Following midterms, Dems debate direction

Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour said Tuesday night that the Democratic Party needed to appeal more to its progressive base following the midterm elections. Looking ahead to the 2020 election season, where experts have said Democrats will need to gain more support from moderates, Sarsour accused the party establishment of ‘cowering.’ “They stay away from the Palestinians, they stay away from the leftists, and they stay away from the socialists,” Sarsour complained. “They stay away from those of us who are actually creating the momentum and the energy that is on the ground.”

Speaking in a live election night panel hosted by The Intercept and Democracy Now!, Sarsour, an outspoken Israel critic and Women’s March leader who has often been accused of anti-Semitism, said, “This was not a blue wave, this was a blue dribble. We didn’t win overwhelmingly and it doesn’t look good if we don’t get our act straight for 2020.” She exhorted Democratic leadership to “let the party be led by those in the resistance.”

Sarsour cited the example of newly-elected House member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who criticized Israel’s “occupation of Palestine” during her campaign but quickly backed away from the remarks after encountering major backlash, as a Democrat who had bowed to fear politics. “The minute that positioning comes in with fear politics, we cower, right?” Sarsour said. “We go, ‘Oh, AIPAC is mad at us. Oh, those folks, the pro-Israel groups are mad at us.’ If you’re not willing to go all the way progressive, you’re just not going to win against Donald Trump in 2020.”

But other commentators believe the election results teach the opposite lesson. New York Times journalist Alex Burns, speaking Wednesday morning on The Daily podcast, said that he expected to see “somewhat greater skepticism about some of the more bluntly left-wing candidates who are preparing to run for president, because that theory of the case really did not deliver victory to their party this week.”

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Noted law scholar and author Alan Dershowitz also disagreed with Sarsour, telling Jewish Insider on Wednesday, “The Democrats will lose if they move to the far left. Many far-left candidates lost yesterday precisely because they didn’t represent centrist Democrats. Sarsour is an enemy of democracy and America, and of Israel.”

And Ann Lewis, a Democratic strategist and leader of the Zioness movement, a pro-Israel feminist organization inclusive of Zionists, said wryly that Sarsour’s remarks comprise “the rare instance when I agree with her.”

“As I read it, Sarsour is complaining that in an election when Democrats flipped the House and won important governors, and legislative chambers — they stayed away from her and her friends,” she wrote in an email to Jewish Insider. “If that is her point… I agree.”

But according to Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, “No one can take an ideological lesson from this election.”

“Democrats on the left and center won today, and Democrats on the left and center lost today,” he said. “The Democrats who won were the ones who represented their particular constituencies.”

New York-based Democratic campaign consultant Hank Sheinkopf said that Sarsour’s comments revealed the deepening crack in the Democratic party over the issue of Israel.

“Now the secret is out—the long ongoing divorce between the pro-Israel forces and the Democratic Party left gains more speed,” he said, adding, “When people tell you what they think and what they plan to do, you should really pay attention. Linda Sarsour’s rhetoric has one aim and one direction. First, it’s the Zionists are not allowed entry. But next, it will likely be the silly Jews who think they are immune.”

As younger voters, women and minorities move into leadership roles, Israeli interests need to adapt to the demographic shifts, opined former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro. Going forward, he advised, “It will be wise for Israel to build and strengthen relationships with these members and demographic groups, in the interest of maintaining the bipartisanship that has been such a key pillar of the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

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