The recent electoral gains by candidates backed by the Democratic Socialists of America have inspired the group to increase its effort to boycott Israel. Last week, NY1 political reporter Zach Fink shared an excerpt of the DSA questionnaire for New York City Council candidates. “Do you pledge not to travel to Israel if elected to City Council in solidarity with Palestinians living under occupation?”
The second question concerning foreign policy asks whether the candidate would “support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.” No other country or disputed region is mentioned in this questionnaire, as it singles out Israel as its target of opposition.
Forest Hills resident David Aronov, 24, is among the many young activists running for a seat in City Hall, and has firsthand experience confronting the BDS movement as a student at Hunter College and New York University. “I worked hard to defeat the BDS movement on campus as a student leader. I’ve been on numerous programs to Israel over the years,” he said. “Whether it involved partnering with Israeli university students to work on social justice issues, or leading a multi-faith trip to the region in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories, I have always believed and will always believe that first-hand experience is the best way to formulate an opinion and create open discourse. Rejecting all travel to Israel is closed-minded, short-sighted, and disgusting.”
Among local party leaders, there has also been condemnation of the DSA questionnaire concerning Israel. “With anti-Semitism on the rise, this question is irresponsible and divisive. Visiting Israel is not a political choice,” said Rep. Grace Meng, who is also the Vice-Chair of the Democratic National Committee. Her colleague Rep. Greg Meeks, who is also the chair of the Queens Democratic organization, also expressed his support for visiting the Jewish state. “I can speak to the value of visiting Israel and seeing firsthand the reality on the ground. Exposure adds a level of context and nuance too often absent on Twitter.”
Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal noted that as of Tuesday, 50 of his colleagues signed on to a letter condemning the questionnaire as anti-Semitic. Comptroller Scott Stringer, and most members of the City Council’s Jewish Caucus, also expressed their support for Israel and the importance of traveling to the country to experience its situation firsthand.
Councilman Brad Lander, a candidate in next year’s race for Comptroller, issued his own statement that condemned the questionnaire, along with Israeli control of the West Bank. “I have seen so much rich history and diverse culture that I loved, and also traveled to the West Bank to get a glimpse of the horrors of life under occupation and the struggle against it,” Lander said. “If DSA wants to know what candidates will do to end the occupation and support the human rights and self-determination of Palestinians, that’s what they should ask.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who is running for mayor next year, issued a more direct statement, connecting the importance of ancestral places to African Americans as Israel is for Jews. “Just as I was moved by places like Goree Island in Senegal, I was moved by the homeland of the Jewish people. I encourage every New Yorker to visit Israel and other places important to understanding the cultures essential to the history of people of our great city.”
But the DSA has not walked back from its questionnaire, and neither have candidates endorsed by this organization. “In 2016, Cuomo banned state employees from taxpayer-funded travel to a place where human rights are routinely violated,” wrote Zohran Kwame Mamdani, who won the primary for State Assembly in western Queens. “It’s not hate to honor a boycott when asked by a righteous movement.”
DSA supporters noted that Israel receives a sizable chunk of American foreign aid for military purposes and has been accused of violating international law for its treatment of Palestinian Arabs. Certainly, there are greater offenders of human rights who do not appear on the DSA’s questionnaire, and I asked its supporters why Tibet, Xinjiang, and West Papua do not receive as much attention as Israel.
The indigenous people of these three regions are also seeking independence. Their lands have also been populated with settlers of the occupying countries, along with arrests and imprisonment of cultural and political activists. Unlike the Palestinians, they do not enjoy the benefits of political autonomy, a flag, Internet domain, UN observer status, an Olympic delegation, or refugees with their own dedicated UN agency.
Emirates Rejects BDS, Establishes Full Relations with Israel
Fortunately, the DSA questionnaire and the primary wins of Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib earlier this month are less consequential for Israel than the words and actions emerging from Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, where Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan led his country’s effort to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. Within a week of President Donald Trump’s announcement that Israel and the UAE have established relations, Israeli websites became visible in the Emirates, direct phone calls have been made, and there is discussion of direct flight between the two nations with permission to fly across Saudi airspace.
Within a week, the Emirates have made more progress in cultural, economic, military, and political contact with Israel than any other nation in the region. In contrast, Egypt and Jordan, the two other Arab nations that recognize Israel, treat the relationship as a “cold” peace, with little contact between their respective populations and the Jewish state. Jordan prohibits Jews from owning property, and Egypt’s Jewish population has been reduced to a dozen individuals. In contrast, the UAE has been promoting religious tolerance. Its tiny Jewish community has been growing and its members feel at home in Dubai.
“There are no guards at the entrance to the house. We have community members from Antwerp, Paris, and Geneva who feel safer here than in Europe,” community leader Ross Kriel told Israel Hayom. “The only anti-Semitism I’ve experienced was from Europeans. There is a social contract of mutual respect here between all parts of the real society.”
By Sergey Kadinsky