How the DSA Went From Supporting Israel to Boycotting the Jewish ‘Ethnostate’
“We were the place to go on the left if you were a socialist and you were pro-Israel,” one former leader of the Democratic Socialists of America recalled. No longer.
More than anything else, it was the chanting that revealed how radically things had changed.
It was August 5, 2017, the second-to-last day of the Democratic Socialists of America’s national convention at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s campus. The 697 delegates who’d traveled there from around the country knew they were acting as midwives for something remarkable: a leftist renaissance in the United States. The DSA had existed since 1982, but as recently as 2015, it had only boasted about 6,000 members. Then came the socialist dream of Bernie Sanders and the reactionary reality of Donald Trump and an influx of roughly 24,000 people, nearly all of them under the age of 35. The regional delegations’ pet issues varied—as did their definitions of what, exactly, “democratic socialism” meant—but they were unified by a belief that capitalism and conventional politics had failed their generation.
As it turned out, they were also largely unified by a belief that the state of Israel was worthy of condemnation.
Inside a cavernous meeting room, the time had come to vote on whether the DSA would formally endorse the profoundly controversial Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign. Launched by Palestinians in 2005, BDS is exactly what it sounds like: a call for a boycott of Israeli goods, culture, and academics; as well as public and private divestment from the country and international sanctions against it. In doing so, BDS aims to pressure the Jewish state into changing its policies toward the Palestinian Arab populations within Israel and in the disputed territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. The pro-Israel establishment—American elected officials, the Israeli government, nearly all Jewish institutions—have loudly condemned BDS as a destructive, unfair, and even anti-Semitic force. But for this new DSA, which has little interest in going along with any establishment, the choice was anything but controversial.
The moment of decision is fascinating to watch. “All of those in favor of the resolution, raise your voting cards,” intones a DSAer presiding over the proceedings. A fluttering forest of red slips swings into the air. Many of those holding them grin with anticipation. “Thank you,” the emcee says. “All of those opposed?” A gray-haired man who looks profoundly out of place in the youthful room raises his card. “The motion carries,” comes the announcement, as the crowd explodes.
“There was jubilation,” recalls Chip Gibbons, the Washington, D.C.-based DSAer who wrote the first draft of the BDS resolution. “As a general rule, we tried to avoid applause at the convention for a number of reasons, but there was a spontaneous outburst of applause and an eruption of cheering.”
“It was electric,” says Olivia Katbi Smith, a Portland DSA member who had lobbied hard for the resolution. “The room was on fire. It was amazing. We had a Palestinian flag that we waved as soon as it passed. We started chanting.”
Here is what they chanted: From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free. From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free. The river in this formulation is the Jordan, the naturally occurring eastern border of Israel and of the West Bank; the sea is the Mediterranean to the west. Uttered by advocates of the Palestinian cause for decades, the pithy slogan very pointedly makes no place for Israel. It evokes a strip of Middle Eastern land where Israel is no more, replaced by a unified Palestinian entity in the space it once occupied. It could be that this entity would welcome and protect a Jewish population. But when supporters of the Jewish state hear those 10 words, they worry about their potentially violent implications.
(It's no secret that the phrase is highly charged these days. After professor and pundit Marc Lamont Hill this week called for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea” in a speech at the UN in which he also spoke in support of the BDS movement, CNN dropped its long-time contributor. Lamont responded at length on Twitter, saying he had not called for violence and contesting the idea that the phrase belonged to Hamas.)
“People are like, ‘That’s a genocidal chant,’ but that’s not what it means,” Katbi Smith—an Arab-American with Palestinians in her extended family—tells me. I point out that it makes some people uncomfortable. “I mean, that just doesn’t make sense to me, that people are made uncomfortable by saying”—she trails off. “I don’t understand. I mean, I guess I do understand how people would want to twist it that way. But no one is calling for genocide. We are just calling for liberation.”
The DSA has made liberation of the downtrodden and the oppressed its goal since its founding more than 35 years ago. For much of that time, the organization felt it shared that goal with the left in Israel. The group’s founders found common cause with progressives inside the Jewish state, embracing rank-and-file socialists there as well as political leaders like former prime minister Shimon Peres.
But something deep in the soul of the group has transformed. The BDS resolution passed with roughly 90 percent of the vote. Rashida Tlaib, a DSA member of Palestinian descent and newly elected member of Congress in Michigan has said that she would consider ending U.S. aid to Israel in order to promote Palestinian rights. Tlaib’s new House-mate, DSA-endorsed electoral star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, called a recent Israeli military action “a massacre.” Julia Salazar, a Jewish DSA member and newly elected New York state senator endorsed by Ocasio-Cortez, has embraced BDS and denounced Israeli policies. One now struggles to find a DSAer—let alone a young one—who firmly identifies with Zionism, the ideology that (roughly speaking) says Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state and must be defended. Indeed, outright anti-Zionism is ascendant among them.
Many Jewish members speak of how Israel’s rightward drift in the past decade led them to slough off the received wisdom of their youths. “Palestinians, from the point of view of my family, were seen as terroristic, but there wasn’t really any discussion of where that violence comes from,” says “Jakub,” a Jewish DSAer who requested pseudonymity due to the fact that he works with Jewish institutions and doesn’t want them to know his politics. “Looking at Israel, here is a state that has had a strong social welfare apparatus and at the same time still dominates this whole other people. After Operation Protective Edge”—the 2014 Israeli military campaign in Gaza in which more than 2,000 Palestinians and at least 67 Israelis were killed—“I could not accept that contradiction any more. I radicalized much further.”
He’s found comrades who feel similarly. Just a few days after the convention, a new DSA offshoot group calling itself the Jewish Solidarity Caucus announced its existence and made its anti-Zionist bona fides crystal clear in its published platform. “As Jews we are uniquely positioned to challenge the nationalism that appears in our community as Zionism, and as socialists we detest all exclusivist nationalisms,” the document read. “The inconsistency of liberal North American Jews in opposing white nationalism at home without material opposition to nationalism in Israel undermines our ability to forge solidarity with the oppressed everywhere.”
Although the JSC’s platform at that time didn’t speak for the DSA, it expressed sentiments—especially support of BDS—that are widespread among the new Democratic Socialists. “I don’t want to make it sound constricting, but it’s like supporting single-payer health care or opposing the U.S. invading some country: it’s just the normative position on the left,” says Gibbons about BDS, but he could just as easily be talking about wider condemnation of Israel. “On the one hand, it seems sort of inevitable, but a lot of work went into it.”
That work, executed by Palestinian activists and their allies—very much including a new generation of anti-Zionist Jews—has led to a tectonic shift among young American leftists in the age of nationalist leaders including Trump and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has eagerly embraced the American president. The pro-Israel consensus is all but dead within, and under sustained attack from, the American left’s fastest-growing political force.
Anti-Zionist activism and rhetoric are not new phenomena in American left-wing politics. In the early days of Zionism, the Jewish socialist crusaders known as the Bund vehemently opposed the concept. As Amy Kaplan documents in her new book Our American Israel: The Story of an Entangled Alliance, while the Jewish state was going through its violent birth pangs in the late 1940s, liberal intellectuals in the United States—including more than a few Jews—debated whether it was moral for a Jewish minority to establish a polity that would dominate or expel the Arab majority in the land that had been British Mandatory Palestine. But the anti-Zionist left didn’t bloom into full flower in the U.S. until the 1960s and ’70s, after Israel militarily occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem in the wake of the 1967 war with its Arab neighbors. Palestinians in the occupied territories and in exile embraced the Palestine Liberation Organization, a wave of Palestinian attacks and hijackings shook the world, and PLO leader Yasser Arafat became an international celebrity. Against this backdrop, American leftists ranging from the Black Panther Party to Noam Chomsky stood in support of the Palestinian cause as an example of a fight against what they identified as colonialist oppression. That strain of solidarity has persisted ever since.
However, it didn’t extend to the old iteration of the DSA. Formed through a merging of Michael Harrington’s Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee and the New American Movement in 1982, the staunchly anti-Communist group saw no contradiction between being pro-Israel—or at least pro-left-wing-Israel—and being a proud socialist. The Jewish state had a long tradition of its own version of socialism, seared into the public imagination by its kibbutz collectives, and though it was on the wane in the early ’80s, it was still part of the fabric of the nation’s society. The Israeli left had always had an awkward relationship with issues relating to the Palestinians—some left-wingers advocated for closer ties and peace, others led military campaigns, and still others vacillated between both positions. Either way, early on in the merger of DSOC and NAM, it was decided that the DSA would be explicitly pro-Israel.
It was a political position, but also a personal one. Peres, one of the most powerful left-wing politicians in Israel’s history and a longtime member of the Socialist International, developed a relationship with Harrington where the two “could sit down… over a beer and exchange stories,” as Maurice Isserman put it in his biography of Harrington. While he never developed a similar relationship to any Palestinian leaders, unlike many pro-Israel American intellectuals who came of age in the left of the ’60s and ’70s, neither was he actively antipathetic to the Palestinian cause.
