Anti-Israel activists bring lots of noise but little substance to state Democratic conventions

Democratic Party gatherings in Minnesota and North Carolina hint at messy path for the party in Chicago

As Democrats brace for a messy convention in Chicago in August, with the party bitterly divided over the war in Gaza, state-level party activists are starting to meet for their quadrennial conventions, offering an early look at the tension points Democrats will face later this summer. 

Amid the bureaucratic business of electing party delegates and approving changes to party rules, the Democrats gathering in places such as Duluth, Minn.; Bangor, Maine; and Jamestown, N.C., are also being asked to weigh in on hefty questions related to the war in Gaza. So far, anti-Israel activists have generated a lot of noise but very little substance when it comes to having an impact on official party positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

People entering the Duluth Convention Center in Minnesota to attend the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor party convention last weekend had to walk past hundreds of anti-Israel protesters waving Palestinian flags and holding signs accusing President Joe Biden and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), whom the party endorsed for reelection, of supporting “genocide” in Gaza. Not all the attendees in the room were die-hard Biden supporters; 18% of Minnesota Democrats voted “uncommitted” in the state’s March primary in protest of Biden’s support for Israel, meaning that faction will now send delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

Once inside, attendees heard speeches from top state activists who issued a plea for unity in a pivotal election year. 

“We’re a big tent, y’all, and it can get real messy in here,” Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, a member of the DFL party, said in a speech. “Some of you voted uncommitted in the primary, and that’s OK because we believe in democracy here. We can be ourselves and express our concerns and come together in a good way and move forward.”

The party’s official platform takes an old-school Democratic approach to the Middle East, supporting “Israel’s right to exist within secure borders, Palestinian rights to self-determination, and continued peace efforts in the Middle East.” Several resolutions that came to the floor attempted to push the party left on the issue but did not pass, although they garnered significant support. 

Party activists voted down a resolution calling for Israel to release “unjustly held political prisoners” and another calling for the resumption of funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the U.N. organization that supports the Palestinians, which the U.S. halted due to its ties to Hamas and employees’ involvement in the Oct. 7 terror attacks. Another resolution that called for the recognition of a Palestinian state earned 50% of the vote, but it still failed, since measures require 60% of the vote to pass. 

Meanwhile, party activists agreed on a resolution that supports the “immediate release of hostages, and prisoners held without trial, immediate humanitarian aid, and an immediate cease-fire through continued peace efforts in Gaza.” The original version of that resolution also included a line expressing support for “a two-state solution that affirms the rights of both the Israeli and Palestinian people each to have their own states within safe and secure borders,” but that was cut out of the final version.

A spokesperson for the party told Jewish Insider that the DFL’s support for Israel remains unchanged. “Israel’s right to exist is still in the DFL’s party platform, and nothing about this weekend’s convention changed that. Our party and its leadership support a two-state solution and unequivocally condemn antisemitism,” said Darwin Forsyth, DFL’s communications director.

The only resolution that pro-Israel advocates viewed as a major “loss” was one that condemned antisemitism “in all its forms,” because it was amended to remove a line that described “denial of the right of the state of Israel to exist” as a form of antisemitism.

“That was, I would say, would be the loss that we really saw at the convention this week, is being really able to hammer home that we can’t delegitimize the state of Israel,” said Manny Houle, a pro-Israel activist and former Democratic organizer in Minneapolis.

In North Carolina, too, activists proposed competing resolutions about the Israel-Hamas war. The state Democratic Party’s resolutions committee sought to head off the inevitable disagreements by releasing just one resolution on the war — a resolution that drew direct and inaccurate comparisons between both parties, including a call for the immediate release of “all Israeli hostages taken by Hamas” and “Palestinian hostages taken by Israel.” (Israel has not taken hostages in the war.) The resolution called for “a comprehensive and peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that respects the rights and aspirations of all parties,” but it did not explicitly call for a two-state solution. 

The resolution was sent back to be considered by the committee that had authored it after party delegates didn’t have time to consider it. The committee is not slated to meet again until after the election, essentially killing the resolution. 

One Democratic activist who attended the convention told JI the resolution had several divisive “poison pills” that diverged from the party’s longstanding policy on Israel. North Carolina Democrats’ 2022 platform called for diplomacy in the Middle East “with the goal of guaranteeing security for Israel, establishing peace in the region and restoring full human rights for the

Palestinian populations, including the right to self-determination.”

Democrats in Maine also voted against adopting any resolutions on the war in Gaza, including one that called for ending U.S. aid for Israel until Israel declares a permanent cease-fire and withdraws from Palestinian territories. Like in Minnesota, anti-Israel protesters made a scene at the convention, apparently to little effect on policy. 

The national Democratic platform committee has not yet begun to hold meetings, which are slated to start soon. Some states don’t release their own platforms and instead adopt the platform authored by the DNC. In many others, foreign policy doesn’t appear at all, or only as a small portion — compared to the national party platform, which weighs in on major national security issues.

Democrats are bracing for protests at the Chicago convention, and the Democratic National Committee announced in May that delegates will nominate Biden via a “virtual roll call” rather than the traditional ceremonial roll call on the convention floor. The reason they’re doing so is to avoid a ballot snafu in Ohio, but Democratic activists also acknowledge it minimizes potential disruptions from Uncommitted delegates.

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