Is the tide of US progressivism turning?

The progressive, purist fringes of the radical American Left, which too often espouse antisemitic and anti-Israel positions, have racked up loss after loss. But Israeli officials familiar with US politics say it’s too soon to say the worst is already behind us.

To cancel – in other words, to erase, to exclude, to make illegitimate. This is one of the heaviest tools that the radical Left in the US uses on anyone who, in its opinion, has acted immorally. 

Israel, for example, was cancelled long ago. In the eyes of the New York Times readers and those to the left of them, there is no justification for the existence of a state for the Jewish people, certainly not when it supposedly “occupies and oppresses” another people. Much like in Israel, anyone who diverges from a small and vocal group that tries to dictate norms is shunned. That’s how it works. 

But Americans are starting to get sick of the campaign of purity. Both in the Democratic Party and outside it, there are plenty of indications that the radicals’ strength is starting to wane. If the trend gains traction, and there are good reasons to believe it will, the anti-Israel group in Congress could lose some of its power. At least, this what some Israeli officials who are active in the American arena think. 

The latest victim of the progressives’ campaign of purity was supposed to have been Congressman Jamaal Bowman. Bowman, a Black and socialist politician, was elected only a year ago in a strong push by the radical fringes of the Democratic Party. A successful campaign, and the background of the George Floyd rioting, as well as the hatred for Donald Trump, saw Bowman defeat Eliot Engel in a primary race. The moment he did, it was clear he would be elected to Congress, because his district, Riverdale, automatically votes Democratic. 

The loss for the long-serving, Jewish, and pro-Israel Engel hit supporters of Israel hard. Many saw the change of guard as more proof that the party was distancing itself from Israel, with opponents of Israel gaining power. Bowman was supported by, among others, Bernie Sanders and the Democratic Socialists of America. Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an ally of his. 

But a year after defeating his pro-Israel opponent, Bowman found himself shunned by the organization. Why? Bowman continues to condemn Israel day and night, but he dared to visit the country, met with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, suggested additional funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system, and does not support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In the eyes of the radical, this is an inexcusable series of crimes. Eventually, realizing it would be a mistake to lose one of their “own” congressional representatives, Bowman was “only” condemned by his partners. 

“There is no excuse for Rep. Bowman’s decision to increase funding for the Israeli military when he previously committed to cut US military aid and arms sales to countries carrying out systematic human rights violations, nor for his participation in a propaganda trip to Israel, which aims to legitimize an apartheid state. Everyone committed to Palestinian liberation has a responsibility to resist the Israel propaganda machine, whose purpose is sanitizing the oppression of Palestinians. Instead Rep. Bowman met with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, an unapologetic racist and war criminal who has infamously said, “I have killed lots of Arabs in my life – and there is no problem with that,” the DSA said in a formal statement.  

Signals from Ohio

It’s no coincidence that Bowman and others are moving away from the radical circles in the Democratic Party. His district is home to many Jewish voters who support Israel. They might have fallen asleep at the wheel in last year’s election, but Bowman needs their votes in the mid-term elections. So he hasn’t become a supporter of Israel, but he is careful not to cross red lines, like supporting BDS. 

Apparently, he is also aware of the big political picture. In the past few months, the radical Left of the Democratic party – which usually expresses stances that are antisemitic and anti-Israel – has racked up failure after failure, both in intra-party contests and against the conservatives. 

Eric Adams, a Black, centrist, and pro-Israel Democrat was elected mayor of New York. In the primaries, he beat a progressive candidate who had the support of AOC. The victory for Adams, 61, who spent 25 years as a cop, is seen as a desire by New Yorkers to restore law and order and clear the homeless off the streets. In his campaign, Adams emphasized his opposition to the progressive purists’ demand that he defund the police, and even stood up to threats from the Black Lives Matter movement. He drew a clear line in the sand against the radicals, and won. 

In Ohio, Black and pro-Israel candidate Shontel Brown beat a progressive, anti-Israel candidate in the Democratic primaries. Massive funding from the Democratic Majority for Israel helped Brown win. Observant Jews stood by her and her Black supporters at her victory party in August, and she called them her “Jewish brothers and sisters,” stressing the importance of ties with Israel. 

