Letter to Democratic Socialists of America, August 2018

Submitted to DSA's magazine Democratic Left on August 20th. No response was given to the submission and the time window for acceptance ended on September 14th.

Addressing the national committee of the Democratic Socialists of America, delegates, comrades and friends:

I am writing to echo the sentiments of Prof. Jack Rothman and DSA cofounder Jo-Ann Mort, made over a year ago, in regard to DSA's vote to endorse the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel (held on a Saturday at the Chicago convention, when observant Jewish socialists would have been unable to make their voices heard).

In the year since this vote, over 200 rockets have been fired into Israel by Hamas and other terrorist groups from Gaza, and bombs have been planted at Israel's border on multiple occasions, including during the “peaceful” Right to Return march. Since DSA's vote to boycott Israel in August of last year, there have also been five knife attacks on Israeli citizens, three of whom will never get to celebrate another Rosh Hashana.

Leaders, delegates, comrades and friends, I must further admit how disheartened I am to hear many of you refer to the nation of Israel as an “apartheid state” and to the Jewish people living there as “occupiers” and “colonizers”. One could of course easily learn about the indigenous status of Jews in Israel by picking up an archaeology or history book, but to summarize, the majority opinion of DSA members of Jews as “occupiers/colonizers” and of Palestinians as “indigenous” is completely reverse from historical reality.

The Jews were occupied and persecuted under the Roman Empire from 63 B.C.E. to 313 C.E. in Israel, and it was three centuries later that Arab settlers— during the Rashidun period of Islamic conquest that also saw the settling of Iraq, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Azerbaijan, and parts of Turkey— also came to occupy Israel and began persecuting its indigenous Jewish population (which was one of the primary reasons for the Jewish diaspora to Europe). That the Jewish return, and establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, is labeled by many in this organization as “colonization” rather than a return from exile, then, is not merely a matter of historical ignorance but is, it must be said, perverse and anti-semitic. Israel— a sliver of land on the coast of an otherwise majority Arab transcontinental region— has always rightfully been Jewish land.

This was recognized by the founder of the Democratic Socialists of America, Michael Harrington, in 1976 when he stated: “The basic fact is that Zionism— which I take to mean the philosophy of support for, and indentification with, a Jewish homeland in Israel— is the national liberation movement of a Jewish people asserting their right to self-determination. If one preposterously charges that Zionism is racist, then so are all nationalisms which joined to condemn it at the UN. And that is to drain the concept of racism of any serious meaning... I support Israel as an internationalist. Israel is a democratic country whose people are passionately defending its self-determination” (see his interview with Mitchell Cohen, “Democratic Socialism, Israel, & The Jews”).

Even more unfortunate than the DSA forgetting its own history in regard to its founder’s view on Israel, in addition to its ignorance on the history of the region, however, has been its alienation of potential allies on the Israeli left. Surely it would be uncharitable to think that a large number of DSA members believe that all Israelis are rightwing and supportive of Netanyahu and his policies? Yet what other conclusion can be reached, when so many fellow socialists seem unaware that there is a sizable and vocal left in Israel, especially in Tel Aviv (many of whom are good friends of mine), who would love to reach across the ocean and link arms were it not for the organization’s endorsement of BDS, and further, an endorsement of BDS without a simultaneous statement of belief in Israel’s right to exist. In fact, DSA’s position on the right of a Jewish state to exist doesn't even have the meager advantage of being ambiguous, when delegates could be heard shouting after last year's vote was passed: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” To the sea, huh?

This eliminationist rhetoric is sometimes cleverly masked as a call for a “bi-national” one-state solution. But a “bi-national” state would mean almost certain persecution for the Jews. For proof of this likelihood, one need only look to how Jews are treated in other Arab states (the few who remain in these places, that is: over 900,000 Jews have been expelled from Arab nations in the past 70 years, while “apartheid” Israel has taken in over a million Arabs in that same period).

There were, at the time of last year's vote, and still are, multiple center-left organizations that both affirmed Israel’s right to exist and supported the creation of a separate Palestinian state; the most notable of these organizations being Ameinu and J-Street. DSA could have reached out to these groups with the idea of forming an alliance or partnership. But instead the organization chose to back BDS, which emboldens militant Palestinian groups to hold out on peace negotiations until Israel is brought to its knees economically. In so doing, DSA has also ostracized many of its Jewish members devoted to economic justice as well as to a viable two-state solution.

Finally, I'm left to wonder why Israel has been singled out as the sole target of DSA’s “anti-imperialist” objection. A whole page on the DSA website is devoted to condemning the Jewish state’s “occupation” of the land, while no similar pages exist condemning China’s occupation of Tibet or Russia's occupation of Crimea. Can leaders of the organization not see how outside observers would notice this inconsistency, and conclude that DSA’s problem with Israel might have more to do with anti-semitism than “anti-imperialism”?

Warm regards,

Race Hochdorf