Democratic Socialists of America asks City Council candidates to shun Israel travel


(JTA) – Lots of candidates for New York City Council are expected to seek an endorsement from the local Democratic Socialists of America chapter, a rising force in city politics, in next year’s elections.

To apply for the endorsement, the candidates will have to pledge not to travel to Israel if elected.

According to a screenshot of a candidate questionnaire from the DSA posted to Twitter by local reporter Zach Fink, candidates are being asked to “pledge not to travel to Israel if elected to City Council in solidarity with Palestinians living under occupation.” (The party did not immediately confirm that it had distributed the survey.)

The group also asks candidates if they support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which is part of the New York City DSA chapter’s platform.

Michael S. Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, called the DSA request “despicable.”

Elected officials should not be denied an immersive opportunity to deepen their understanding of Israel,” wrote Miller, whose organization is the primary organizer of NYC Council missions to Israel.”  Including this demand – on the same day that a historic peace agreement was announced between Israel and the United Arab Emirates – reveals a policy undeniably singed by anti-Semitism.”

“This is anti-semitism. Plain and simple,” Rep. Max Rose (D-NY) tweeted on Thursday.

The Jewish Caucus of the New York City Council called the questionnaire “rank antisemitism [that] has no place in our City.”

Some candidates declared their answers already on Twitter. “Easy: 1. No. 2. No,” Eric Dinowitz, a teacher (and son of a state Assemblyman) who is running for City Council in the Bronx, postedlate Thursday.

The questionnaire comes after pro-BDS activists were vindicated this month when Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, who have voiced support for the BDS movement, both won their Democratic primaries. Both represent overwhelmingly Democratic districts where they are likely to be reelected to Congress. A third congressional candidate who has indicated support for the BDS movement, Cori Bush in Missouri, also defeated a longtime incumbent in her primary.

With 35 out of 51 city council seats up for election this year due to term limits as well as open elections for citywide offices like mayor and comptroller, citywide elections in New York City next year present a rare opportunity to reshape most of New York City’s government.

The DSA is considered to be a rising force in New York City after helping Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeat incumbent Joe Crowley in 2018. In this year’s Democratic primary, DSA member Jamaal Bowman defeated Eliot Engel, a longtime incumbent and champion of Israel. Far from pledging to boycott Israel, Bowman has indicated his backing, last week telling City & State, “I am in full support of Israel.”

Nationally, the political party formally endorsed the BDS movement in 2017. It is now in the process of negotiating a unified platform to be adopted next year. Local candidates in Boston this year were asked whether they would support the BDS movement “publicly, privately, and under pressure from opposition” but not whether they would personally pledge not to travel to Israel.

Councilmember Ritchie Torres, the recent winner in New York’s 15th congressional district against a DSA-backed candidate, vouched for the Israel trips sponsored by JCRC-NY.

“When JCRC brought me to Israel for the first time back in 2015, I spoke to both Israelis and Palestinians, and among Israelis, spoke to both Arabs and Jews,” he told Jewish Insider. “I heard various perspectives, asked hard questions, and came to more fully understand a conflict that is infinitely more complicated than media narratives make it out to be. Denying yourself an opportunity to ‎listen intently to voices on the ground and see the situation with your own eyes will make you no wiser as a person or public servant.”