this conversation. I think what’s frustrating to me is that I wish it was happening in a way that would allow for like some of this to actually be seen as a strategy dispute as opposed to an ideological dispute. And I think that those two things keep getting conflated in the conversation in ways that feel frustrating to me, you know.
DS: I’ll just respond by saying I totally hear you. But I also think that sometimes those things being conflated does have strategic merit. I think that without people expressing real concerns and real frustrations on an emotive level, um, about the discourse about what’s happening, there wouldn’t be this pressure on Bowman, that there does currently exist. So in a lot of ways, no one can really claim victory here because the people agitating for expulsion didn’t get what they want. But if they hadn’t been agitating for expulsion, then then then probably this would have just blown over and the needle wouldn’t have moved to begin with.
AA: No, of course. And also like, I think it would be, if it wasn’t this, it would be something else. I mean, I think it is significant that it’s this because, because of what we’ve already talked about, because of the distance on this issue between DSA’s position on BDS and where electeds stand. But I think it could have easily, like we said, been defund and then DSA would have had to make the same inquiry into its endorsement practices. For what it’s worth, like, especially as like a back seat quarterback on these kinds of things, I’m a member of DSA, full disclosure, but I don’t organize mostly because of my position in Jewish Currents. But I do think that DSA as an organization is going to be better from having had these conversations. And I hear what you’re saying, Dylan, that, like people getting mad or upset is sort of like the thing that drives that conversation. I think that’s true. But I also think that, that something that I hear on the other side from Palestinians who don’t hold the same viewpoint is that they don’t feel ever comfortable coming out as Palestinian people and saying, “Actually, like, we don’t think the DSA should have expelled Bowman,” because it’s like, they’re not taking like an appropriate Palestinian position. And then there’s some, like policing around them. And I do think that that, again, has to do with some of the conflation between strategy and ideology, that the idea that if you believe that he should have been expelled or whatever, then you’re like, expressing a true anti-Zionist position, and that the alternative means the alternative. I mean, like I saw the way that Hadas Thier’s piece in Jacobin was treated. The response was just like, she’s a Zionist, when she’s kind of like, been a public anti-Zionist for many years and like, in fact, I think has been a person who consistently at Jacobin, trying to like, really toe that line.
MC: I think this is a situation in which I would be sort of interested in like calling in an elder activist to be like, How much of this is familiar to you? How much of this is the internet? I mean, I just think these questions around strategy and ideology and different parts of diversity of tactics, it’s all, it’s not just Israel/Palestine. This is the left all the time is, having these issues. And then there’s these questions of how do we talk to each other? And what do we say to each other? And what does it mean to accuse someone of a certain position when they write a certain article? And I just, I am kind of curious how much of this is the internet? To what extent does that thwart us, to what extent is this just part, always part of why organizing and movement building is really, really, really hard? And I think a diversity of tactics is really healthy. And if you think of like a healthy movement, in terms of like having people who are very agitational on one end and very radical, and then having maybe other people who are working in different streams on the other side, I think the problem is a., you need to kind of have a mass movement to like, have room for both of those people to work together and create actual possible change, like to have enough people just altogether doing these different things. And then also, the problem is it tends to not hold together very long, because I think people can coexist really powerfully for a short time and then eventually, those splinters are going to fall apart.
AA: Alex, Dylan, I want to hear from you guys. And then maybe we’ll wrap up.
AK: I did just want to chime in on the sort of diversity of tactics and call back to some of my reporting, because there are sort of two elements in which people were sort of positing what I thought was a binary choice. First was, Should DSA focus more on like, labor union activism and BDS versus like electoral politics and Palestine? That’s one binary that I think was at play and then the other was, Should DSA just focus on like, what DSA activists call like “DSA cadre” meaning DSA members who are then sort of recruited from within DSA to run versus people like Bowman, who had already kind of started their campaign with the backing of other groups and then went to DSA for endorsement, but his campaign was not run by DSA? You know, I think it’s like, for me it’s like, why do, why do we have to choose between that? Similarly with like, some DSA activists just want to focus on like state and local races because they can better, sort of, have DSA cadre win power. You know, in New York, DSA has more of a presence in Albany than they do in Congress. But again, it’s like, I’m not sure that that has to be a choice. Why not both, basically, and build power that way? And of course, eventually, perhaps, the question could become what do we devote more to at a particular moment when that question really comes into focus? But we’re not at that moment where the choice is going to determine the trajectory of a movement. We’re at a moment where both things are pretty at a low ebb, and that both things should be tried.
MC: I just want to really quickly say, I do think that perhaps part of like the inherent condition of the more kind of agitational radical wing of a movement is that the more perhaps electoral or quote unquote, like pragmatist vision is probably never going to be acceptable, right? Like, isn’t that part of what makes that that part of the movement? And so I think that that is the constant struggle, and why it’s hard to hold things together. And I would say vice versa. I think often for those working in this other wing, like the leftist agitational radical tactics are going to be kind of offensive in the same way. So there’s, I think that there’s it’s very, I don’t know, I just I think you’re right, but this “Why not both?” question is, I think, more complicated than “Why not both?” because it’s like, the reason that there are both is because why not both?
DS: Yeah, I think that’s right, Mari, I think that I think that it’s, it’s easy to take like a bird’s eye view and say like, well, both of these currents within this movement have merit and there’s some legitimacy to their kind of like theory of change, so why can’t everyone kind of just like mutually recognize that? And the answer is that they’re in conflict with each other, they’re in struggle with each other. So just because this may feel small and feel like something that should be able to be hashed out relatively easily, I think, really, it’s an opportunity for these contradictions to kind of like spill out into the public. I think, I believe it was Arielle, was kind of drawing the connection to defund. I think that’s right on the money. I think the reason why defund conversations within DSA take on a similar tenor and bring out a similar kind of level of like passion and emotion is because they are mini arenas for these broader tensions to kind of come out into the public where people are able to express themselves. But the reason why both does exist currently in the DSA is because there are factions within DSA that are constantly in struggle with each other. And I think that’s, I think that’s good for the for the reason that, that kind of we’ve been discussing, but it does require there to be these like moments of tension that do come out in the form of conflict.
MC: In the meantime, I’m gonna lose my mind.
AA: Yeah, no, right. I mean, like, it’s interesting, because on the one hand, we’re like, Yeah, this is like necessary conflict. And on the other hand, we’re like, there’s nothing to be done. There’s literally no way out of this. This is just like the loop we’re going to be in forever. I saw somebody, I saw this tweet of somebody who was like, was John Brown strategic? Like, do we really want to be beheading people right now? And like hacking slave owners to death? Like, is that really the message that we want to send, you know? And then you have all these people in the comments taking it extremely seriously, being like, when the Union army is marching to your name, like that strategic. Like, actually, less slave owners means less slaves, and therefore, you know. And I think it’s kind of a good point, both the joke tweet, and the very serious responses to it. I mean, what I took from it on one level is that like, actually, we actually don’t know what is strategic or not, like, we can’t necessarily have a historical view on what strategy actually means and what it looks like or what’s going to be the spark of something larger so, I don’t know.
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