Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, October 2020, pp. 55-56
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) conducted a grassroots promotional and fundraising campaign this summer in support of incumbent pro-Palestinian “Squad” members facing Democratic primary elections.
JVP Action, a year-old political arm of the progressive Jewish advocacy group, secured the support of high-profile pro-Palestinian activists on behalf of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s landslide victory on Aug. 11 over Antone Melton-Meaux, who was heavily funded by the Israel lobby. Angela Davis, Naomi Klein and Omar herself were among the participants in JVP-sponsored fundraising webinars just prior to the primary election in Minnesota’s fifth congressional district.
“Those luminaries were showing up for Ilhan,” the most targeted and heavily vilified member of the Squad, JVP Executive Director Stefanie Fox noted. Other Squad members include Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)—both of whom cruised to victory in this summer’s primaries—as well as Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), who was unopposed.
Making a cameo appearance at the JVP Action fundraising webinar on Aug. 6, Omar recalled she was warned early on about the political risks of being pro-Palestinian, but she rejected the advice, explaining, “Speaking to the rights of anyone should never be tied to whether it would help you in politics.” Omar declared that Black Americans, Palestinians and other marginalized peoples are united in a “fight for the liberation of those who feel oppressed around the world…Our destinies are interlinked.”
In an Aug. 10 webinar, Klein urged support for Omar, a Somali immigrant and a Muslim, declaring, “She has changed the rule book about who is allowed in the halls of power.” Noting Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s long history of uncritical support for Israeli repression in Palestine, Klein added, “We need to make sure he is pushed hard from the left,” not only on the issue of Palestine but on other progressive issues.
The longtime radical activist, Professor Angela Davis, also spoke in the pro-Omar webinar, declaring that the congresswoman was “never afraid to speak to power even in the face of widespread white supremacist threats. I’m especially proud that Omar stands in solidarity with Palestine” and with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
JVP, which also endorses BDS, made it a priority to defend “the champions we have gained in Congress. We finally made space for brave representatives speaking for truth and justice to be applied to everyone. We cannot afford to lose them,” Fox said. JVP mobilized thousands of phone calls and community events, including a “virtual seder” (a dinner marking the beginning of Passover) for Tlaib. “Our whole base turned out” in support of the pro-Palestinian progressive campaigns, Fox noted.
While the more than $22,000 raised by the JVP Action campaign paled in comparison to the Israel lobby fundraising against the Squad—which Fox pegged at more than $10 million—money did not determine the outcome of the elections. Omar was heavily outspent in her primary but grassroots efforts on the part of JVP and other groups helped get out the vote for the one-term incumbent.
The strong showing by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the Democratic presidential primary forced the Biden campaign into compromises on a number of progressive planks, but the mainstream Democrats refused to include reference to the “occupation” in the party platform, or to condemn Israel’s pending annexation of much of the West Bank. Introducing Omar on the webinar, JVP Board member Estee Chandler bemoaned the “complicity and cowardice of the Democratic plank that ignores Palestinian rights.”
Nevertheless, the landslide victories of the Squad, as well as the triumph of like-minded newcomers, headlined by pro-Palestinian Jamaal Bowman—who crushed 16-term incumbent and Israel lobby stalwart Eliot Engel in New York’s 16th congressional district—underscores growing pressure on the uncritically pro-Israeli Democratic mainstream. While Biden, vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris and the centrist Democrats continue to enable Israeli repression in Palestine, the growing squad of pro-Palestinian progressives is beginning to loom large in their rear-view mirror.