Jamaal Bowman's Closing Message: I'm Still a Socialist and Oct. 7 Was Israel's Fault

Bowman says Hamas's attack on Oct. 7 wasn't 'unprovoked'

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
June 11, 2024

In the immediate aftermath of Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attack, while Israel was still counting its dead, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) blamed Israel for its own victimization and held a rally where participants cheered the attack, leading New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D.) to distance himself from the DSA. Eight months later, in the final stretch of a heated primary campaign, Bowman is once again embracing the DSA and now echoing their language about the attack.

In an interview with YouTuber Olayemi Olurin that aired on Monday, Bowman justified his "no" vote on a House resolution to "condemn the support of Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist organizations at institutions of higher education" in the wake of the attack that left 1,200 Israelis dead. The reason, Bowman said, was that the resolution called Hamas's attack "unprovoked."

"One of the first lines [of the resolution] was ‘condemn Hamas for this unprovoked attack.’ And I stopped reading at that point," Bowman said in the interview. "If we’re calling this an unprovoked attack, that means we’re going to ignore 18 human rights organizations calling Israel an apartheid state."

"There was no way in the world, especially based on what I’ve learned over the last few years in Congress that I was going to support what Israel was doing right now," Bowman said in the interview. "Now, I am not justifying the killing of civilians by Hamas on Oct. 7," he added. "There’s no justification. It’s just an explanation of what the circumstances were that led to Oct. 7. And I believed then, and I believe now, if you want to end extremism, we need a free Palestine."

Bowman’s defense for the Oct. 7 attack comes as he leans on far-left groups to carry him across the finish line in the final stretch of his primary campaign. For example, RootsAction, the Working Families Party, and IfNotNow joined forces with Justice Democrats—the far-left group aligned with the "Squad"—to help raise funds for Bowman in May. RootsAction blamed Israel for the Oct. 7 attack, citing "cruel Israeli occupation and expansionism" as the "root" of the violence. In May, Bowman campaigned with the New York Working Families Party, which supports defunding the police.

Bowman's rhetoric in the interview with Olurin aligns with the DSA’s position on the Oct. 7 attacks—a position that Bowman initially kept at arm’s length.

"This was not unprovoked. For over 60 years, Palestinians have faced ethnic cleansing, torture, bombings, and housing demolitions. Gaza is still under a blockade. As socialists, we must act," the DSA said in an Oct. 7 statement. When a DSA rally featured praise for the Oct. 7 attack, Bowman condemned it in the "strongest possible terms."

"Hamas targeted defenseless and innocent civilians and killed the largest number of Jewish people outside of the Holocaust in one day. It has truly been a heartbreaking past few days with deaths we hoped would never happen again. Their actions are unequivocally abhorrent and must be strongly condemned," Bowman said on Oct. 10.

"I am shocked and disgusted by the rally held here in NY this weekend celebrating death or attacks on civilians and showing swastikas. I condemn any demonstration that does this in the strongest possible terms."

In a private meeting this year reported by the New York Times, however, Bowman embraced the DSA. "I’m still a member," the congressman said in a recording of the May 26 meeting that was obtained and verified by the paper. "I didn’t let my dues lapse." He also said he would come out to support the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement embraced by the DSA.

Bowman did not return a request for comment.

The DSA and Bowman have a rocky past. The far-left "Squad" member was nearly expelled from the DSA in 2021 for not being critical of Israel enough—Bowman had angered his socialist allies by voting to fund the Iron Dome and meeting with then-Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett. The DSA ultimately decided against expelling him, citing his efforts to align with their positions.

"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 DSA wrote in a 2021 press release. "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."

The New York Times had previously reported that Bowman let his DSA membership expire in 2022, though he now says that he's still a member.

Bowman’s return to the socialist fold is reflective of how he described himself during his first congressional run in 2020. He described himself as "socialist" in a June 2020 interview with the Intercept before winning his primary campaign. When asked, "Are you a socialist?" Bowman said "Yes … my policies align with those of a socialist."

"Yes. I’m an educator. It just so happens my policy aligns with socialism. I guess I’m a socialist," Bowman added. "I identify as an educator, and as a Black man in America. But my policies align with those of a socialist, so I guess that makes me a socialist. All good."

In a Monday debate, Bowman’s primary opponent Westchester County executive George Latimer criticized the congressman’s partnership with the Justice Democrats and DSA, saying the groups want to "wipe Israel off the map."

Bowman defended the groups, saying, "The Justice Democrats and the DSA do not want to wipe Israel off the map. That’s a lie." Instead, Bowman said the groups favor "Medicare for all," "universal health care," and " a Green New Deal."

The DSA has used the genocidal chant "from the river to the sea" and defended Aaron Bushnell, the U.S. airman who set himself on fire to protest Israel.

DSA said they would only consider endorsing Bowman again if he is able to "demonstrate solidarity with Palestine in alignment with expectations we have set."

Now, the DSA is pleased with how Bowman has evolved on Israel following Oct. 7 after campaigning for the Democrat this month.

Bowman, since the attack, blamed Oct. 7 on Israel's "blockade of Gaza" and went on to accuse the Jewish state of "mass murder," "genocide," and "ethnic cleansing." This anti-Israel rhetoric incensed 26 rabbis in Bowman's district who wrote a letter in October urging Latimer to launch a primary campaign against the incumbent, citing the congressman's "effort to erode support for Israel on Capitol Hill and within the Democratic Party."

"Many of us tried to engage the congressman early in his term, seeking constructive dialogue about the damaging positions he took—especially on matters related to America's relationship with Israel," the rabbis wrote. "Regrettably, Congressman Bowman disregarded our outreach and doubled down on his anti-Israel policy positions and messaging."

Latimer, who formally entered the race in December, will face Bowman at the ballot June 25.