Bowman holds Town Hall with J Street; BDS-WG Renews Their Call for Expulsion
On November 29th Representative Jamaal Bowman, who has been the focus of a contentious debate within DSA, held a town hall with the liberal “pro-Israel, pro-peace” advocacy group J Street. The Town Hall lasted roughly an hour, and was a follow up to the trip Bowman took to Israel earlier this month, which J Street hosted, as well as his yes vote on Iron Dome funding in September.
After pictures circulated on social media of Bowman posing with Israeli PM Naftali Bennett on November 10th, chapters and other DSA formations issued statements calling for Bowman expulsion from DSA, including the DSA BDS Palestinian Solidarity Working Group, whose statement now has 65 endorsing organizations, including Palestinian rights organizations and over 30 DSA and YDSA chapters, as well as 390 individual signers.
The high profile nature of the debate has continued to fuel the controversy. Opponents of expulsion published a statement expressing their opposition to the call for expulsion, arguing that keeping Bowman in DSA would allow us to move him to a more just position, and expressing concerns that expelling him without process would be undemocratic. The letter was signed by a number of DSA endorsed public officeholders including incoming Boston City Councilor Kendra Hicks, New York State Senators Jabari Brisport and Julia Salazar, and 2021 DSA candidate for Jersey City Council Joel Brooks. The debate has also broken into the broader far left media sphere with an article on the controversy appearing in The Nation and Jacobin magazine publishing a piece arguing against expulsion.
The event with J Street was held over Zoom, with roughly ninety in attendance, and lasted one hour. Bowman did not appear to offer much of a departure in terms of his already established position regarding Israel/Palestine. The brutality of the Israeli government against Palestinians was a consistent through line of the conversation, often discussed through the lens of how the occupation affects Israel and Israelis. Bowman describes the psychological effects of the issue on Israelis and made comparisons between how the history of how Israel has treated Palestinians to how the history of slavery is taught (or isn’t) in the United States.
The questions of BDS and the Iron Dome vote were not brought up during the event. However, Bowman spoke about his surprise at how right-wing the Israeli leaders were, and expressed that the “two-state solution”, popular among US Jews including J-Street, did not seem to have traction on the ground among Israeli leaders. He was critical of annexations by the Israeli government, citing the difficulty in achieving a two-state solution where annexation of 90% of Palestinian territory has been ongoing over decades “unabated”. On the question of whether the US can continue to provide aid to Israel without it furthering the occupation, Bowman answered an unequivocal “yes”, but also said he did not know how that could be achieved. He also noted that his colleagues in Congress did not seem to have the appetite currently to have the nuanced discussions that would be necessary to achieve this.
Bowman made only a passing reference to the controversy with DSA. After thanking J Street again for hosting the visit to Israel, he mentioned how J Street must be on the right track stating that when he announced the trip, he had groups on the far-right such as AIPAC saying J Street was too far left as well as criticism from the far-left saying “they’re a Zionist organization, you shouldn’t be going with them.” He praised J Street for facilitating a trip that allowed him to meet with both Israeli officials and Palestinians on the West Bank, including his tour of Hebron led by the Breaking the Silence organization.
Overall, if the DSA BDS Working Group and the NPC have been working with Bowman to try and move him closer to DSA’s official positions it was not clear as his remarks were limited to his own observations from his visit. Palestinian human rights violations were a major point of discussion, particularly his interactions with Palestinian children. But, when discussing solutions Bowman mostly offered only the most general ideas, saying he hoped to share his experiences visiting Israel with his colleagues in Congress and President Biden. Bowman touched multiple times on the need for “truth and reconciliation” but stopped short of offering any specific means to advance Palestinian human rights beyond the need for “hard conversations”.
While Bowman was in the Town Hall with J Street, the DSA BDS Palestinian Solidarity Working Group (BDS-WG) issued a new statement, renewing their call for the NPC to initiate expulsion proceedings on Bowman, alleging that Bowman has been unwilling to meet what they characterize as “basic demands.”
Rep. Bowman’s office communicated that they were not ready to accept our most significant demands, including refusing to rescind participation in the J Street U Town Hall and discontinuing his relationship with the Zionist lobby, equivocating on supporting the Defend the 6 Resolution, and no clear commitment to opposing any future funding for the state of Israel. For this reason, in conjunction with his other recent actions, we call for the NPC to formally begin the process of expelling Jamaal Bowman from the DSA.
The statement provided more detail on the Working Group’s history of working with Bowman’s office in private to try and work with them to close the gap on the BDS issue. They claim to have first reached out to Bowman in May after he made comments in an interview with the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, where he explicitly distanced himself from the BDS movement citing that he doesn't believe in the “extermination of Israel.”
The NPC has still not issued any statement on the Bowman issue since Nov. 16th stating their intention to meet with him that Friday. Multiple individual NPC members have however made some public comments on the issue. Aaron W, NPC member from Los Angeles DSA, tweeted on the 22nd saying “if there was something definitive to report, it’d be reported by now” and that conversations were still ongoing. In that time more organizations and chapters have joined the call for accountability, including BDS Boston (an independent pro-BDS group separate from DSA) to which the Boston DSA chapter responded to in a public statement, as well as Buffalo DSA who passed a statement calling for Bowman’s expulsion at a general membership meeting.
How things proceed from here is unclear. Only Bowman’s home chapter or the NPC have the authority to initiate expulsion proceedings against him, which the DSA bylaws require a 2/3rds vote of the NPC in order to pass, meaning 11 of the 16 member body would need to vote yes. Given it’s current makeup it seems likely the NPC would find more than five no votes if the issue were to come for a vote today.
Avoiding formal action may end up a pyrrhic victory however. Given the high profile of this conflict it seems unlikely Bowman and DSA will enjoy the same public association they once had such as when introducing the Green New Deal for Public Schools Act, which Bowman led on and DSA made a centerpiece of its national work during the summer. Additionally, measures less severe than expulsion have been floated, including a statement of censure from the NPC and un-endorsement. Whether or not Bowman averts formal expulsion, it's unknown whether the National Electoral Committee would endorse Bowman again in the 2022 Election where he is likely to see a primary challenge from the right. The NEC's composition is currently up in the air as well, with the application period closing in November but final appointments by the NPC still pending. There is no mechanism to prevent his chapter from endorsing him if it chooses to do so however. The debate around DSA’s relationship between its members holding public office will likely continue.
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