In a Democratic primary race in Buffalo a few months ago, long-serving mayor Byron Brown lost to socialist candidate India Walton. The Democratic apparatus, from Chuck Schumer to AOC, aligned with Walton, assuming that the party’s automatic majority in the city would ensure that she would win the mayoral race. But Brown surprised everyone by running as an Independent and winning a fifth term by a sweeping majority. Another case of a line being drawn against the radicals. 

Even in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered two years ago, igniting riots that spread across the country, the voices calling to defund the police lost. Common sense won out over piousness. 

The Democrats also racked up losses in local elections in early fall. In Virginia, after the state had been under Democratic control for a decade, a Republican candidate won the gubernatorial race. The assumption is that next year, the Republicans will re-take the House of Representatives, which is seen as more comfortable for Israel. 

It would be appropriate to mention that the Democratic leadership enlisted to ensure that the budget to fund Iron Dome passed with a large majority. Only eight of the 221 Democratic congresspeople voted nay, which in itself is a clear pro-Israel message. Notably, Republican Sen. Rand Paul is the one holding up the Iron Dome funding, not the Democrats. 

‘A new political atmosphere’

Another milestone is the boycott of Ben & Jerry’s, which has turned into a double-edged sword. Many US states are divesting from Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever, which has already seen its stock value drop by 13%. The US Securities and Exchange Commission is expected to launch a probe of the matter soon after four congressional representatives, including two Democrats, asked it to. 

The embarrassing interview that the company’s founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, gave to a young journalist who tried to understand their motives has become a joke. When they were asked why they did not boycott other countries over human rights violations, or US states that ban or restrict abortion access, they were left speechless. 

All of these occurrences have led Israeli officials in the US to believe that public opinion in general and among Democrats in particular is starting to shift. No one is deluding themselves that the battle is over. Indeed, Israel’s new consul in New York, former minister Assaf Zamir, and the consulate staff are devoting considerable efforts to bolstering progressives who support Israel. Their goal is to separate the link that has been created between progressivism and anti-Israel stances. 

But the instances mentioned here have also sparked optimism. “We have a lot of work ahead of us. After two years of COVID, a political crisis in Israel, and tensions between Jewish Democrats and the Netanyahu governments, there is a lot of work to do. But it looks like we’ve made it past the nadir when it comes to anti-Israel trends in the Democratic Party. There are widespread changes happening in the US that could be characterized as a rejection of purist progressive positions. These processes aren’t taking place because of Israel and have nothing to do with it, but do affect it positively,” Israeli sources active in the US say. 

Like any other political process, and certainly when we’re talking about a country as huge as America, the picture always contains other shades, as well. Congresswoman Betty McCollum from Minnesota managed to get 30 of her colleagues to sign a bill that would effectively cancel defense aid to Israel. It’s clear the bill won’t have the majority to pass, but the initiative itself is problematic. 

Rep. Andy Levin from Detroit, a close colleague of Rep. Rashida Tlaib, signed 40 of his colleagues on a bill that would condition aid to Israel on progress toward a two-state solution and held Israel solely responsible for the lack of peace with the Palestinians. 

In general, three years ago the anti-Israel group in Congress numbered four. Last year, they trebled to 12. This trend, in addition to a deep familiarity with American politics, leads pro-Israel elements in the Democratic party to disagree with the Israeli opinion that the worst is behind us. 

“True, in the new political atmosphere it’s less popular to talk about defunding the police, and today you won’t find 40 congresspeople who would sign a bill like that. But you will find that level of support for a bill against Israel, so I wouldn’t say the ‘worst is behind us,” said a senior political consultant who is well-versed in what is taking place and who supports Israel. 

“But what we can say is that in almost every place where supporters of Israel got in and fought, they got the upper hand. Last year there weren’t a lot of rates, so the Democratic lobby for Israel was able to divert effort and funding to the few places where primaries were being held, like in the case of Shontel Brown. It could be said that supporters of Israel in the Democratic Party have won a few battles, but haven’t yet won the war. Next year there will be mid-term elections, where a lot of races are expected. The trend is positive, but they still don’t have the resources or the ability to be everywhere. So supporters of Israel in the Democratic Party have a big mission ahead of them,” he said.

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