North Carolina Democrats prepare for heated platform fight over Israel

Rep. Kathy Manning says the proposed resolutions may be ‘exacerbating antisemitism’

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Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC) campaigns for U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley at the Guilford County Democratic headquarters during a canvassing event on November 7, 2022 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

The North Carolina Democratic Party is currently weighing a series of contentious new platform resolutions that could escalate internal divisions over Israel just as party members are seeking to unify ahead of a pivotal election cycle, if approved in the coming weeks. 

The proposed resolutions, which have not yet been finalized, are largely included in a detailed platform section on international relations that focuses almost exclusively on Israel and Middle East policy, according to a recent draft reviewed by Jewish Insider.

Among other measures that are likely to draw scrutiny, the resolutions advocate for remaining neutral “on whether the best solution to” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “is the so-called ‘two-state solution’ or ‘one-state solution.’” That position, if upheld, would put the state party at odds with the national Democratic platform, which supports “a negotiated two-state solution that ensures Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.”

In a section “recognizing anti-Palestinian bigotry,” a separate resolution endorses the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees to Israel, all but rejecting its existence as a Jewish state. The draft also calls for the commemoration of May 15 as Nakba Day, the Arabic term for “catastrophe” used to denote the Palestinian exodus that coincided with the foundation of Israel.

The state party’s Resolutions and Platform Committee, which convened on Saturday, is expected to take up the Israel-related measures during a follow-up meeting scheduled for June 10. 

But Jewish leaders in North Carolina are already speaking out. “I have deep concerns about these one-sided, inaccurate and divisive resolutions,” Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC), a pro-Israel stalwart, said in a statement to JI on Tuesday. “At a time of rising antisemitism, a problem so immense that it necessitated the release of the first-ever national strategy to counter antisemitism, advancing resolutions that may exacerbate antisemitism and hate is the last thing that should be done.”

The Democratic Party “has long supported a two-state solution and strengthening of our strategic relationship with our democratic ally Israel,” Manning said. “The 2024 election will be critical to determining the future of our state and our nation. Instead of driving a wedge between our party, it’s time we come together with renewed focus on our shared values and work to retain control of the White House, win back the House of Representatives, flip the state legislature and elect a Democrat as governor of North Carolina.”

North Carolina Democrats are preparing for a difficult election cycle as they seek to defend the governorship and prepare for a redistricting process that could endanger several of its Democratic representatives in Congress. 

The Republican Party recently won veto-proof supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature after a Democratic lawmaker defected to the GOP last month — putting increased “pressure on Democrats to get unified,” said a Jewish party leader in North Carolina who views the resolutions as an unnecessary distraction. “Anything that gets in the way of that is to be avoided.”

Ryan Jenkins, the president of the state party’s affiliated Progressive Caucus, said he agreed with that sentiment, even as he has been involved in promoting the resolutions behind the scenes. 

Jenkins, who has worked to revise some of the resolutions in recent weeks, said the proposals were originally written by members of the Progressive Caucus but do not represent the group’s official platform. “Some of them were written very deliberately to insult people,” he suggested. “That’s my reading of it.”

For instance, one resolution that has since been amended praised a group of rabbis in North Carolina “for standing up for human rights,” according to Jenkins. The names were excised after one rabbi expressed alarm that he had been included and asked to be removed from the draft. “There is no need to deliberately antagonize people,” Jenkins told JI on Tuesday. “We’re going to do that enough anyway. It’s a hot-button issue.”

The draft now says it “wishes to commend” unnamed “Jewish American leaders in North Carolina and beyond for taking steps to hold the current right-wing government of the State of Israel accountable for its policies.”

Another resolution, which has been scrapped, called on party members to “reject contributions” from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, incorrectly referring to the bipartisan lobbying group as the “America Israel Public Action Committee,” according to an earlier draft obtained by JI. The resolution argued that AIPAC has “become actively hostile to the democratic process in the United States and abroad,” citing its alleged “support for the right-wing ruling coalition in Israel and their attempts to destroy any judicial oversight of or restraint on their power.”

An updated resolution now says that the North Carolina Democratic Party “ought to divorce itself from groups” supporting “right-wing extremism,” while requesting that members “carefully consider the sources of all donations.” The subtext, however, will no doubt be clear to party insiders in North Carolina.

Last cycle, AIPAC’s affiliated super PAC spent heavily in two Democratic primaries for open House seats in North Carolina, backing one candidate, Valerie Foushee, whose top rival had faced scrutiny for antisemitic rhetoric against Israel. The Progressive Caucus revoked its support for Foushee, who ultimately won the seat, amid AIPAC’s involvement. 

In a statement to JI, Marshall Wittmann, a spokesperson for AIPAC, defended the group’s approach. “We are proud of our involvement in the democratic process to elect Democrats and Republicans who will strengthen our alliance with the Jewish state,” he said on Tuesday. “It is both consistent with our democratic values and American national security interests to maintain a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.”

Nazim Uddin, the director of internal communications for the Progressive Caucus who is among the most outspoken critics of Israel in North Carolina’s Democratic Party, said he had helped craft the resolutions and was amenable to removing the reference to AIPAC. “I think we’re following a democratic process within the party and we’re trying to address concerns that were raised,” he told JI. “I would like to see stronger language, but if that’s what it takes to pass, I’m completely fine with it.”

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a source of ongoing tension among North Carolina Democrats. Last June, for example, the state party adopted a series of controversial resolutions at its annual convention in Durham, accusing Israel of “apartheid” and calling for “targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes” on unnamed Israelis who had committed alleged human rights violations against Palestinians.

The resolutions were condemned by Jewish leaders in North Carolina, who said the new party platform had unfairly targeted Israel.

Earlier this year, a group of party activists formed a Jewish Democratic Caucus to counter such efforts. Prospective members are required to pledge their commitment to the national Democratic Party platform on the Middle East, among other things. The caucus, which is now lobbying to become formally affiliated with the state Democratic Party, declined to comment on the resolutions.

It remains to be seen if the state party, which recently elected a new chair, will move forward with the full list of resolutions or if it will take a selective approach. The draft, as written on Tuesday, also says it is “committed to a peaceful resolution of the current conflict between the State of Israel and Palestine” and includes a pledge to “issue a public statement condemning the recent rise in antisemitic violence and harassment targeting Jewish Americans.”

“Fundamentally I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Jenkins told JI.

The party’s state executive committee is scheduled to meet on June 24 to begin the process of finalizing its new platform, which will be formally approved next year. The North Carolina Democratic Party did not respond to a request for comment.

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