Progressive activists in the United States roundly rejected assertions by the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Joe Biden, that criticism of Israel and its policies in the occupied territories too often drifts towards anti-Semitism and must be condemned.
“Criticism of Israel’s policy is not anti-Semitism,” Biden said during a phone call with major donors earlier this week. “But too often that criticism from the left morphs into anti-Semitism.”
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The call was part of a virtual fundraiser hosted by Dan Shapiro, a former ambassador to Israel, and Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University. The Biden campaign said 550 people attended.
Biden was asked during the call how to respond to anti-Semitism among progressive Democratic activists in both the US and the United Kingdom. “We have to condemn it, and I’ve gotten in trouble for doing that,” the former vice president replied. “Whatever the source, right, left or centre.”
The Biden campaign later released a policy paper saying it “firmly rejects” the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which was launched by Palestinians in 2005 to generate pressure on Israel to comply with international law and uphold Palestinian human rights.
Biden said the movement “singles out Israel – home to millions of Jews – and too often veers into anti-Semitism, while letting Palestinians off the hook for their choices”.
In a statement released following reports about Biden’s comments, leaders of the BDS movement – under the auspices of the Palestinian BDS National Committee – said Democratic voters should be endorsing the movement instead of rejecting it.
“By rejecting BDS, Joe Biden endorses US complicity in Israel’s decades-old regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid, and supports depriving Palestinians of our fundamental human rights,” the group said.
Joe Biden “firmly” rejects the BDS movement, shamefully opposing the global nonviolent struggle for Palestinian freedom, justice & equality. Cutting US military aid to Israel is vital to the progressive agenda of #HealthcareNotWarfare and social, racial, climate & gender justice. pic.twitter.com/JtMHYocXnU
— BDS movement (@BDSmovement) May 20, 2020
Biden has struggled to unite a Democratic Party deeply divided between an older, more moderate wing personified by the presumptive candidate and younger progressives who gravitated towards his rival, Senator Bernie Sanders, during the primaries before Sanders withdrew from the election. The progressive wing has been outspoken in its opposition to Israel’s policies towards Palestinians, particularly under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
According to a pool report regarding the call, Biden did not cite any specific examples of anti-Semitic comments on the left or specifically identify individuals or groups that he was concerned about. He did, however, say that he was disappointed in Netanyahu for moving “so, so far to the right” and called for Israel to “stop the threat of annexation” of occupied West Bank territories.
“It’ll choke off any hope of peace,” Mr. Biden said on the call.
Biden said his “commitment to Israel is absolutely unshakable” and promised to reverse several policies pursued by the administration of US President Donald Trump if elected in November, including restoring diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority and economic and humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people.