National Security

The BDS Democrats

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez / Getty Images

Last week, the Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo broke a small but important story: While circulating a letter among Democrats that threatens Israel with the elimination of military aid, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) touted the support of leading anti-Semitic groups that push for boycotts of Israel. At the time she was circulating it, the letter had yet to be made public.

This means Rep. Ocasio-Cortez intentionally sought endorsements for her letter from some of the most poisonous and extreme groups on the far left, including American Muslims for Palestine, a leader of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement that celebrates Hamas, and Defense for Children International Palestine, which is credibly seen as an nongovernmental organization front for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a U.S.- and European Union-designated terrorist group. This rogue's gallery of hate and violence merchants aren’t groups that just happened to support Ocasio-Cortez’s letter—they are the groups she sought out.

The letter was signed by a dozen House Democrats plus Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.). It falsely accuses Israel of "apartheid" and numerous human rights crimes and threatens the elimination of U.S. military aid if Israel applies sovereignty to parts of the disputed West Bank, which it is currently considering. "Should the Israeli government continue down this path, we will … pursue legislation that conditions the $3.8 billion in U.S. military funding to Israel," Ocasio-Cortez writes. Made clear is that the prospect of Israel applying sovereignty is merely one of many alleged misdeeds that could be cited—and surely will be cited—as a pretext for sanctioning the Jewish state.

The military assistance package, most of which takes the form of a credit that Israel must spend in the United States, forms the bedrock of a strategic alliance between the two countries that dates back to the Yom Kippur War in 1973. That alliance, which benefits the United States in the form of military technology, intelligence sharing, and regional stability, has always been treated as separate from the Palestinians or the peace process.

The Democratic signatories to the letter are thus advocating a massive and historic downgrade of the alliance by subordinating it to the Palestinians or, more precisely, by subordinating it to the extensive demands American progressives make on behalf of the Palestinians.

But whereas the old, crude style of BDS simply called for economic and diplomatic warfare against Israel, the new sophisticated progressive strategy is to normalize BDS and build a congressional coalition to support it. This time, BDS advocacy is couched in earnest-sounding but utterly dishonest policy concerns.

Today’s anti-Israel progressive activism bears a striking resemblance in strategy and rhetoric to anti-western Soviet propaganda during the Cold War. Writing shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Jeane Kirkpatrick, famed Reagan adviser and ambassador to the United Nations, noted that the Soviet Union had perfected a cynical messaging strategy targeted at western liberals:

[It] denies legitimacy to governments targeted for incorporation into the Soviet bloc, defines armed opposition to these governments as a legitimate response to oppression, and defines a government's defense as a violation of human rights. More and more of those who advocated linking U.S. foreign policy to "human rights" seemed to accept these definitions without much thought.

Kirkpatrick perfectly describes progressive attacks on Israel today. We see the denial of legitimacy to the targeted government: The use of "apartheid" to describe Israel appears three times in the letter. We see the excuse-making for terrorism: It is a legitimate response to Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.

We see the definition of security measures as human rights violations: The phrase "human rights" appears in seven of the letter’s eight paragraphs, in every instance a condemnation of Israel.

We even see the acceptance by western liberals of "human rights" rhetoric at face value: How many Democrats criticized the letter’s dishonesty or the eagerness of progressives to gain the endorsement of anti-Semites? None.

With this letter, Democrats have taken an important step toward normalizing BDS within their party. At the 1984 Republican National Convention, Kirkpatrick delivered a now-famous speech accusing Democrats, trending leftward and increasingly accommodating of Soviet expansion, of being the "San Francisco Democrats." If mainstream Democrats do not find the nerve to confront the obsessive hatred many progressives feel toward Israel, which has now been translated into a policy agenda, there soon may be a speech at a Republican convention referring—credibly—to the BDS Democrats.