Explainer: DSA, Jamaal Bowman, and the BDS Working Group
April 28, 2022

The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has been facing criticism from Palestinian activists and organizations in the United States for their decision to decharter their BDS & Palestine Working Group.

DSA’s National Political Committee (NPC) made an official statement on March 18 dissolving the BDS Working Group (BDSWG) for “undermining” DSA leadership and publicly questioning DSA’s decisions to not expel New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman following his meeting with representatives of the apartheid state and his praise of the Israeli Occupation Forces. BDSWG was not notified of their group’s dissolution before the NPC’s statement, and all BDSWG steering committee members are barred from holding positions of national leadership for a period of one year. In the wake of a swift and decisive wave of internal and external backlash, the NPC has since reversed its decision to dissolve the working group, but the sanctions imposed on the working group’s leaders remain. 

BDSWG was established in 2019 by DSA after endorsing the BDS movement in 2017. Issues with Rep. Jamaal Bowman, who is endorsed by DSA, started at the end of September 2021 when he voted in support of an additional $1 billion in U.S. aid to Israel’s Iron Dome. At the time, DSA made an official statement condemning this vote, declaring that they “unapologetically stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people in their ongoing struggle for liberation,” as well as reaffirming their support for the divestment movement.

In November 2021, Rep. Jamaal Bowman traveled to Palestine on a visit sponsored by J Street, a Zionist lobbying group. DSA noted that they were aware of Rep. Bowman’s trip and were actively working with BDSWG to address the issue. BDS guidelines state that “Visits by politicians and parliamentarians to Israel that are organized by Israel lobby groups, including AIPAC and J Street in the U.S., cross our nonviolent Palestinian BDS picket line and harm our struggle for freedom, justice and equality.” 

BDSWG made an official statement and asserted that DSA should expel Rep. Bowman if he could not comply with their demands to uphold BDS, support pro-Palestinian legislation, and participate in the travel boycott to all of Occupied Palestine. A couple of weeks following this, BDSWG made a second statement demanding that DSA expel Rep. Bowman for attending a J Street U Town Hall to talk about his trip, ignoring BDSWG's demands.

On December 2, 2021, DSA officially stated that they would not expel Rep. Jamaal Bowman from the organization. The reason they provided for opting not to expel him was that “[they] have seen considerable movement from Representative Bowman and his office, and a marked demonstration of interest in both accountability, and collaboration on an effective and strategic path forward to advance the Palestinian cause through progressive struggle on the congressional terrain.” The NPC asserted they would not re-endorse Rep. Bowman “unless he is able to demonstrate solidarity with Palestine.” 

In response to this, many Palestinian activists and pro-Palestine organizations co-signed an open letter to the NPC and called for them to reverse their decision. On December 20, 2021, BDSWG published an official statement demanding that the NPC reverse their decision and expel Rep. Bowman. BDSWG called the NPC’s decision “principally bankrupt” and the expulsion of Rep. Bowman would demonstrate DSA’s commitment to material solidarity with Palestinians and set a precedent for how DSA can “build electoral power and hold members accountable for harmful actions.” In the months to follow, the working group would use their Twitter account to reiterate their stance on Rep. Bowman and boost calls for Bowman’s expulsion from local DSAs, which currently stands at over 50 local chapters.

BDSWG’s pressure on Rep. Bowman seemed to have some effect. He announced on February 15, 2022, that he would no longer be co-sponsoring the Israel Relations Normalization Act, a bill normalizing relations between Arab nations and Israel. However, anti-apartheid activism within the DSA has faced significant retribution. On February 18, 2022, the NPC asked that BDSWG share the password and information for their social media accounts and delete a Twitter thread critical of Bowman and the NPC from their account. Despite sharing their passwords, the working group was subsequently punished because they refused to remove a tweet thread, which was largely authored and curated by Palestinians, criticizing the NPC’s mischaractization of events that led to Rep Bowman’s decision.

On March 22, 2022, BDSWG responded to their expulsion by rejecting the NPC’s decision and demanding that DSA stop targeting Palestinians and their allies. The next day, Twitter suspended BDSWG’s account due to targeted mass reporting from NPC members.

As the Palestinian Youth Movement has stated on the matter, “It is clear that the dechartering of the BDS Working Group is an attempt to stifle criticism within the DSA regarding Palestinian liberation.” Rep. Jamaal Bowman has stated that he does not align himself with organizations that support BDS – which includes the DSA – and has yet to express support for BDS. He also lied to DSA on his questionnaire about his support for cuts to Israeli military aid, as he continues to support endless aid for the Iron Dome. If DSA is indeed committed to the Palestinian cause, it is crucial that they reinstate BDSWG, expel Rep. Bowman, and reevaluate what, if anything, they truly stand for when it comes to the abuses of American policy against the Palestinian people.

About The Author: 

S. Rekeibe is a Lebanese-Honduran writer residing in the United States. They will attend graduate school in the fall in Middle Eastern Studies focusing on imperialism and colonization in the Levant.

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