Prominent Democrats are launching a centrist pro-Israel group to counter a drift away from Israel on the party’s left that could lead to an embrace of BDS, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
The Democratic Majority for Israel, according to a story appearing Monday evening on The New York Times website, will be led by Mark Mellman, a longtime Democratic Party pollster who has been active in the pro-Israel community.
“Most Democrats are strongly pro-Israel and we want to keep it that way,” Mellman told the Times. “There are a few discordant voices, but we want to make sure that what’s a very small problem doesn’t metastasize into a bigger problem.”
A centrist pro-Israel group, the Jewish Democratic Council of America, already exists and fundraised for Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections. Additionally, more than half the Democratic caucus in the House and Senate has accepted the endorsement of J Street, a group that defends Israel’s existence but encourages robust criticism of its settlement policies.
Polls have shown declining support for Israel among younger Democrats. This year for the first time, two freshmen Democrats, Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., have embraced the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel. Leading Democrats, including Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have more robustly criticized Israel, particularly its treatment of the Gaza Strip. Omar admitted her support for BDS after the election.
Joining Mellman in the leadership of will be Jennifer Granholm, the popular former governor of Michigan; Henry Cisneros, a Housing secretary under President Bill Clinton; Ann Lewis, chief of communications under Clinton and a longtime leading supporter of Hillary Clinton; and Todd Richman, a J.P. Morgan executive who is also a major donor to the party. Mellman, Granholm and Lewis are regulars at American Israel Public Affairs Committee events, and Richman is a former AIPAC staffer who in 2016 lashed out at fellow Democrats for criticizing the lobby for hosting then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. Mellman told the Times that the group is independent of AIPAC.
The group plans to launch a political action committee to protect friendly Democrats from primary challenges; Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., a moderate who is the fourth-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives and who according to reports progressives plan to challenge, said he welcomed the new group.
“I look forward to working with the Democratic Majority for Israel as it advances the unbreakable US-Israel bond into the future,” Jeffries told The Times.
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