In a sign of how unnerved New York’s political establishment is by the Democratic Socialists of America, a pro-Israel group has been founded specifically to undermine DSA candidates. Its very existence is an admission of Israel’s defenders’ weakness.
A new organization has launched to advance pro-Israel politics in New York, the Times has reported, explaining that the group views itself as a “counterweight to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) and the Democratic Socialists of America [DSA].”
While we’d prefer that our enemies give up on politics for good, this sort of desperation from the global and local right — which used to take the popularity of Zionism in New York politics for granted — is probably a positive sign. The creation of New York Solidarity Network (NYSN) shows us that the Israeli right is deeply spooked by the rise of NYC-DSA, and even more by the young left’s readiness to criticize Israel’s apartheid regime and horrifying treatment of the Palestinians. Solidarity with Palestinians is especially on the rise among young American Jews, to the distress of Israel’s propagandists. Having viewed New York as solidly friendly Zionist terrain for years, those demanding uncritical support for Israel now see that things are changing.
In other words, the launch of the NYSN is a testament to recent successes on the Left.
The New York Solidarity Network joins a long list of right-wing, billionaire-funded groups that don’t put their unpopular cause in their name (for example, the libertarian Institute for Humane Studies is not called Campaign to Make Your Life More Nasty, Brutish, and Short). In fact, other than the Times story, which provided enthusiastic spokespeople, they’re not putting out much information at all. We’ll know more when their board of directors list is public. Presently, in a peculiar communications strategy, the group appeared to allow the big New York Times article about the group to come out before their website was complete (on the site, at this writing, only the “donate” button is functional).
DSA officially supports the BDS movement. The question of how much to center this issue has been controversial within the group, with some members wanting to expel Congressman Jamaal Bowman from the organization after he traveled to Israel. When DSA leadership opted not to expel Bowman, heated debates ensued, especially on Twitter. But the consternation on the Right, reflected in efforts like NYSN, show that in the world outside Twitter, the organization — and the growing power of the Left — is seen as a threat to a foreign policy establishment that for decades counted on unquestioning support for Israel from the New York political class.
Although DSA is still a relatively small organization, the fact that it has attracted such powerful enemies is a badge of honor. It might seem odd that a whole organization has formed to influence local politics on a foreign policy issue, when none of our local politicians set policy on US-Israeli relations. But the Israeli government and its supporters see New York as a crucial battleground. When Julia Salazar ran for Brooklyn state senate in 2018, for example, openly supporting BDS, the lengthiest and most negative coverage of her campaign came from Tablet, a devotedly pro-Israel publication, which published detailed reports that required significant time and money to produce.
The launch of New York Solidarity Network is a strategy that directly reflects the thinking of former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is, for all intents and purposes, an American and strongly focused on maintaining American public support. Netanyahu, who was ousted in last year’s election and is expected to run again, has often emphasized the importance of local politics. Netanyahu is near the rightward edge of Israeli politics; as prime minister, he was close to Donald Trump and unabashedly eager to unleash and incite violence on the Palestinian people.
And yet liberal and centrist voices are clearly key to New York Solidarity Network’s media appeal. The group’s big funder is Daniel Loeb, a billionaire hedge funder and major contributor to Democrats as well as Republicans. Like many in his class, he’s a backer of charter schools. But he also gives to LGBT causes, and is one of the funders of the Marshall Project — a nonprofit producing criminal justice reporting — as well as the Brennan Center’s Innocence Project.
However, NYSN isn’t his first foray into far-right foreign policy; Loeb is a funder of the Emergency Committee for Israel, a neoconservative group that was constantly critical of the Obama administration for not supporting Israel uncritically enough and for negotiating with Iran. Like many of the superrich, his politics are a weird mix of liberal pet causes and fascist-adjacent hobbyhorses.
The others prominently identified with the group are liberal. Corey Johnson, a former city council speaker, is a consultant. One spokesperson for the group is activist and tech entrepreneur Jessica Haller, who unsuccessfully ran for city council in the Bronx last year and told the Times she was frustrated when progressives suggested that her support for Israeli cast doubt on her commitment to racial justice (imagine!). Haller had many progressive endorsements when she ran, however, making her willingness to openly work against DSA disturbing.
The liberals are important in legitimizing what is at heart a far-right project, and it makes sense that their voices are the ones quoted in the New York Times. But New York Solidarity Network almost certainly will also include players that are less sympathetic: Haredi extremists, Likud activists, and Russian oligarchs. When they get around to publishing it, the board of directors list should make an interesting reading.
Meanwhile, the Left should enjoy the sign of discursive success. But prepare for some ugly fights.