Sunday, May 16, 2021

In Praise of Getting Out of the Way (If You're Not Going To Lead)

It's been noted by several sources that mainstream Democratic politicians have been considerably more vocal in calling out Israeli behavior during the latest round of hostilities to grip the holy land. This includes criticisms of Israeli conduct in Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount, as well as in the ensuing conflict with Hamas in Gaza. We have nearly thirty Democratic Senators, led by Sen. Jon Ossoff, calling for a ceasefire to stop further loss of civilian life. A cadre of Jewish lawmakers, including some stalwarts like Jerry Nadler, specifically called out Israeli police violence as a precipitator of the conflict,  and condemned evictions as well as the "deepening occupation". This, in many respects, is a far more interesting development than the more predictable harsh condemnations emanating out of folks like Cori Bush, Ilhan Omar, or AOC.

To be clear: there's been no meaningful hesitation among the bulk of Democrats to condemn Hamas or to stand with Israeli civilians under fire. But, far more than in years past, these statements are existing side-by-side with vocal declarations of Palestinian rights. It's getting to the point where folks have begun noticing just how far behind President Biden is from the bulk of the party. 

That's all very notable, but there's a particular angle I've noticed that I think is worth flagging specifically: as Democratic politicians have evinced this shift, there's been relatively little pushback against it from mainstream Jewish organizations. I've seen a bit a sniping at the rhetoric from the furthest-left, "squad"-aligned wing of the caucus, but by and large it's been pretty quiet. Liel Leibovitz  wrote a characteristically sophomoric hit job on Jamaal Bowman, but it got no traction. I haven't seen any serious recriminations against folks like Nadler, or Ossoff, or Raphael Warnock, or Jan Schakowsky, Steve Cohen, or Chris Van Hollen, or Ro Khanna, or any of the other folks who seem to be increasingly comfortable articulating the new Democratic Party line. Groups like the AJC and AIPAC are tweeting out generic messages thanking congressfolk for "standing with Israel" when they condemn Hamas rockets, but they aren't outwardly attacking members of Congress who pair those messages with ones strongly criticizing Israeli actions and insisting that a change is necessary.

Now, to be clear, these Jewish organizations are by no means leading on the subject. But at the very least, they're not standing in the way of those folks who are. I'd rather they lead, but if they're not going to do that I'll settle for them getting out of the way. 

If that seems like a low bar, maybe it is, but I think this actually matters a great deal for at least two reasons. Conceptually, it matters because it falsifies the notion that anyone who criticizes Israel in the slightest way will face the unbridled fury of the entirety of the Jewish Lobby. It turns out "the Jewish Lobby" seems relatively okay about criticism framed in this way, and the more that everyone internalizes that truth (both so criticisms of this sort become more standard parts of our politics, and so that we might finally rid ourselves of the self-pitying "calling me antisemitic because I said Israelis are the new Nazis is just another case of how any 'criticism of Israel' is forbidden" mewls) the happier we'll all be. And practically, the muted response signals that the sort of politics that's becoming the Democratic consensus is a viable one to hold -- it won't cause some deep intra-party crackup, it won't be the fodder for devastating attack ads, it won't make moderate Democrats vulnerable with either swing voters or middle-of-the-road Jewish voters. 

This politics can work -- which is good, because it should work and it must work. And we should take the time to notice that it is working.

No comments: