The American Federation of Teachers has several hundred thousand dollars invested in Israel bonds.
It has publicly endorsed a two-state solution promising self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians alike, and rejected BDS. It has promoted its work in Israel to facilitate peace and coexistence via collaborative initiatives that bring Jews and Palestinians together, presenting them as models for similar work aiming dissipate conflict and dismantle unjust structures domestically and internationally. It has proudly hosted an Israeli MK, Stav Shaffir, at its convention to speak on politics, justice, and inequality. Its leader, Randi Weingarten, has been vocal about her passionate connection to and care for Israel, and ran on the left-wing Hatikvah slate for a position in the World Zionist Congress.
The AFT is not, of course, blindly "pro-Israel" in all things. It condemned the nation-state law, and the denial of entry visas to Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. It grouped Bibi Netanyahu in with other democratically-elected authoritarians such as Orban, Erdogan, Putin, Bolsonaro, and Modi. Sometimes, in opposing certain Israeli policies, it has collaborated with other Israeli groups, such as joining with Israeli academic and student unions to oppose a politcally-motivated "academic code of ethics".
None of this is especially noteworthy. The AFT's positions on Israel are ordinary and unremarkable -- entirely the norm in contemporary establishment liberal politics.
Today, there was a big story that the DC branch of the Sunrise Movement was withdrawing from a DC statehood rally because the sponsoring coalition, Declaration for American Democracy, includes three Jewish groups Sunrise considers to be impermissibly "Zionist": the National Coalition of Jewish Women, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and the Jewish Council of Public Affairs. Sunrise DC said it would refuse to operate in any space where such groups were included, and accordingly urged DFAD to consider expelling them from the coalition.
Others can write on the pernicious effect of drawing the exclusionary border this far -- one that would have the effect of locking out the overwhelming majority of even progressive Jewish political organizations and actors from progressive organizing. Others, too, may wish to comment on Sunrise DC's de rigueur claim that in standing up against Zionism it was standing up for "Black and Brown Jewish-Israelis" -- an assertion so far removed from the actual politics and priorities of those communities that one wonders whether Sunrise DC actually believes it or is simply engaging in reflex. And others can look at the repeated invocations of "indigenous" rights and consider my hypothesis from just the other day that "As far as Israel and Palestine are concerned 'indigenous' is where political commentators go to when they don't want to compromise a single inch but still want to appeal to some sort of putatively non-partisan moral principle."
I want to focus on something a little different, though.
The three groups Sunrise DC targets -- NCJW, RAC, and JCPA -- primarily concentrate on domestic issues. JCPA considers some amount of Israel advocacy to be a priority, the other two do not. All three, to the varying extents they do "work" on Israel, take positions that are materially indistinguishable from that of AFT. That is, they are engaged in the normal promotion of two-states, co-existence, collaboration, liberal values, and so on, that is utterly ordinary and unremarkable not just among Jewish liberals, but among liberals, period.
Perhaps you see where I'm going with this. The American Federation of Teachers is also a member of the Declaration for American Democracy. And yet Sunrise DC did not say -- I suspect it did not even occur to them to say -- that AFT should be expelled, or that it would not operate where AFT was present. I wager that Sunrise DC only "checked" the Jewish groups to see whether they were "problematic". The litmus test it imposes is one it imposes on Jewish groups only. Jews are the ones for whom Sunrise checks to see if they're dangerously "Zionist" in orientation, and so Jews are the ones subject to the exclusion.
Perhaps I shouldn't be so sanguine about AFT -- Randi Weingarten is prominent enough as a Jewish leader that they very easily could be the next target. But the broader point would remain: if Sunrise tried to say it would not work with all groups who have roughly the political outlook towards Israel as does the NCJW, it could not work with essentially any mainline liberal group, because the stances NCJW takes are materially identical to those taken by essentially every major liberal group, Jewish or not. I expect that the overwhelming majority of groups in the DFAD (at least, those of any size) who have thought about Israel have thought in terms that are roughly in line with what NCJW thinks. If such an outlook is unacceptable, then all of them should be targeted for removal or ostracization.
That wouldn't be practicable of course. What is practicable and tractable is to ask the question of the Jews, specifically, and make the demand of Jewish groups, specifically. A Jewish litmus test, not a general one.
This observation is not quite the same thing as saying that Sunrise is "okay" with the sort of mainstream liberal outlook on Israel so long as its non-Jews expressing it. Even if the end goal is to demand that every group abandon this outlook, the above points about practicability and tractability can justify -- on a bloodless, purely tactical level -- a decision to focus on the Jewish groups first: a point of vulnerability, an easy place to put one's foot in the door. How often have we heard, after all, that boycotts need not and reasonably do not target everyone at once, but pick their targets at the point of maximum leverage and impact? The logic extends here too. How much should it matter that the selection criteria is "go after the Jews", if we accept for sake of argument that the reason "the Jews" were picked is not merely some unthinking atavistic hatred but makes "political" sense? The answer depends on how much you think unthinking atavistic hatred is the sine qua non of wrongful discrimination.
So is that Sunrise's end game -- it knows that lots of groups have "sinned" identically" to NCJW et al, but it is making a strategic choice to go after the Jews first? On that point, I am unsure. Is AFT not on Sunrise's hit list just out of ignorance -- they didn't bother to check? Or would it stay off the list for the time being because of the practical problems (or strategic prioritization) identified above -- limiting their test solely to Jewish groups being manageable in a way that an actual universal principle would not be? Or perhaps it is the case that the policies AFT promotes re: Israel, whether or not they're the ones Sunrise DC would choose, are within the "zone of acceptability" -- at least when non-Jews are promoting them. I suspect that they would certainly be happier if AFT, too, switched its policies to be more in line with anti-Israel maximalism. But I also suspect they'd be happy enough if the "only" practical effect of their policy is that the Jewish groups are sabotaged, and everyone else can keep on going largely how they're going. Actually changing AFT's outlook on Israel may be a happy bonus, but the primary mission objective is to kneecap the Jewish organizations, and their acting in pursuit of the latter goal far more than the former.
To some extent, I think all of this -- imagining a set of policies Sunrise DC opposes and then imagining how they're trying to alter or punish organizations for adopting them -- is giving Sunrise DC too much credit though. Why? Because I think what they actually did was not look at a bucket of policy and practices and say "we simply cannot support an organization that does this or advocates that", but rather simply check to see which (Jewish) groups had "Zionist" somewhere on their website and called it there. And perhaps you are tempted to think that this demarcates an actual difference between NCJW and AFT -- the former will use the word "Zionist", the latter won't. I already have in my mind's eye some Jewish Currents editor frantically looking to screen grab some obscure corner of the NCJW website where they dare characterize what they do as "Zionist", in order to Silence Liberal! those who insist that NCJW's work on Israel is not remotely characterizable as oppressive or problematic.
It is true, after all, that at least among left-of-center "pro-Israel" folk, "Zionist" is a term mostly restricted to the Jews. Take two Democrats with identical, AFT/NCJW-style views on Israel, one Jewish and one not, and the former is going to be far more likely to characterize herself as "Zionist" than the latter, even though they advocate for the exact same things and have the exact same vision of what justice and equality look like in Israel and in Palestine. But if that is the case, and the distinction is purely terminological, and the difference between who uses that word lies overwhelmingly along the dimension of "Jewish" versus "non-Jewish", then using that as the demarcation point between acceptable and unacceptable reduces into different standards for Jews and non-Jews -- right back to where we started. Be embarrassed, those of you who clung to the idea that this makes out a neutral distinction.
In any event. What Sunrise DC is doing is targeting Jewish groups for especial scrutiny and exclusion as Jewish groups. That it does so while nominally accepting other Jewish groups is immaterial -- it is the heightened scrutiny, not the conceptual possibility of clearing the bar, that is the problem. And it is not correct to say that Sunrise DC's selection criteria is neutral -- it isn't; the reasons these groups are targeted is not because their policy outlook on Israel is wrong in a way that other mainline liberal groups avoid, they are targeted because they have the "wrong" outlook and they're Jewish -- the conditions are jointly necessary, neither is sufficient on its own.
This is antisemitism. I hope it is recognized as such.
I'll end on a very small hopeful note. They are many differences between the situation of Jews in Democratic Party politics compared to Jews in UK Labour. But one major one is that there are simply more of us, who have been doing this for a very long time, and are deeply embedded in the fabric of the entire liberal political apparatus at every level. Groups like the NCJW and the RAC have been building out connections and coalitions and relationships across the liberal political space since well before the Sunrise DC activists were a twinkle in anyone's eye. We have the high ground, in more ways than one. And if a few political performance artists think we'll be dislodged that easily, they are in for an awakening.