On the Question of Expelling Congressman Bowman

As a socialist organization building mass, working class power for the freedom of all oppressed peoples under capitalism and imperialism, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is committed to the Palestinian fight for freedom. Palestinian liberation is an essential part of our struggle for a socialist future, not a symbolic statement, and we are facing a question of how to achieve the power necessary to ensure we are victorious. It is within this context, the context of strategy, that we examine our relationship to DSA member and Congressman Jamaal Bowman following his egregious Iron Dome vote, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and recent trip to Israel with J Street, a pro-Israel lobby group.

The National Political Committee of the Democratic Socialists of America strongly condemns these actions by Congressman Jamaal Bowman. There is no excuse for Rep. Bowman’s decision to increase funding for the Israeli military when he previously committed to cut U.S. 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 National Political Committee agrees with members who have signified the strategic importance of developing greater accountability for DSA electeds. In the aftermath of the Iron Dome vote, the NPC initiated a series of conversations on electoral strategy and governance. Core to this conversation were the relationships, structures, and independent power to organize constituents and elect candidates that make political alignment possible, to follow through on our commitment to Palestinian civil society’s call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, and all of DSA’s organizing priorities. Through this deliberation, the NPC decided to reevaluate our national endorsement process, further develop our electoral training program, and initiate a Socialists in Office committee where the NPC will oversee relationships and direct strategy in greater coordination with DSA elected officials. We are committed to this during our two-year term.

It is in light of DSA’s developing electoral program and strategy for achieving material justice for Palestine that the NPC has assessed our approach to developing greater accountability for Bowman– a Black socialist and congressional freshman who defeated the pro-Israel incumbent Eliot Engel and has continued to criticize the Israeli government, while challenging his constituents to recognize Israel’s roots in the Nakba for Palestinians. We recognize the threat that Bowman and other members of the squad pose to the Zionist lobby and the important role DSA can play with them in advancing Palestinian rights and anti-imperialist struggle at the federal level. Already, we have seen considerable movement from Representative Bowman and his office, and a marked demonstration of interest in both accountability, and collaboration on an effective and strategic path forward to advance the Palestinian cause through progressive struggle on the congressional terrain. This is why the NPC has decided not to expel Bowman. The National Political Committee will not re-endorse Bowman unless he is able to demonstrate solidarity with Palestine in alignment with expectations we have set. 

Bowman did not claim to publicly support BDS during his primary, but DSA endorsed him nevertheless. Bernie Sanders, who DSA endorsed twice, has headlined high profile J Street conferences, and has not adopted DSA’s line on Palestine. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib did not publicly support BDS during their primary elections — articles were written pressuring DSA to discipline them. When AOC’s position on Palestine was rightfully criticized, people worked with her, and she shifted. Was it a mistake then for the left to commit to helping Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez to shift politically instead of splitting with them? Who would argue now that electing Rashida Tlaib to Congress did not build power for Palestine?

The Israeli lobby works to neutralize the leaders they know are best positioned morally to speak out against the injustices of apartheid. Dividing the US progressive movement on Israel is one of the key strategies of the Israeli government in their interactions with elected officials, and it is why they are so heavily invested in building relationships with elected officials of color, and why they sponsor political events in Puerto Rico like the lobbyist conference SOMOS. They are threatened by a Black socialist replacing Eliot Engel, one of their most loyal allies. It is why Israeli Cabinet Minister Nachman Shai has said, “If we see more of the radical left and progressive liberal Jews continuing to support BDS and Black Lives Matter, and similar to the Palestinians, if they relate to Israel as a genocide state or an apartheid state, and so on, we may lose America.” 

Congress is uniquely responsible for funding the military of Israel. The Zionist lobby has a significant role in contesting electoral races—Democratic Majority for Israel PAC spent over $700,000 trying to defeat Bowman in his first primary. They spent millions on TV ads against Bernie during the presidential primary. Recently the PAC spent $1.9 million to successfully help defeat Nina Turner. 

Bowman could play a vital role in the fight for Palestinian liberation by linking it to liberation movements closer to home, and has spoken powerfully to that effect: “As a Black man living in America, I know the feeling of being neglected by my government and society, of feeling like a second class citizen or not a citizen at all, in my own home. I can understand the feelings of hopelessness and despair that Palestinians living in the West Bank might feel, reading in the news that the Israeli government has no plans to vaccinate them from a deadly disease wreaking havoc around the globe.” His recent actions to vote for the Iron Dome and to pose with Bennett have massively undermined that potential, but we have been reached out to by many organizations fighting for Palestinian liberation to caution us that this potential still exists, and must be seized upon. Expelling Bowman would mean handing the perfect tool to the establishment to stoke divisions within the Palestine solidarity movement, the left and the working class, and play into the strategy of divide and conquer. It is exactly what our enemies want.

As with any group of people, Palestinians are not a monolith. In recent weeks, we have heard from Palestinian members of DSA who have a wide range of views on how DSA should engage with Bowman, and with elected members in general, going forward. Today, Palestinian leadership of the global BDS movement issued a statement imploring its partners to advance BDS principles in ways that are strategic in their given contexts– including in the case of holding elected officials accountable. Palestinian and Black socialist BDS organizers have implored NPC members to use all our organizational leverage to engage Bowman directly to determine whether and how his office can move toward our positions on solidarity with Palestine, before escalating to any further consequences — and to maintain a high degree of discipline about what we communicate publicly, lest we fuel Zionist media narratives.

The Democratic Socialists of America are unwavering in our commitment to Palestinian solidarity, and liberation both here and abroad. We will not allow the difficulty of navigating the contradictions inherent in these struggles to undermine our progress or lead us astray. We remain hopeful that Congressman Bowman continues to work with the NPC on using his office to demonstrate solidarity with Palestine. And we look forward to continuing to strengthen relationships within the Palestinian liberation movement so that, collectively, we can build the power necessary to win.