Palestine-Israel in 2018 Massachusetts Elections

Michael Capuano and Ayanna Pressley Michael Capuano and Ayanna Pressley

Don’t Forget to Vote on September 4!

It’s rare that voters have the chance to weigh in directly on US policy toward Palestine-Israel.  Unlike in New YorkMichigan and Minnesota, Massachusetts does not have any candidates who openly champion Palestinian rights and advocate for a radical change in US policy. 

But that doesn’t mean our local elections don’t matter.  In several Massachusetts races Palestine-Israel are at least among the issues dividing candidates.

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Perhaps the highest-profile Massachusetts contest is in the 7th Congressional District, where incumbent Mike Capuano is facing an allegedly “progressive” challenge from Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley. Capuano has not been an outstanding advocate on Palestine-Israel issues, though he has joined other Democratic House members in protesting against Israeli settlement activity and he opposes the anti-free-speech “Israel Anti-Boycott Act.”  But Capuano has been a consistent voice against US military adventures, particularly in the Middle East, and has routinely voted against bloated Pentagon budgets  — a stance which has earned him the endorsement of Massachusetts Peace Action.

Although some progressive organizations and activists have supported Pressley, her vague boiler-plate positions on war and peace issues are not encouraging.  Moreover, her campaign’s apparent  close ties with pro-Israel organizations and activists, as set out in this Intercept article, are extremely troubling:

Pressley declined to take a position on an AIPAC-backed piece of legislation that would impose criminal and civil penalties on some of those involved in BDS activism. The candidate explained that she intends to support “courageous individuals and organizations, among both Israelis and Palestinians, committed to bringing peaceful coexistence to the region.” Capuano took a stand against the anti-BDS bill, explaining that although he is not personally in support of using BDS tactics to pressure Israel, he opposes the anti-BDS bill on “First Amendment grounds” and believes “others should be free to advocate” for the movement.

Pressley is being advised by Alex Goldstein, a former aide to then-Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Goldstein has described himself as a “Jewish Zionist who works every day to fight BDS” and sits on the board of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Boston, which has unsuccessfully argued in favor of passing anti-BDS legislation in Massachusetts.

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Outwardly, the Massachusetts Secretary of State contest has little to do with Israel or Palestine.  The office regulates the election process and oversees state ethics provisions on lobbying.  The incumbent William Galvin is a relatively colorless mainstream Massachusetts pol facing another supposedly progressive challenger, Boston City councilor Josh Zakim. But again, first glances can be deceiving.  Zakim has been an active pro-Israel activist who opposed grassroots Democratic Party efforts for a more balanced stance on Israel-Palestine and has himself led an ethically questionable lobbyist-paidIsrael trip in 2014. (Zakim is also a supporter of charter school expansion). 

If Galvin fails to inspire great enthusiasm among progressives, it remains the case that his opponent has really frightening ties with pro-Israel activism.  See this article: Josh Zakim: Some Things Progressives Should Know

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Incumbent Reps. Richard Neal (CD1) and Bill Keating (CD9), who are consistently the worst in our delegation regarding Palestine-Israel issues (followed closely by CD4 Rep. Joe Kennedy), both have challengers endorsed by Massachusetts Peace Action

Neal’s opponent, an African-American Muslim lawyer from Chicopee Tahira Amatul-Wadud, has been an outspoken supporter civil and immigrant rights, criminal justice reform and combatting Islamophobia.  She has highlighted Neal’s support for bloated Pentagon/war spending and has been endorsed by a number of progressive organizations. Neal is one of two Mass reps — along with Kennedy — co-sponsoring the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, an AIPAC priority.

Keating also has a progressive opponent in CD9, Bill Cimbrelo, endorsed by Massachusetts Peace Action.  In the open CD3 seat, MAPA endorsed Barbara L’Italien, though noting that there are two other long-shot progressive candidates, Jeff Ballinger and Alexandra Chandler, have expressed good positions on foreign policy. MAPA also supports incumbent Reps Katherine Clark (CD5) and Jim McGovern (CD2).

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If clear-cut policy issues on Palestine-Israel rarely feature in major electoral contests, this could be argued even more emphatically for local candidates.  But, as we learned in the hard-fought victory against a proposed Massachusetts anti-BDS bill, even the State House can become an arena for activism on Israel-Palestine.  Just this month the latest Massachusetts Economic Development Billincluded a $250-000 line item to fund an Israel lobby organization, the so-called New England-Israel Business Council.  The NEIBC, which has issued highly exaggerated and misleading reports on the alleged importance of Israel to the Massachusetts economy, is funded by the Israeli government – and now also the Massachusetts taxpayer, thanks to the efforts of the JCRC and its reliable allies at the State House  (More on this in a future NEW DAY bulletin.)

Even if they do not focus much on international issues, progressive legislators are much less likely to follow the policy priorities of the Israel Lobby.  MAPA has endorsed these local candidates, as well as progressives for statewide office.

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In our mostly reliably Democratic state, the September 4 primary election will effectively pick the winner in many contests.  Palestine is not overtly on the ballot, but the election results could help either to cement the hold of the Israel Lobby on out political process – or open the door to real change.  The primary voting is just two weeks from today!