“Michael [Harrington]’s wife was Jewish; Michael’s kids were not raised Jewish, but Michael felt connected to Israel and the socialist Zionist tradition in Israel,” recalls Jo-Ann Mort, an activist who was one of the first DSA members and later became one of the group’s vice-chairs. “In the early days of the DSA, there was a significant membership of Jews who hailed from the old socialist tradition, including the New York intellectual milieu and a trade union background that used to be heavily populated by Jewish socialists.” She summarizes the situation neatly: “We were the place to go on the left if you were a socialist and you were pro-Israel.”
By the turn of the millennium, the group’s focus wasn’t so relevant in any case given its graying and shrinking membership. The 2016 U.S. presidential campaign changed all of that. Although Bernie Sanders has never been a member of the DSA (indeed, Mort emphasizes that, back in the day, “Bernie put us down and opposed us” for “wasting our time” collaborating with the Democratic Party), he called himself a democratic socialist throughout his candidacy. The tiny DSA endorsed Sanders and their fevered energy on his behalf—combined with the simple brand association between Sanders’s avowed democratic socialism and the group with the term in its name—led to a surge in new signups, most of them young. After Trump’s victory, the DSA, though not itself a political party, positioned itself as the purer alternative to the Democratic Party. Today, the group boasts more than 50,000 members—a more than 800 percent increase over just three years.
While those new members, a fast-rising force within and around the Democratic Party, seem united in their opposition to Israel’s policies toward the Arabs in its midst, it’s not yet clear what, past resolving to support change, they might do to make good on that position. In conversations with dozens of members over three months, nearly everyone complained about the national leadership being disorganized, ineffective, and often unreflective of local chapters’ concerns. The group isn’t a political party and has no meaningful mechanism for punishing its electoral endorsees if they go off-message. Virtually everyone I spoke to said they were more interested in local community action on bread-and-butter issues than with BDS and Israel. What’s more, the DSA is deliberately welcoming to a wide array of ideologies, including ones that might contradict each other, meaning there isn’t a unanimous viewpoint about Israel. That said, the group’s anti-Zionist—or at least Zionism-skeptical—beliefs are plainly of some importance to a wide swath of its members as it defines its identity during this explosive growth in numbers and political importance.
Lane Silberstein, one of the new generation of members, is a type that mainstream politics largely pretended didn’t exist for the past half-century: a young person who is both proudly Jewish and proudly anti-Zionist. His cadre of comrades is growing at a remarkable rate, as is their prominence.
When I meet Silberstein at a sun-soaked restaurant in downtown Manhattan, I’m struck by his slender frame and his shock of hair that jumps upward and lists to the right, giving him a look that evokes Ghostbusters-era Harold Ramis. He speaks in a pleasantly nasal sing-song and smiles toothily whenever he’s making a controversial point. He’s wearing a T-shirt that bears the image of Jeremy Corbyn, who has been under intense fire from Jewish institutions and commentators for his vigorous and long-standing opposition to Zionism. But Silberstein couldn’t care less about what Corbyn’s opponents have to say. To him, they’re all part of the problem.
The 30-year-old was born in Florida to what he calls “pretty reactionary and politically conservative” parents and, though his mother wasn’t born Jewish, he was raised in a Jewish milieu, going to synagogue and receiving education in Jewish topics. Zionism permeated the atmosphere. “It’s just there in the background, and everyone kind of uncritically supports Israel,” he recalls.
Even the left-leaning members of his Jewish community defended the Jewish state. Silberstein recalls his local rabbi giving a sermon criticizing the popular understanding of the holiday of Hanukkah, which commemorates the victory of a group of Jewish militants named the Maccabees, who are now much beloved by Israeli Jews. “He was like, ‘Actually, the Maccabees were insane zealots and we should look around today at fellow Jews and see who they are, why they’re emulating this, and what purpose it had,’” Silberstein says. “But he’s written anti-BDS stuff. It’s just that progressive Zionism. He’s still a Zionist at the end of the day.”
