A far-left member of Congress is scrambling to boost his anti-Israel bona fides after rank-and-file members of the Democratic Socialists of America privately lashed out at him for visiting the Jewish state.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.), an "active" member of the DSA, was hammered on a private message board of the organization in the final weeks of last year for traveling to Israel, with many members calling for the national organization to expel him. One socialist on the message board posting as RyanMosgrove said Bowman’s conduct was in "direct opposition" to the DSA’s "stated values and goals," and that he "should not remain a member." Another socialist posting as Gabe said Bowman's trip to Israel empowered an apartheid state.
"The impact of Jamaal Bowman’s public, repeated legitimization of Israeli apartheid extends beyond an internally voiced disagreement with the platform," Gabe wrote in his argument for expelling Bowman, which he asked his fellow socialists to keep contained to the private message board and off social media. "If we lack the organizing power in a given place to endorse a candidate who is going to put the priorities of our movement over other lobbies, especially lobbies for apartheid states like Israel, we shouldn’t endorse candidates there."
Gabe’s views were echoed by nearly all on the private message board, which the Washington Free Beacon obtained access to. The group's message board requires a login for anyone to access its posts. At issue was not only Bowman’s trip to Israel, which was sponsored by liberal anti-Israel group J Street and included a meeting with Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett, but also his vote last September in support of funding Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. "Do you think Bowman’s visit and photo op with an Israeli war criminal was ok?" asked Gabe. "Do you think his Iron Dome vote was correct?"
The national organization elected not to expel Bowman, but the backlash has spurred the lawmaker to sprint to the left to win back the supporters he lost. On Wednesday night, he was one of just 15 Democrats to vote against a bill that included funding for the Iron Dome—a complete reversal of the position he held just months ago. He was joined in opposition by "Squad" members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), and Ilhan Omar (Minn.), the most infamous opponents of funding for Israel in Congress.
Last month, Bowman yanked his support for legislation that strengthened the Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors. He was an original cosponsor of the bill, but he said "further conversation with constituents led me to see that it is not the right step" toward "justice and healing in the Middle East."
Bowman is in his first term as representative for a New York City district that for the previous three decades was held by Eliot Engel, a Jewish Democrat who was one of the leading supporters for Israel in the caucus. Bowman, taking advantage of changing demographics in the district and support from the well-funded radical left wing of the party, successfully won a primary against Engel. Two Democrats who self-identify as moderates and say they would support Israel in Congress have already thrown their hats in the ring to challenge Bowman in this year’s primary.
Local Jewish leaders reacted to Bowman's abrupt about-face on the Abraham Accords with disdain, writing in a letter that they had met several times with Bowman and were shocked by his decision.
"His withdrawal of support for this important piece of legislation, which is poised to improve Mideast stability, economic opportunity, and which will disincentivize some of the region's most egregious sponsors of terror, is lamentable," a group of New York rabbis wrote, "and will surely be received with bewilderment and disapproval by many voters in Rep. Bowman’s district."
Bowman’s current political challenge is to keep the support of the far-left donors that fund his campaign while not completely alienating his district’s large Jewish community. His actions suggest a calculation that the support from his radical base is the top priority, especially considering proposed redistricting plans would exclude a large Jewish community from his district, making any primary challenge an uphill fight.
Bowman’s public actions in the wake of criticism from his base appear to have catered toward winning back their trust. In January, the socialist was arrested alongside several dozen other protesters for repeatedly disobeying orders from Capitol Police officers. Bowman was protesting after the Democrats’ bill that would mandate a nationwide system of no-excuse, mail-in voting and restore full voting rights to released felons failed in the Senate. He has also been one of the most vocal critics of moderates in the party, calling Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.) a "traitor" to "our democracy" for her opposition to abolishing the filibuster.
The DSA does appear to have given Bowman special treatment by allowing him to stay in the organization, given that it has in other cases expelled members who fail to toe the anti-Israel line. In Texas, a far-left House candidate endorsed by the Justice Democrats lost his DSA support because he opposed boycotting Israel. While Greg Casar boasts an endorsement from Ocasio-Cortez, the most prominent socialist in Congress, his support for sending military aid to Israel and opposition to the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement lost him his alliance with the DSA.
Casar’s positions are "not reconcilable with DSA’s stance in solidarity with Palestine," his local DSA chapter said in a statement announcing it "will no longer be working" to support Casar’s campaign. In response, Casar pulled his request for their support and won his primary without DSA backing earlier this month.
While the national organization did not revoke Bowman’s membership, it cautioned that it would not endorse Bowman for reelection "unless he is able to demonstrate solidarity with Palestine in alignment with expectations we have set."
Bowman’s recent moves may have helped quell the DSA rebellion. After Bowman abandoned his support for the Abraham Accords, a national DSA leader told a socialist outlet that Bowman’s decision to abandon Israel "does signal movement in the right direction."
DSA’s leadership is going to have work to do to shore up its socialist base. The posts in the internal message board make it clear that membership lost faith in leadership for its failure to punish Bowman. User Highpopalorum complained that there would be "no consequences for a politician voting to give a multibillion-dollar check for the Israeli government and military currently waging war on Palestine." User cmauche said DSA’s statement was a "milquetoast rebuttal to having standards" and that "there really doesn’t seem to be any reason we need to continue our support for him."
Other users argued Bowman never should have won the support of the DSA in the first place due to his refusal to support an Israel boycott. "Bowman’s own campaign website said he was against BDS last year," said ComradeRobocop. "Why’d he get an endorsement in the first place?"
"Because DSA’s leadership has never taken our commitment to BDS seriously," responded AnandPBCDSA. "What the hell are we doing if we aren’t prioritizing opposition to imperialism in all its forms (which includes defense spending for Israel)?"
"Don’t listen to the bosses!" pleaded user Pk-D.
This isn’t the first time that DSA leadership has feuded with rank-and-file members. After backing Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) in the 2020 Democratic primaries, the DSA leadership split with members and went "all in" to elect Joe Biden.
Others in the DSA say Bowman’s recent reversals have failed to convince them he’s worth supporting. The organization’s working group for BDS and Palestine Solidarity attacked Bowman for only breaking with Israel once he lost some heavily Jewish parts of his district under redistricting.
"Removing sponsorship of HR 2748 was a promise he made to us months ago, and he ONLY finally came through on it after newly drawn district borders now exclude Riverdale, an area with a heavy Zionist constituency," the group said.
The anti-Israel socialists said Bowman’s actions are "concessionary crumbs." Bowman has "already normalized the occupation, explicitly come out against BDS (the floor for any self-respecting socialist), and funded weapons to Israel," the group wrote. It continues to push for Bowman’s expulsion from DSA.
Neither Bowman nor the DSA responded to requests for comment.