DSA Leadership Votes to De-Charter BDS Working Group
On Friday, DSA's National Political Committee announced that they had voted to take action against DSA's BDS & Palestinian Solidarity Working Group after a months-long internal fight. Their decision, which passed by a razor-thin 9-8 vote, de-charters the BDS Working Group, which had been formed by the national convention in 2019, and transfers their work to DSA's International Committee. The decision also outlined disciplinary action against the working group's leadership, banning members of the working group's steering committee from holding leadership positions in national bodies for one year, and fully suspending the working group's social media coordinator from DSA for one year.
Public tension between the working group and DSA's national leadership began in September of last year after Rep. Jamaal Bowman voted to approve $1 billion in funding to Israel's Iron Dome weapons system and subsequently participated in a delegation to Israel where he posed for photo ops with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other Israeli government officials. Bowman's actions led the BDS Working Group, along with over 50 DSA chapters and hundreds of individual members, to call for his expulsion. The NPC ultimately published a public statement unequivocally condemning his vote and the trip to Israel, but declined to take any formal disciplinary action against him, only stating that any future endorsement of Bowman would be conditioned on "[demonstrating] solidarity with Palestine in alignment with expectations we have set."
The conflict continued, however. The BDS Working Group, along with some of DSA's largest locals, including San Francisco, continued to publish dissents from the NPC's decision calling for the NPC to reconsider. The conflict was exacerbated by outstanding questions from members about how the NPC reached their decision, including which commitments Bowman had made during closed-door meetings. In an internal statement from the NPC released in December to members only, the NPC announced that they would not disclose what, specifically, was discussed or agreed upon, but explained that they felt enough of the BDS Working Group's demands had been satisfied to justify their decision.
Allegations were made that during a confidential executive session within the NPC, a sitting NPC member had threatened to quit DSA and publicly campaign against it as a racist organization if Bowman were expelled. This also contributed to a perception that there was information about what took place behind closed doors that was being withheld from members. This NPC member would later address these rumors directly on DSA's internal discussion board, explaining that his comments during the meeting were misrepresented by second hand accounts and denying he had made any such threats.
The details of what specific concessions the NPC had actually gotten Bowman to agree to continued to be a source of tension. In February, Bowman announced in a letter to his constituents that he would be withdrawing his support for the Israeli Relations Normalization Act, which would expand the Abraham Accords signed under Trump, citing his visit to Israel in the fall and discussions with his constituents as the reason for his reversal.
In public tweets individual NPC members indicated that Bowman's decision was at least in part a result of their efforts and one of the conditions they placed on Bowman, which had now been successfully met. In a thread on February 17 however the BDS Working Group disputed this, stating that withdrawal from the bill was a commitment his office had made to the BDS Working Group long before the NPC became involved, and that he only finally came through after the redistricting process in New York state had concluded with the exclusion of specific constituencies, including Riverdale, which has made the news for anti-Palestinian actions taken against local teachers and officials, implying the decision was based strictly on political calculus rather than principle or pressure.
On February 21, the BDS Working Group issued an internal statement that the NPC contacted them requesting that their thread be deleted within 12 hours and that the working group grant access to their twitter account to DSA comms staff. In the email, which the BDS working group included a copy of in their statement, the NPC cites three specific issues with the thread that lead to the request. First they claim that Bowman's delay on withdrawal was at the request of his own coalition partners and unrelated to redistricting. Second, that the Working Group lists out a number of demands that they allege Bowman had refused to agree to, but that the NPC claims in their meetings with him Bowman had, in fact, agreed to. Finally that their characterization of DSA claiming victory being "the equivalent of concessionary crumbs, after letting him get away with more or less the whole cake" violated DSA's Code of Conduct by creating a hostile environment and was part of a pattern of escalation by the Working Group.
As of this writing neither the NPC or the BDS Working Group have made public any documentation which would verify their first two claims in either direction, making it difficult to falsify any claims of spreading misinformation outside those groups' own agreed-upon accounts of what took place. While the third claim relates to the Code of Conduct, which the NPC is empowered to enforce, it is unknown whether the formal process for investigating charges of violating DSA's COC under the Harassment & Grievance policy had been followed.
The BDS-WG voted 33-9 to refuse to comply with the NPC's request, characterizing the request as censorship of viewpoints the NPC disagreed with and citing the lack of an appeals process for the NPC's decision.
Following this, according to subsequent statements by NPC members on the internal forum, the NPC held a vote on February 23 on what disciplinary action they would take against the BDS Working Group if further attempts to bring them into compliance failed. The decision to de-charter the Working Group and fold their work into the International Committee passed by a 9-8 vote.
On March 1 the NPC met with the Working Group steering committee which, according to reports, was intended to try and resolve the conflict and re-establish a working relationship. There are conflicting accounts about the content of that meeting. Some allege that the NPC indicated that they had dropped the demand about deleting the tweet thread, and were simply requesting that the Working Group bring themselves into compliance with the rules for national working groups, which would include surrendering the passwords to their Twitter account.
After this meeting, the BDS working group agreed to share access to the Twitter with staff but not to delete, but refused to after taking a vote of its membership even meeting on March 17 with the staff Communications Director to ensure that he was able to access the account without issue. It appears that at the end of that meeting, the Working Group was under the impression that they were now officially compliant and no longer facing disciplinary action. However, less than 24 hours after securing access to the Twitter account, the NPC voted to release the prepared statement announcing the de-chartering, making it official.
Three NPC members would immediately publish a dissent from the NPC's statement, alleging that the NPC majority did not make genuine good faith efforts to resolve the conflict, and were intent on making an example of the Working Group to establish a precedent for their authority going forward. According to leaders of the International Committee, the committee was not informed they would now be responsible for the organization's BDS and Palestinian solidarity work before the statement was published. As of this writing, DSA appears to have removed the Working Group's subpage on the DSA website, which consisted almost exclusively of resourses and guides for members to start up BDS campaigns in their chapters.
The public reaction among DSA members appeared predominantly negative, though there were posts and Tweets of support to the NPC as well. Olivia Katbi, a BDS organizer and former co-chair of the Portland chapter who co-authored the resolution which chartered the working group in 2019, said "[The BDS Working Group] is critical for an organization like DSA to have. The NPC deciding to decharter the working group is a huge mistake...I don’t even necessarily disagree about BDS work being housed under the IC - but when that change is made by dechartering the WG, punishing its leaders, not even informing the IC, and citing a twitter thread about Bowman as justification, it’s very clear what’s happening here."
Two NPC members have now resigned since the de-chartering was announced. Austin Gonzalez published his statement Saturday morning, citing similar issues with the Working Group's de-chartering raised by the NPC members who published their dissent. He raises a host of other issues though from his time on NPC since 2019, predominantly failures in the organization's grievance system while citing a number of examples. Aaron Warner also announced his resignation late Friday night, though his departure appears unrelated to the de-chartering decision, instead stemming from backlash against a tweet which appeared to make light of the AIDS epidemic.
Most NPC members who were part of "the Nine," as they've become known, have not made any public statements about the decision, though some, like Matt Miller and Justin Charles, have weighed in on their votes to de-charter on the members-only discussion board.
Many questions about what lead up to this remain unanswered, and many members appear to still be processing what took place. It seems unlikely, however, that this will fully put the issue to rest.
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