The Left of the Left: A Twisted Worldview
Some of the clearest examples of the DSA’s hierarchy of priorities can be found though examining its foreign policy. Its platform calls for an end to “economic and financial sanctions [designed] to punish other countries,” specifically those levied against Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran. Elsewhere, it has even condemned sanctions targeting North Korea as “attacks” designed purely “to serve US imperialist interests” so that America can keep waging its “continuous war against the people of Korea.” That said, the DSA makes one singular exception to its otherwise strident opposition to international sanctions: Israel.
On few issues is the DSA more unequivocal than its hostility toward Israel, and the group’s rhetoric regarding the Jewish state can veer into the vitriolic and—in the context of terrorist attacks against civilians—morally depraved. Its platform talks of Israeli “apartheid, colonialism, and military occupation,” categorically opposes the normalization of relations between Israel and other countries, and twice endorses the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The DSA first voted to support the BDS movement in 2017 and established an official BDS and Palestine Solidarity Working Group two years later with the self-described purpose of exposing “Israeli apartheid” and “Zionism’s settler-colonialist and imperialist roots,” while advocating for “a free Palestine, from the river to the sea.” According to the American Jewish Committee, the phrase “from the river to the sea” is widely understood as a call to arms among Palestinian activists (including terrorist groups such as Hamas) “for Palestinian control over the entirety of Israel’s borders, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea,” implying “that the entire land of Israel should be freed from Jews.” The BDS Working Group has accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and other crimes against humanity and of pursuing “Jewish supremacy” through the “dispossession and elimination of the Palestinian people and their hyperexploitative system of apartheid.” Left-of-center groups like J Street are not spared from denouncements as “Zionist propaganda organizations.”
Even a modest deviation from the strict anti-Israel orthodoxy can carry serious repercussions for politicians who are DSA members. In 2021, U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) was nearly expelled from the DSA after he voted to help fund Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, visited the country, and met with its then-prime minister Naftali Bennett—whom the DSA has labeled “an unapologetic racist and war criminal.” Although the national committee ultimately decided against expulsion, it admonished Rep. Bowman for helping to “legitimize an apartheid state.”
The fallout from what became known as the “Bowman Affair” continued, however. In March 2022, persistent agitation over the decision not to expel him prompted the DSA’s national political committee to vote to dissolve the BDS Working Group, though that decision was quickly reversed after an uproar among membership. The BDS Working Group was ultimately and controversially absorbed into the DSA’s International Committee at the group’s 2023 national convention, though the implementing resolution passed with an amendment that declared Israel to be “a racist apartheid state” and committed the DSA to “Palestinian liberation and political and social equality between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.”
A watershed moment came in October 2023. Just hours after hordes of Hamas terrorists from Gaza infiltrated Israel and began indiscriminately murdering and kidnapping civilians (including women and children) in one of the worst attacks the country had ever experienced, the DSA put out a statement disapproving of the slaughter but also declaring its “steadfast . . . solidarity with Palestine” and placing blame for Hamas’s horrific brutality squarely on “Israel’s apartheid regime.” The DSA’s International Committee exclaimed “long live the resistance!” and urged DSA members to participate in Palestine solidarity demonstrations. While terrorists were still operating within Israeli territory, the DSA’s New York City chapter promoted a rally in Times Square “in solidarity with the Palestinian people and their right to resist 75 years of occupation and apartheid.” Massive public backlash caused the chapter to belatedly half-apologize for the “confusion” it had caused and “for not making our values explicit,” but it also doubled down on its criticism of Israel’s “apartheid” and “genocidal rhetoric” while making no specific mention of Hamas or terrorism. The national DSA was similarly defiant.
