DSA’s Iron Dome Bowman Voted for Israeli Apartheid

Back in May, we declared our solidarity with Palestinians in the face of a brutal campaign of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza. The situation has not improved since then; Palestinians continue to suffer under the Zionist regime. Events here in the US have confirmed that the Palestinian people have no friends among the imperialist bourgeoisie, even in its most “progressive” sections.

On September 23rd, 2021 Congress voted overwhelmingly to pass a $1 billion bill to fund Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system. The US bourgeoisie once again demonstrated its ability to form a consensus when it comes to bolstering the Zionist occupation of Palestine. But this vote would have been the perfect opportunity for four congressional DSA members to distinguish their position from the mainstream at seemingly no political cost. A unified vote against the bill would have translated DSA’s words of sympathy for the Palestinian people into real deeds. Instead, they remained mere empty words. Only two DSA congress members managed the bare minimum, voting against the bill.

In an especially pathetic display, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was reduced to tears as she changed her vote from “no” to “present,” de-facto approving the bill. Jamaal Bowman demonstrated no such confusion; he voted “yes” outrightly. In a recent interview, he tried to explain his position: “Voting in favor of the ‘Iron Dome’ defense system is not going stop me from speaking out about Palestinian rights.” Apparently, defending the rights of Palestinians is not in contradiction with reinforcing the military supremacy of the Israeli apartheid government.

How did DSA’s leading body, the National Political Committee (NPC), handle this breach of program by two of its biggest celebrity members? By issuing a gently-worded statement expressing their “disappointment.” Even this feeble response was beyond the pale for DSA’s chauvinist North Star Caucus, who attacked the NPC’s criticism as “ultra-left.” In their view, rather than playing the role of “propagandists,” DSA members in Congress must instead “build majority coalitions” to “pass legislation” reflecting “anti-imperialism.”

It is difficult to imagine a more convoluted argument with more laughably idealist premises: that the US Congress could pass “anti-imperialist” legislation, that an “anti-imperialist” “majority coalition” could be built in the US Congress at a time when 420 members voted to fund Israel’s Iron Dome, and that to secure this hypothetical “majority coalition” of the future it was necessary for AOC and Bowman to demonstrate the “strategic acumen” of refusing in this instance to vote with the opposition.

DSA’s incapacity to assert political discipline over its own elected officials speaks to a reality we discussed in our last article about why revolutionary students should not join YDSA. DSA is totally dependent on the Democratic Party, and therefore unable to distinguish its own politics from those of the imperialist bourgeoisie. Proletarian internationalism, which calls for the complete unity of the working class of every nation, is an essential component of revolutionary socialist politics. Opposition to national and colonial oppression is among the foremost principles of internationalism. The failure of DSA to uphold internationalism in this case amounts to a betrayal of the Palestinians in their struggle for national liberation. While “courageous” politicians like AOC and Bowman maneuver among the ruling class, Palestinians continue to be murdered and displaced in their own historic territory.

If DSA leadership took the Palestinian cause seriously, they would expel members who blatantly support Israeli violence against Palestinians, including celebrity members like Bowman and chauvinist fixtures like the North Star Caucus. Their failure to do so is not merely the result of individual cowardice among leadership but reflects DSA’s programmatic commitment to reformism and their relationship to the Democratic Party. Practically speaking, DSA’s support for national liberation in Palestine is limited to boycott campaigns and appeals to elected officials that they are unable to enforce even on their own members. Their lack of political discipline renders both of these pursuits totally meaningless.

DSA is not a neutral or apolitical mass organization; it is a political organization with a program. Every dues-paying member of DSA should be held accountable for the political positions taken by elected officials who maintain membership in the organization. Like ostriches burying their heads in the sand, many self-described “revolutionary” DSA members attempt to absolve themselves by rhetorically condemning the national organization and then retreating into local chapter work as though it has nothing to do with the larger organization. These members are still complicit in the oppression of Palestinians if DSA fails to take principled action on the Iron Dome votes.

Though DSA members may be committed to going down with the ship, revolutionaries can use examples like this to help chart our path forward. This latest debacle demonstrates that the construction of a revolutionary and internationalist mass movement will not occur within reformist organizations or through alliances with the Democrats. Revolutionaries must sharply distinguish our politics and our organizations from those of the ruling class. So long as the mass movement remains dominated by reformist organizations like DSA, it will continue to serve the interests of the capitalist class, and all their imperialist projects overseas