Illinois Politics and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement

Last Wednesday (9/6/17) I found out that my alderman, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, had been dropped from the ticket of Daniel Biss, who is a candidate in the Democratic Party primary for Governor of Illinois. I have long admired Ramirez-Rosa because of his skills and services in being my alderman, but more so because of his politics. Ramirez-Rosa is one of a very few number of elected officials who are members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). I consider myself to be a socialist and while, because I’m a permanent resident and not a naturalized U.S. citizen (yet), I can’t vote, if I did naturalize, I would become a member of the DSA and probably vote for candidates they have endorsed. I was really angry about this turn of events. When it was announced that Ramirez-Rosa would be running with Biss, I decided that I wanted to be part of the campaign and would knock on doors if necessary. Obviously I’m not going to do that now.

Biss’s statement on why he dropped Ramirez-Rosa from the ticket angered me even more. He claimed he dropped Ramirez-Rosa for his support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The movement seeks to stand with Palestinians by withdrawing support for companies that are involved with the violation of Palestinian human rights, campaigning to urge financial institutions to withdraw investments from Israeli companies, and by putting pressure on governments to hold Israel to account by putting in place sanctions, including ending arms deals. While I have not been part of this movement directly, I support its goals of standing with Palestinian people in a peaceful way. Biss went on to justify his actions by saying that the BDS “moves us further away from a peaceful solution”. I don’t see how a peaceful movement that is rooted in diplomacy and non-violence can jeopardize the safety and security of the Jewish people, since their security has already been cemented by decades of military support from the U.S. He also claimed that he believes that Palestinians should get “political and economic freedom”. How, then, are Palestinians to get political and economic freedom if not through diplomacy and peaceful movements?

In his statement, Biss referenced that he grew up with “grandparents who survived the Holocaust, and great-grandparents who did not survive”. I do not doubt that historical trauma caused by the Holocaust is very profound and very real. In fact, I want to research historical trauma in the future. But why bring up the Holocaust in making this announcement? Did Biss just drop it in to make people feel bad about taking a stance on Israel? BDS does not seek to harm Jewish people. It seeks to help Palestinians who are being systematically oppressed by the Israeli government and military.

I realize that Israel is a hot-button issue for many, but my stance has always been the same. The Israeli government’s policies towards Palestinians, particularly the policies of continuing to settle in Palestinian or contested land and creating a situation that is essentially apartheid (segregation and discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, nationality, and religion). I realize that my stance towards Israel is controversial in this country and it angers me that the label “anti-Semitic” has been thrown at people who have criticized the Israeli government or who have wanted to advocate for Palestinians. I honestly don’t see how being critical of the Israeli government’s ill treatment of Palestinians is anti-Semitic. In a recent article in Jacobin, a collection of essays put together by the organization Jewish Voice for Peace is discussed. Jewish Voice for Peace defined anti-Semitism as “discrimination against, violence toward, or stereotypes of Jews for being Jewish”. They state that anti-Semitism is not criticism of Israel or of Zionism and equating the two is harmful.

I don’t know who I support in the primary for democratic Governor of Illinois. While Biss remains the most left-wing candidate, his dropping of Ramirez-Rosa has deeply upset me. In addition, it seems clear to me that Biss’s decision to drop Ramirez-Rosa was heavily influenced by Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider’s decision to pull his endorsement of Biss for governor. If Biss can’t stand by his choices and not cave to pressure from more centrist Democrats, then why trust him at all?

Carlos invited his supporters for a drink after the announcement came out and I jumped on the chance to finally meet him. I’m now thinking about getting involved United Neighbors of the 35th Ward, to become part of a movement to change politics in Chicago. It’s not the same as working for political change state-wide, but at least in a small way I can contribute.

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