Inveterate hostility toward Israel—up to and including equivocation on terrorism—is a conspicuous feature of a broader subset of left-wing activism that emphasizes opposition to the international influence of the United States as a core component of its worldview. The “Anti-American Left” portrays virtually every action of the United States and its allies as harmful or deleterious to the well-being of the rest of the world, while simultaneously expressing varying levels of apologism or outright support for some of the most authoritarian and repressive regimes on the planet. From its self-described position at “the heart of a global capitalist empire that has wrought untold suffering on billions of people and the environment,” the DSA is one of the most notable groups on the Anti-American Left. Its platform speaks of supposed “atrocities that make up the legacy of US actions in service of capital” and highlights Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran for bravely “resisting US imperialism and exercising self-determination over their resources.”
The DSA’s attitude toward these three countries—whose people suffer under some of the most repressive governments on the planet—is illuminating. The group has declared its full solidarity with “an independent, socialist Cuba” and blames the United States, not the country’s own communist government, for being “the primary detriment to quality of life for Cubans, and the primary force of instability on the island.” The DSA even appeared to support the Cuban government’s crackdown on large anti-regime protests in the summer of 2021. That same year it dispatched an admiring delegation to meet with Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro, whose government has been accused of committing widespread crimes against humanity. Much as with Cuba, the DSA blames Venezuela’s profound socioeconomic problems on foreign “interference” from the United States, not on its own authoritarian socialist government.
In a similar vein, the DSA accuses the United States of having “held Iran in its sights since it broke free of despotic rule under the U.S.-backed Shah,” referring to the 1979 revolution in which the country’s autocratic monarch was replaced by an equally autocratic Supreme Leader. After the United States killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani—the infamous Quds Force commander and U.S.-designated terrorist who has been blamed for the deaths of hundreds of American and allied military personnel—in a targeted 2020 drone strike, the DSA condemned it as an “act of war against Iran” and an example of American “imperialism and militarism.” It was silent regarding Iranian militarism when the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down a civilian airliner just days later, killing scores of innocent people.
Silence is one approach the DSA takes in situations where an American adversary does something that is essentially indefensible, but another approach is to simply blame the United States anyway. When Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, the DSA released an official statement that duly condemned the invasion but blamed American and NATO “imperialist expansionism” for provoking it. Just prior to the invasion, it was attributing rising tensions in the region to “US brinkmanship” and “a sensationalist Western media blitz.” Faced with the reality of Russian aggression, the DSA has nevertheless continued to denounce both Western military aid to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia— the practical equivalent of advocating for a total Russian victory. All of this would appear to conflict with the DSA’s self-identification as an anti-imperialist organization, until one remembers that all mentions of “imperialism” in the DSA’s platform refer explicitly and exclusively to the United States.
Much of the DSA’s attitude toward Ukraine is also rooted in its deep loathing of NATO. It calls for the United States to immediately and unilaterally withdraw from the alliance, which it claims is not actually a defensive pact, but “a violent military structure” that exists “at the expense of member states’ sovereignty.” One certainly wonders how the DSA would characterize the “sovereignty” of Poland, Romania, Hungary, or the Baltic States during the Cold War or how it would explain recent alliance polling showing that public support for NATO membership hovers between 73 and 89 percent in those countries. Despite decades of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the DSA insists that NATO is merely an instrument of “US-led Western imperialist domination, fueling expansionism, militarization, and devastating interventions.”
On the whole, the DSA’s foreign policy can be reduced to a combination of blatant misrepresentations and a deeply twisted worldview. At the same time, it is not entirely difficult to understand. The DSA needs to scapegoat the capitalist United States in order to explain the tragedy of socialism in places like Cuba and Venezuela. It cannot portray American adversaries as militarily aggressive because that would countenance the need for American military power, which it sees as inextricably linked to the supposed evils of global capitalism. Israel’s close relations with the United States might explain some of why the DSA targets the Jewish state for such unique vilification, but the singular viciousness of the group’s rhetoric even in the context of horrific terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians makes it hard not to wonder if a certain measure of abject antisemitism may indeed be the true rot at the DSA’s core.
In the next installment, the DSA has helped drive the Democratic Party’s lurch to the left.