DSA North Star
The Caucus for Socialism and Democracy
September 27, 2021
We oppose and reject the statement of the National Political Committee of DSA criticizing our comrades and leaders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman, for their votes in the U.S. Congress on the ‘Iron Dome’ legislation. The statement betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how to make real political change, and of the role of legislative work by elected representatives in that process. It puts forward moral purity tests of the sort employed by fervent religious sects, not democratic political organizations, and substitutes dogma and absolutist rhetoric for a serious consideration of political strategy in the service of democratic socialist principles.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman are not only our democratic socialist comrades, but two of the most courageous and stalwart defenders of Palestinian self-determination and rights in the U.S. Congress and on the national scene. They have been attacked from the right, again and again, for their advocacy on behalf of Palestinians, including their votes in the U.S. Congress in support of Palestinian rights. To attack these comrades from “the left,” in a statement that ignores their principled stands and the right wing political attacks on them for those stands, is indefensible. This sort of ultra-left posturing ends up in common cause with attacks on Ocasio-Cortez from the right for having voted ‘present’ on the Iron Dome bill (the parliamentary method of abstaining on a vote): when right wing Trumpist tabloids like the New York Post are attacking the same targets as you are, for the very same actions, it is time to engage in a very serious self-examination of your political positioning. That those targets are our comrades makes this positioning more than an extraordinary political miscalculation; it is an act that borders on political betrayal.
What is painfully evident in the NPC statement is the complete absence of strategic acumen, especially as it relates to legislative work. There are many occasions when members of Congress cast votes that involve aspects of the Israel/Palestine question. Political common sense should dictate that we choose our battles, and focus on the votes that best frame the question for public debate – votes that highlight the denial of Palestinian self-determination by taking on issues such as the continuing occupation of the West Bank and the de facto Israeli policy of annexation by settlement. In so doing, we affirm Palestinian humanity and rights. Instead, the NPC statement chooses as “the hill to die on” a piece of legislation deliberately framed by AIPAC and others on the right to highlight the Hamas practice of indiscriminately launching rockets and missiles into civilian centers areas within Israel: the ‘iron dome’ of the legislation is anti-rocket and anti-missile defenses. Insofar as that bill and Hamas’ waging of war against civilians frames the Palestinian question in public discourse, it will make garnering support for Palestinian rights and self-determination on other legislation all that more difficult. The ‘iron dome’ bill was a trap set by AIPAC and its allies in Congress, and was widely recognized as such, which was why the vote on it was 420 to 9. The NPC chooses to witlessly walk into that trap, and to compound their error by condemning Ocasio-Cortez and Bowman for not joining them in this self-defeating exercise.
The work of democratic socialists and progressives in the U.S. Congress is to pass legislation that advances our fundamental values. In foreign policy, that legislation should reflect our internationalist values of anti-imperialism and anti-authoritarianism, of self-determination and democratic self-rule for all peoples. That work demands of members of Congress that they focus on the most favorable framing of the public debate and on building the legislative coalitions and institutional power that can actually pass legislation into law. We must reject completely the notion that democratic socialists and progressives in Congress should function as “left” versions of Trumpists like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert, propagandists who have no interest in passing legislation and who stake out the most extreme positions in public debate, regardless of what it does to efforts to build majority coalitions. Yet a demand that democratic socialist and progressive members of Congress take the losing side in 420 to 9 votes on questions that are framed to our significant disadvantage would reduce them to precisely that role.
Finally, it is unfortunate that the NPC chooses to characterize the DSA’s support of the Palestinian people in revanchist terms, ones in which Palestinian nationhood and rights can only be achieved at the expense of Israeli nationhood and rights. “73 years of occupation” is not a reference to the occupation of the West Bank, but to the founding of Israel itself. To speak in those terms is to ignore the complexity of that period, when creating a national refuge for Jews in the wake of the Nazi genocide clashed with Palestinian rights. It is the rhetoric of a zero sum game, precluding the very possibility of a resolution to decades of conflict which recognizes and respects the rights of all -- Palestinians, Jews and other peoples in the region. Such arguments do not contribute to peace or justice, but only delay the day when the Palestinian people finally achieve self-determination and their rights, and they make the price in human lives and suffering before that day so much greater.