Pro-Israel Democrats Coach Presidential Candidates On Handling Left-Leaning Activists

Some in the party are spooked by efforts to get the candidates to commit to pressuring Israel to end the occupation of Palestinian lands.

A newly formed group that aims to stem growing pro-Palestinian sentiment among Democrats sent a memo to the party’s presidential contenders on Tuesday blasting a left-leaning Jewish group, IfNotNow, and advising the candidates on how to respond to it.

The Democratic Majority for Israel, founded in January by major donors to the party and Washington insiders, gave the candidates suggestions on how to answer questions about pressuring the Israeli government to end its military occupation of Palestinian lands, which dates to 1967.

As she seeks the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has leavened her support for Israel with occasional criticism of its government's policies.
As she seeks the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has leavened her support for Israel with occasional criticism of its government's policies.

Rather than focus on the occupation, Democratic Majority for Israel advises candidates to stick to formulations that emphasize the responsibility of both sides, including the occupied Palestinians, to act to defuse the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

One sample answer it offers is as follows: “I strongly support a two-state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. That solution must give Israelis security and Palestinians a state, but it must also be negotiated directly by the parties, not imposed by outsiders.”

The incident that prompted the group’s alarm is a viral video of a conversation between IfNotNow activists’ and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts at one of her presidential campaign events Monday in New Hampshire.

Two activists, Becca Lubow and Ella Parker, broached the Palestinian issue with Warren as they waited to take a photo with her after her speech.

“We’re American Jews. We really love the way you’re fighting corruption,” Lubow says. “We’d really love it if you pushed the Israeli government to end the occupation.”

“Yes, yes. So I’m there,” Warren replies, before shaking both women’s hands and posing with them for a photo.

In its memo, Democratic Majority for Israel says Warren was a “victim of [a] hit-and-run” tactic.

IfNotNow contends the Israeli government will not extricate itself from the occupation if the U.S. government and American Jewish institutions do not exert greater pressure on it to do so. But with most U.S. politicians in both parties beholden to groups fighting against any additional pressure on Israel and with American Jewish institutions responsive mainly to older, more conservative community members, the young, liberal Jews mobilized by IfNotNow believe that public protest is a critical way to flex the muscles of their untapped constituency.

Democratic Majority for Israel, by contrast, touts a scenario where the Israeli government, backed by U.S. financial aid and diplomatic cover, and stateless Palestinians can negotiate a two-state solution on their own.

It’s memo said IfNotNow “wrongly suggests Israel alone is responsible for the current impasse in negotiations, ignoring the fact that the Palestinian leadership has consistently refused offers for a two-state solution.”

In seeking to discredit IfNotNow, the Democratic Majority for Israel calls it “strongly anti-Israel organization” and insists that the group “has refused to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist at all.”

IfNotNow leaders say they focus on ending the post-1967 occupation, allowing its members to decide whether they believe the best approach to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a two-state solution where Israel remains majority-Jewish, the creation of a bi-national state or some other formulation.

The memo also accuses IfNotNow of a number of extreme tactics, including prohibiting the use of a Jewish pride flag at the LGBT-rights focused D.C. Dyke March in Washington and blocking the entrance of a synagogue at the University of Texas.

IfNotNow leaders told HuffPost the group is a decentralized organization that does not control the tactical decisions of individual activists and local chapters.

Members of its Washington chapter supported a decision to bar the Jewish pride flag, since the march banned nationalist symbols and the flag resembles the Israeli flag. And members of its Austin, Texas, chapter who engaged in a song-filled protest at the university of a Saturday event touting the morality of the Israeli military deny that they blocked the entrance to the gathering.

The IfNotNow leaders say the group had nothing to do with other incidents cited in the memo, such as a demonstration at the recent conference held by the right-wing group, Christians United for Israel, and an arrest-provoking disruption of the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York in June. (Jewish Voice for Peace, which takes a more hardline, left-wing approach to the Palestinian issue, was behind the civil disobedience incident at the parade.)

Asked about the memo, Democratic Majority for Israel spokeswoman Rachel Rosen told HuffPost, “America should not make foreign policy in response to five-second hit-and-run questions. The memo is proof of (IfNotNow/s) callow tactics. This group does not recognize the right of Israel to exist, in any borders. Until they meet that very minimal threshold, they do not deserve a place in the conversation.”

Emily Mayer, a spokeswoman for IfNotNow, said the memo was a sign that the group’s tactics were having an impact.

“The memo made clear to me how terrified the Democratic establishment is,” she said. “They know they are completely out of touch with the opinions of the Democratic base on the question of Israel’s military occupation and Israel-Palestine more broadly.”

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