A coalition of progressive Democrats recently succeeded in convincing their local party central committee to release a statement condemning Israel—despite steadfast support for the state and its sovereignty among top Democrats nationwide.
What would go on to become weeks of coverage around the deadly clashes between the State of Israel and Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., exploded onto Twitter May 7.
Influential Democrats shared live streamed videos, photos and reporting of Palestinian casualties and missile strikes to their millions of young online followers—many of whom shared viral tweets of their own. The momentum they rallied in opposition of Israel inspired local mutual aid organizations to organize a week of protests all over San Jose in solidarity with Palestinians calling for an end to Zionism.
After watching the scenes of violence play out more than 7,400 miles west in San Jose, California Democratic Party assembly delegates Basil Saleh and Hiwad Haider said they felt compelled to press Santa Clara County Democrats to condemn Israel.
“You’re getting footage on the ground showing us the human cost,” Saleh said. “It’s impossible to turn your vision away from that.”
They don’t get to author legislation, but delegates can still influence party politics by pressing local Democrats to take a public position on any given issue.
Barely passing by three votes at the July 1 Santa Clara County Democratic Party Central Committee meeting, Haider was able to lobby the majority of the committee’s 50 voting members into signing off on his resolution. It was also co-signed by more than 10 other local community leaders and pro-Palestine activists.
The one-page declaration accused Israel of breaking international law for firing missiles into the Gaza Strip, and called for the passing of Congresswoman Betty McCollum’s (D-MN) bill in Congress—for which Haider’s resolution was modeled after.
But University of California, Berkeley political science professor Ron Hassner said he hasn’t seen any evidence to suggest the Democratic party as a whole has become any less supportive of Israel. The UC’s first chair in Israel Studies, Hassner described the state as, “our closest ally in the Middle East.”
“There's nothing coming out of Congress, nor any official position of the Democratic Party to suggest any change in policy. There's also not a particular reason to expect a change in policy,” he told San Jose Inside. “Because what happened in Gaza two months ago is now happening for the fourth time, it's not a new thing.”
Many iterations of McCollum's bill have been introduced over the years, though never passed.
“It's certainly odd the Santa Clara County Democratic Party Central Committee chose to speak so loudly in criticism of the only liberal and democratic state in that region, yet remain so silent in condemning the actions of Hamas,” Hassner said.
Susan George, executive director of Progressive Zionists of California, said no iteration of the legislation has ever gathered more than two or three dozen supporters out of the more than 200 Democrats in the House.
“If we're going to talk about ending the conflict—the need for safety, security and dignity on both sides of this conflict—then we need to come together and address it in a way that isn't just about demonizing one side and holding the other side completely unaccountable,” George said.
She believes Zionists should not be expelled from conversations in the Democratic party over Israel, and Israel has the right to exist and Jewish citizens of the state have the right to defend itself against Hamas.
According to a Gallup Poll published March 19, 53% of surveyed Democratic say the U.S. should put more pressure on Israel to resolve its conflict with Palestine, compared to 43% in 2018.
The Supreme Court of Israel’s anticipated decision to affirm the eviction of five Palestinian families from Israeli-occupied land in East Jerusalem sparked the recent violent conflict between Palestinians and the Israeli government.
Hamas retaliated against the looming evictions, and the Israeli government’s failure to withdraw its security forces from holy sites, by lobbing missiles into Israel—most stopped by the state’s air defense system dubbed the “Iron Dome.” The state hit back with missiles of its own.
The back-and-forth ended in a ceasefire on May 16 with 256 Palestinians dead in the Gaza Strip, according to the United Nations Human Rights Office, 128 of whom were believed to be civilians. At least 9 Israeli civilians, along with two Thai workers and an Indian caregiver were also killed, according to The Times of Israel.
Though divided, Haider said having the support of the committee’s majority proves the county Democrats have an agreement about what the facts are surrounding the conflict between Palestine and Israel.
“(The vote) goes to show that our work is not done,” Haider said. “Resolutions are a nice accomplishment to make a strong statement and influence legislators—our plan is to use this document as proof that we do have an agreement about the objective reality of Israel and Palestine.”
As a second generation Afghan American, the young progressive said growing up post-9/11 he saw similarities between U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and Israeli occupation of Palestinian settlements.
Day-after-day of violence continuing to play out in the Middle East pushed Haider and Saleh to the streets of San Jose where they joined protesters and spoke at pro-Palestinian demonstrations—rallying hundreds of peers into denouncing Israel and recognizing injustices in Palestine.
As more anti-Zionist activists join the party, support for the dissolution of the State of Israel continues to surface in foreign policy discussions.
Disputes broke out at the July 1 committee meeting over the accuracy of the objective reality described in the since-passed resolution Hiwad put forth; Democrats opposing the declaration argued it was inflammatory and went against the party's majority stance.
“I say this as a committed Democrat who spent over 35 years working for Democratic candidates all across California and around the country—this resolution is honestly chock full of inaccuracies and one sided propaganda,” said Marc Mellmen, president and CEO of Democratic Majority For Israel.
The pro-Israel advocacy group, formed in 2019, rails against boycotts and sanctions of Israel, and supports a two-state solution where Palestine and Israel exist in peace as two separate states.
Mellman said that only a minority of Democrats on the national stage support distancing themselves from Israel and cutting foreign aid to the state, information omitted from Haider’s resolution misled party members in Santa Clara County who voted in favor of it.
“It talks about children being killed, and others being killed in this conflict with Hamas as if it was Israel's responsibility. The reality is, if Hamas had not decided to fire 4,600 rockets into Israel, every one of those people would still be alive today,” Mellmen said. “Hamas bears responsibility.”
Hiwad and Saleh pointed to the large disparity of deaths between Palestinian and Israeli civilians.
“By the time we had these resolutions ready to present, 250 plus civilians (were killed), 67 of which were children,” Saleh said. “So this was just a gross, gross violation of human rights, and we really felt the need to speak out.”
Though senior members of the Democratic party say the violence in Israel and Palestine is not as divisive of a topic on a national level, Haider said human rights violations perpetrated by Israel should be addressed at the highest levels.
“All types of advocates from across the political spectrum, the Democratic party, they're all saying, ‘(We) need to have a referendum on how we approach this issue,’” Haider said. “We need to bring more Palestinian voices into the party, Jewish voices in the party who are going to be part of the future dialogue for peace, and build a model for other anti-war, anti-militarism and pro-human rights activists.”