An inflection point arrived for Silberstein at the turn of 2008 into 2009, when fate placed him in the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He happened to be in Israel on a free tour through the famed Birthright Israel service—a program intended to connect young diaspora Jews with the Zionist nation—during the Israeli incursion into Gaza known as Operation Cast Lead, in which 13 Israelis and upwards of 1,100 Palestinians were killed. Though Silberstein was far from the action, he still got a flavor of how Israeli society mass-mobilizes against Palestinians. “It’s pretty nuts to see tanks rolling down the highway, people with guns everywhere,” he says.
When the UN released a highly critical (and much-criticized) investigation of Cast Lead, known as the Goldstone Report, in April 2009, Silberstein perused it and was shocked by what he read. “That definitely radicalized me, to an extent,” he says. He graduated college and went to work in the Jewish-nonprofit sector and saw more of the extent of the pro-Israel consensus: “That radicalized me a lot more.” He’d always been rebellious and had identified as an anti-capitalist since high school, but now he thought of himself as an anti-Zionist, too.
He explored the latter ideological strain by getting involved with the Israel-criticizing Jewish activist group IfNotNow (which is officially neutral in the debate about Zionism), and the former by organizing in the Sanders presidential campaign. He considered himself to the left of the candidate—when I ask if he considers himself a communist, he replies, “Yeah, pretty much”—but he was energized by this upswell of people openly endorsing some form of socialism in mainstream politics. After Trump won, he heard a rumor that Hillary Clinton might run for mayor of New York City, which disgusted him. Yearning for an organized opposition to Republican and Democratic politics alike, he went to a DSA meeting and was surprised by what he found there.
“My Jew-dar was going off like crazy,” he recalls with a laugh. He had long been deeply fascinated by Jewish history and culture, having gone so far as to study Yiddish and Hebrew at the Jewish Theological Seminary and to get a tattoo on his right arm displaying a passage from Yiddish poet Moyshe-Leyb Halpern in Hebrew script. He remembers being in that first DSA meeting and thinking, “We need desperately to link Jewishness and socialism.” He joined, seeing an opportunity to express an alternative, anti-Zionist Jewish identity that would be unacceptable in more traditional Jewish institutions.
That expression came in the form of the Jewish Solidarity Caucus, which Silberstein spearheaded. The founding statement of the JSC—which is not formally part of the DSA but is comprised almost entirely of DSA members—declares that “Zionism cannot vanquish antisemitism,” that “Jewish collective efforts to realize the prophetic vision of a just world will only be fully realized through socialism,” and dismissed Israel’s socialist tradition, kibbutzim and all, as “part of a state apparatus that oppresses Palestinians and upholds the occupation.”
Built in a collaborative Google Doc and published with no named author, the caucus’ platform peters out at the end without calling for the establishment of a single country in what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories, or for the establishment of a separate Palestinian state alongside Israel. Instead it just calls for some “just peace between Israelis and Palestinians in which all inhabitants of the land currently controlled by the state of Israel may live with freedom and dignity.”
That said, many JSC members have a pretty clear vision of the future, and one they share with many other DSA members: the abolition of the state of Israel as it currently exists. The caucus now has hundreds of members from around the country congregating in chat rooms, email lists, Facebook groups, and occasional in-person gatherings. They became especially active in the wake of the recent killings of Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh, helping to organize a weekend of anti-fascist rallying. I spoke to 18 JSCers; all were vehemently pro-BDS and all but one were united in their call for an end to the Jewish state and its replacement with either one democratic country with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians or, in a more utopian mode, a “zero-state solution” in a socialist world where all national borders have been done away with. Either way, the fact remains that they’re all Jews—though largely secular or only casually religiously observant ones—who celebrate their Jewish identity and want nothing to do with Israel.
“We don’t need an ethnostate; they don’t work,” says 32-year-old “Lilith,” a St. Louis-based DSA and JSC member who requested a pseudonym for fear of being blacklisted by pro-Israel portions of the Jewish community for her viewpoints. “What Israel stands for now is completely against any Jewish values. We’re not supposed to be kicking people out. We’re supposed to be welcoming the stranger into our homes, not destroying their homes and destroying their land.”
“The current state of Israel, the model they’re going after is they’re remaking themselves in the image of our oppressors,” says 26-year-old Houston-based DSA/JSC member Daniel, who requested that I not use his last name for fear of right-wing reprisals (“Given the increase in far-right violence and government persecution of activists in this country, I don't have confidence that it's safe to have my name connected to my political views in such a public venue,” he says). “They’re saying, ‘OK, the answer to our own persecution is, let’s build our own walls and our own ethnostate and borders.’ I can really empathize with people who support Zionism as a way of protecting the Jewish people, but I don’t think that this view of a national ethnostate can represent salvation for anyone.”
