Mark Mellman: Lessons from the California Democratic Party convention
A test case of Democrats’ support for Israel played out in real time at the California Democratic Party convention this past weekend. The party was scheduled to consider six bellicose anti-Israel resolutions that were one-sided, oversimplified and riddled with inaccuracies. None of them would advance the peace process, human rights or security for Israelis or Palestinians.
We needed to stop them in their tracks, and we did. The California Democratic Party did not pass any of these resolutions.
In the process, Democratic Majority for Israel walked away with some important lessons:
• The Democratic Party is not anti-Israel
• Organizing matters
• We need to speak to Democrats from within the party
• Messaging must be from the Left to the Left
• There is power in collaboration
Democrats are pro-Israel
The vast majority of elected Democrats are pro-Israel, and many of them helped ensure our movement’s victory at the California convention.
Of course, there are a few exceptions, but unfortunately those few get all the attention. There are 64 newly elected Democrats in the House, including a host of pro-Israel champions, along with three detractors. The three get more attention than the other 61 combined.
US President Donald Trump and other Republicans are trying to portray Israel’s detractors as the face of the Democratic Party and make Israel a wedge issue.
Not only is the premise false, the effort represents a serious disservice to Israel, which needs to retain the bipartisan support it has long enjoyed.
With Trump’s approval rating at just 26% among Jewish voters, he’s unlikely to reap the benefits of this malicious strategy, but we need to make sure Israel does not pay the price.
In politics people gain power when they are organized. Knowing that, DMFI organizers worked for over a month building a battalion of 600 pro-Israel delegates who were willing to carry our message and persuade their fellow delegates. That organized effort played a central role in deciding the issues in our favor.
Working from within the party is key
It’s nothing to brag about, but we live in an age of hyper-partisanship. Republicans dislike Democrats more than at any point since the advent of polling. And Democrats dislike Republicans more than ever before.
In this environment, Republicans just aren’t credible to Democrats and vice versa. DMFI could be successful only because we are bona fide, committed Democrats, with a long history of leadership in our party, talking to our own party.
Messaging has to be from the Left to the Left
Similarly, our messages must reflect our values. These days Republicans and Democrats honor quite different values, which is one reason the two parties don’t understand each other very well.
Unfortunately, the pro-Israel message for the last decade or so has come from the Right. So, it’s little wonder we have problems on the Left.
We talked to the Left, from the Left, emphasizing our shared embrace of progressive policy goals, such as economic opportunity, immigrant rights, abortion rights and support of the LGBTQ community. We developed talking points about the problems with these resolutions that spoke to the core values of Democrats.
Power in collaboration
Other organizations joined the effort as well – the ADL wrote party leaders a strong letter strongly condemning the resolutions, Zioness launched an online petition, Progressive Zionists of California and Democrats for Israel – Los Angeles helped provide grassroots support, while Israel on Campus Coalition recruited additional organizers to help on convention weekend.
Though this was a great victory, sadly it’s not the last time we’ll see efforts to demonize and delegitimize Israel. Combating them requires us to work hard and smart.