At their national convention last weekend, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) voted to endorse the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel (BDS); after the vote, those present broke into a rousing chant of “From the river to the sea / Palestine will be free!”—suggesting that their dispute was with something other than Israeli policies. Paul Berman comments on the historical significance of this move by a now insignificant political party that once stood for Zionism and against anti-Semitism and Communism, and was very much shaped by its Jewish members:
The DSA resolution strikes me as a modestly sad event, . . . because of DSA itself and its meaning, faint but real, for American Jews. . . . [After its founding in 1972, DSA’s] leading intellectual was Irving Howe, the literary critic and editor of Dissent. . . . And DSA’s leading political figure was Michael Harrington, . . . who came from a fine Catholic background in the Catholic Worker movement. . . .
[Harrington] was. . . a valued participant in the Kennedy wing of the Democratic party—an influence on John Kennedy himself, if only indirectly. . . . And Harrington was, all the while, a reliable friend of Jewish causes, and a proper comrade of his Israeli counterparts. He was a friend of Jewish causes for all the obvious and normal reasons, but also because he stood for the historic socialist idea, which in [his mind] was distinctly hostile to anti-Semitism and sympathetic to the Zionist cause. . . .
Only, Harrington died in 1989, and Irving Howe in 1993, and DSA has been adrift ever since—capable lately of attracting young people out of a nostalgia for the class struggles of yore but no longer capable of generating a major leader. And now at last the organization has descended into anti-Zionism. Today the members of DSA chant about “from the river to the sea,” which is a rousing chant because it is a murderous chant, directed at any unhappy and terrified Jews who remain within those borders. A more pitiful development is hard to imagine. . . .
Earnestly I hope that, in 2020, DSA will run its own candidate for president, who will be this or that hero of the anti-Zionist cause, Linda Sarsour perhaps, or Cornel West, or Pat Buchanan, or Louis Farrakhan, or Angela Davis, or some guy with a sign board. [And] I hope that, in this fashion, DSA and its disgraced and chanting militants will float away ever more swiftly on the sea-waves of political failure—a not-unrealistic hope on my part.