When I mention the common Zionist counter-argument that opposition to Israel and advocacy of Palestinian self-determination can make a Jewish leftist the bedfellow of the profoundly reactionary and brutally anti-Semitic Hamas—which, it must be remembered, was democratically elected by the Palestinian population—they have answers at the ready. “I suppose if you don’t want to be involved with anything that has any connection to anti-Semites, you could ask Elon Musk to send you to the moon,” says Chicago-based thirtysomething DSA/JSC member Eli with a laugh. “Hamas serves as a reaction against Israeli brutality and, as far as hearing from Palestinians I’ve talked to”—Eli traveled to the West Bank last year—“support for Hamas is political because Israel has destroyed every other option and that’s the group that’s taken power and said, ‘We can save your homes from being bulldozed’ or whatever. It’s not because they hate Jews.”
Similarly, when I present the much-cited argument that any attempt to integrate the Jewish and Palestinian populations into a single country will lead to a civil war and ethnic cleansing, no one is fazed. “That’s already the status quo, is ethnic cleansing,” says 19-year-old Sam of Maryland. “The current situation is not sustainable, and it’s gonna boil over if we don’t move toward reconciliation and restorative justice and a lasting solution. It could boil over into all-out massacres or a third intifada”—a reference to the periodic Palestinian uprisings against Israeli rule. “What you’re asking is, 'If we go with one state, will that happen?' I say, if we don’t go with one state, that’s what’ll happen.”
Of course, these viewpoints are not restricted to Jewish DSAers. In fact, as vehemently pro-BDS as the JSC is, its members were not the originators of the BDS resolution. The aforementioned Gibbons of the D.C. DSA chapter, who isn’t Jewish, had been an anti-war activist during the Bush administration and became aware of BDS around 2007. Palestinian activists were in his circles, and he was moved by their pleas for the campaign. As he puts it, “It’s difficult to say you’re in solidarity with the people or support their basic rights when pretty much all of Palestinian civil society has asked you to do this one thing and you say, ‘No, that’s too much.’”
"He joined the DSA in February 2017 and saw widespread support for BDS among his new cohort. Plus, the national DSA had already endorsed a boycott of goods produced by Jewish settlements in the West Bank in January. He felt it was time to take the idea of full BDS to the national stage. In Gibbons’ recollection, there were already murmurs that BDS would be voted on in the upcoming 2017 national convention, but he was the one who kicked the initiative into reality.
In Gibbons’ recollection, there were already murmurs that BDS would be voted on in the upcoming 2017 national convention, but he was the one who kicked the initiative into reality. Along with fellow D.C. DSAers, he wrote up the resolution. It’s an explosive work. It doesn’t simply explain what BDS calls for and then endorse it; it issues a barrage of condemnations toward the Israeli government. The resolution refers to “a program of rapacious colonization (‘settlements’) of the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” cites statistics such as the 99 percent conviction rate for Palestinians tried by Israeli authorities in the West Bank, refers to the “ruthless siege of Gaza,” and declares that “all of the aforementioned constitutes apartheid,” among other statements. It enthusiastically calls for an end to occupation, respect for human rights, and enforcement of the so-called “right of return” for millions of Palestinian refugees who wish to move back to the homes they or their families vacated by force or choice during the 1948 war that brought Israel into existence. Though there’s no call for the abolition of Israel, the return of those refugees and granting of full voting rights to them would possibly mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state through simple democratic vote.
It’s small wonder, then, that the small contingent of remaining DSAers who identify as Zionists or at least sympathizers with Israel were so worried about the resolution. During the floor debate at the convention, a tiny group of opposers tried to avert the inevitable. One memorably spoke about how BDS’s cultural boycott would hurt the careers of Israeli ballerinas, but no one came up with anything particularly compelling. “When there were speakers against it, there was literal hissing,” recalls Jacob Plitman, a journalist who covered the convention for the magazine Jewish Currents. “When the pro-Palestinian speakers got up, there was cheering and clapping. The gathering had been dead silent and surprisingly disciplined for days on end, but this was the only issue that brought out this House of Lords-style politicking.” The resolution passed, the crowd blew up, and a new component of the DSA’s relationship with mainstream politics—and the Democratic Party it aims to push in new directions—went fully public.
