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Join our call for accountability by signing on to this dissent statement as an individual here: https://bit.ly/Sign-DSA-Bowman-Dissent
In line with countless Palestinians and Palestinian-led organizations in the grassroots, the DSA BDS & Palestine Solidarity Working Group (BDS WG) calls on the National Political Committee (NPC) to reverse their decision to not expel DSA member and Congressman Jamaal Bowman despite his Iron Dome vote and ongoing relationship with the Zionist lobby.
In their statement from December 2nd, the NPC correctly note that there was “no excuse” for Bowman’s Iron Dome vote, which provided $1B in military aid to Israel that the NPC themselves said will be “… used to fund countless violations of international law and Palestinian human rights.” They also echoed our statement from November 17th by calling J Street tours exactly what they are: Zionist propaganda trips, which cross the Palestinian BDS picket line. Despite our multiple attempts at education and outreach, Bowman refused to discontinue his relationship with J Street or vote against future funding for Israel. On top of all of this, just a few short days after a call-in by DSA, Bowman decided to double down on his harm by attending a J Street Town Hall to praise the lobby group as “incredible” and “on the right track” specifically because they are to the right of anti-Zionists.
Under any normal circumstances, for any socialist organization, these actions would constitute obvious grounds for expulsion. However, after a process rife with conflicts of interest and internal threats, the NPC — in collaboration with numerous NGOs and popular Democrats — decided not only to forgo expulsion, but declined to wield any discipline, ultimately abandoning DSA’s principles to provide cover for Bowman under the guise of “strategy.”
Not only does the BDS WG dissent from the NPC’s principally bankrupt decision, we also reject the false dichotomy being peddled by the DSA’s right-wing, which continues to fallaciously pit the maintenance of anti-imperialist principles and good strategy for building a socialist movement as mutually exclusive from each other.
In the case of how DSA holds Bowman accountable, we argue that expulsion not only offers a truly principled solution, but it also offers unique strategic upside for both DSA and the Palestinian liberation movement by:
- Demonstrating that DSA is finally ready to be materially in solidarity with Palestinians, and
- Setting important precedents for how we build electoral power and hold members accountable for harmful actions.
Historically, DSA has suffered from a well-deserved crisis of credibility among Palestinians. However, just as DSA was finally gaining trust with Palestinians in the grassroots through the hard work of countless BDS organizers within DSA, the recent counter-movement led by some on the NPC threatens to destroy this trust, since Palestinian grassroots organizers rightfully see the NPC’s recent actions as racist, imperialist, and driven by a myopic, self-serving domestic legislative agenda that ultimately does not care about Palestinian humanity.
Now, contrast the NPC’s poor relations with Palestinian leftists with what the BDS WG has built over the past 2 years by continuing to follow the lead of and learn from Palestinian-led grassroots groups and organizers, including throughout the Bowman saga. It is precisely because of our group’s steadfast commitment to anti-imperialism and Palestinian humanity that our social bonds with Palestinians are even stronger than before, and recent applications by Palestinians specifically to our working group are at their highest of any single quarter since our group’s inception.
Vitally, we maintain that the NPC’s decision is also completely out of step with a majority of DSAers, who, like us, continue to make their collective voices heard through calls for expulsion and now letters of dissension from the NPC.
Beyond demonstrating solidarity, expulsion also sets an important precedent for how DSA builds electoral power that is accountable to our anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist principles. On this front, the NPC’s final decision to “not re-endorse Bowman unless he is able to demonstrate solidarity with Palestine in alignment with expectations [DSA] has set…” suffers from multiple strategic flaws. First, Bowman has already crossed multiple red lines for any self-respecting socialist, which necessitates discipline for harm done, not deference to vague possibilities of future solidarity.
Second, and relatedly, there seems to be a fundamental lack of understanding around the purpose of endorsement vs. discipline for DSA candidates and members. Endorsement is a process intended to provide organizational support to members in good standing who are committed to DSA’s principles. An endorsement (or re-endorsement) can therefore be best understood as a form of positive reinforcement (i.e. a bonus). Withholding an endorsement therefore cannot operate as a mechanism for discipline.
On the other hand, when a member behaves in a way that is harmful to others, and refuses to repair the harm, then that toxic behavior must be confronted with a disciplinary mechanism (i.e. a penalty), such as expulsion, as a way to meaningfully discourage the behavior in question and signal clear red lines to other members. To be clear, expelled members should not be banished from the organization forever. Instead, our goal should be that with discipline will come true accountability, followed by true transformation.
Although the NPC’s moral, processual, and strategic missteps laid out above are myriad, they are not beyond repair. The NPC can begin the process of expulsion tomorrow if they choose to, but as of now, despite the misgivings of a few NPC members, there are no signs of a shift by our leaders. In the absence of accountability, principles or logic from our elected leaders, DSA membership would do well to follow the prescription laid out in our platform passed at convention this year, which states that “only by listening to and aligning with those directly targeted by [imperialism] can we begin to work toward a unified global vision of socialism.”
Last week, dozens of the foremost Palestinian and Palestinian-allied intellectuals co-signed a letter to the NPC, which “… call[s] on DSA chapters and the rank-and-file members everywhere to weigh in on this matter [reversing the decision not to expel Bowman] to ensure the national committee upholds its own stated progressive values.”
In lock-step with our Palestinian comrades in the grassroots, the BDS WG calls on the NPC to reverse its recent decision to not expel Jamaal Bowman while also working with us moving forward to delineate red-lines for DSA endorsed candidates on BDS and Palestine.
Further, as long as the NPC continues to give Bowman a free pass, the BDS WG calls on rank-and-file members in DSA to co-sign the current statement in solidarity with Palestinians. More broadly, we call on DSA chapters across the country to further build solidarity with Palestinians by building relationships with and following the lead of Palestinian-led grassroots groups in your community. In addition to building relational accountability to our Palestinian comrades, we call on DSA chapters to continue to build electoral accountability by enforcing support for BDS in your candidate endorsement processes, as well as adopting electoral accountability resolutions.
In closing, the endorsement of Jamaal Bowman by DSA was a failure on the part of our organization, from top to bottom, and the current situation is an indictment of the political expediency that currently plagues DSA’s electoral strategy. If we are to be serious about dismantling structures of oppression for all peoples and challenging global capitalism from the imperial core, then we cannot fail the straightforward test we are currently facing.
As socialists, we know that when DSA empowers Palestinians, we are empowering our socialist movement. The NPC’s decision regarding Bowman neither empowered Palestinians, nor DSA, and instead threatens to relegate DSA to yet another political formation on the left that is demonstrably unaccountable to the grassroots. As more Palestinians, DSA chapters, and rank-and-file members speak out in favor of expelling Bowman from the DSA, perhaps our organization’s leaders will finally reckon with the error of their ways.
Regardless, this organization remains ours to change, and we continue to show that we ultimately do not need national leadership to do it.
DSA BDS & Palestine Solidarity Working Group