There are any number of reasons why the resolution would cause such raucous joy, but one perhaps stands out. As Jewish DSA members put it to me, Jews of Generations Y and Z had always been told that Israel’s security and sanctity are paramount, and that anything other than the lightest criticism of it is off-limits. But for those left-leaning Jews, the Israel they’ve seen in their lifetimes has increasingly failed to reflect their values. As such, abandoning Israel with such a large cohort feels like liberation. “There’s an oedipal element—a Fuck you, Dad—but it can’t be reduced to that,” Plitman says. “The trauma of the community being ripped apart by Israel/Palestine has been going on for 20 years. The convention was a sense of power, that they’ve broken free. This wasn’t the beginning of a great divide. It was a celebration of the divide already being accomplished.”
Some old-guard DSAers, especially Jewish ones, were horrified by the outcome. “I cannot in good conscience be a member of an organization which promotes a boycott of the Jewish state,” wrote activist Eric Lee, 63, who had been a member of DSOC and had re-joined the DSA during the Sanders campaign. “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. For that reason, despite more than 40 years supporting DSA and its predecessor, I now wish to resign my membership.”
“It did pass and it’s something that’s unfortunate and that I can’t support,” says Mort, who hadn’t been a DSA member in many years but still works in left-wing activism. “I oppose BDS no matter who supports it. It’s strengthened the Israeli right wing and the narrative of Netanyahu and his minions saying, ‘The world is against us and we have to do X, Y, and Z.’ It’s weakened the Israeli left. It’s not about innocent peaceful protest. It’s about privileging one people’s narrative and demands for social justice and liberation over another’s.”
Meanwhile, DSA activists are pushing to make good on the resolution through direct work to achieve BDS’s goals. Boston-based DSAer Jarib Rahman has been involved in a Massachusetts campaign against Hewlett-Packard for allowing its technology to be used in Israeli occupation efforts, along with other accusations about its conduct around the world. He’d like to see the ideology behind BDS become a bigger priority. “BDS is not necessarily seen as the be-all, end-all,” Rahman says. “As far as placing BDS into a larger critique of imperialism, the DSA could definitely step up with that. I think anti-imperialism work, in general, is not necessarily prioritized to the same extent in DSA as electoral work.” Along those lines, he says he’s been disappointed to see so little national-level DSA action on BDS, and to see DSA-endorsed candidates like Ocasio-Cortez and former New York gubernatorial hopeful Cynthia Nixon decline to speak up in favor of it.
On the cultural front, too, the BDS believers have found progress difficult. The Portland chapter of the organization has been particularly vocal in its critiques of Israel, and this spring, it was invited to provide an opening act for mysterious Russian punk-rock collective Pussy Riot. Katbi Smith and Jewish member Emily Golden-Fields took to the stage and railed against Israel’s “unspeakable crimes” against Palestinians, partially in an effort to pressure the band not to play a planned gig in Tel Aviv. On the one hand, Pussy Riot stopped asking the DSA to be an opening act; on the other, it later canceled the show in Israel. The band did not respond to a request for comment.
The DSA’s new leverage in mainstream politics has yet to be tested, but there’s little doubt that they are a powerful indicator of where the most engaged young progressives’ heads are at. That presents Zionists of the left and right with a tremendous challenge: winning a generational war. To do it, they’ll need a compelling counter-narrative to the one being offered by the DSA and the JSC. It’s an especially tall order, given how far rightward the government of Israel has shifted in the past decade under Netanyahu. It’s a country whose government and people have openly advocated for Trump and, with him, our president’s ersatz authoritarianism and soft spot for white supremacists of the “Jews will not replace us” ilk. Even if the Israeli left takes power again, the prospect of a two-state solution seems ever more implausible with every passing day, thanks to factors including massive presence of Jewish settlements in occupied territory, the lack of political will among the Palestinian leadership, and the foreign clients on both sides who reinforce the status quo. The arguments of the liberal Zionists aren’t working and those of the conservative Zionists are radicalizing.
I keep thinking about something Katbi Smith said to me near the beginning of our conversation. “When people talk about Israel and Palestine, they say that it's a very complicated conflict, like it's just so hard to understand,” she said. “And it’s very clear to me what is happening, which is oppression and ethnic cleansing. I think that should be clear to everyone. I think that the framing of it as an extremely complicated conflict is a myth that we need to constantly work to debunk.” She’s 26. She’s never known a progressive Israel. She’s very possibly the future of American leftist politics. Those who founded her organization a lifetime ago mean little to her. Can Zionists debunk her debunking?
If they don’t, her chant will only get louder. Someday, for better or worse, it might be all anyone in her generation hears.