NEW YORK - The New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, or DSA, has had great success in recent elections including in the June primary where at least five of its endorsed candidates won their races in the State Senate and Assembly.
As candidates for next year’s City Council races start revving up their campaigns, many are seeking the DSA’s endorsement.
The organization sent out a survey those candidates are expected to fill out, but it’s one of the final questions in that survey - which was was exclusively obtained by NY1 - that has caused controversy.
It asks: “Do you pledge not to travel to Israel if elected to City Council in solidarity with Palestinians living under occupation? Even though foreign policy falls outside the purview of municipal government, gestures like travel to a country by elected officials from a city the size and prominence of New York still send a powerful message, as would the refusal to participate in them."
When the question was revealed publicly, the backlash was immediate, including from many in New York's Jewish community. They say singling out Israel is discriminatory.
“Israel is the only Jewish state," said State Senator Anna Kaplan, who fled from Iran and is a political refugee. "And the exclusion of every other country with this questionnaire, just targeting Israel, is a very anti-Semitic position.”
DSA members argue Israel is unique when compared to other countries.
“The reason that Israel is on the questionnaire is not because we are singling it out, it’s because the US government is actually signaling out Israel," said Sumaya Awad, a DSA member. "The state of Israel receives more US military aid than any other country does.”
According to the DSA, council members and members of the Senate and Assembly often take trips to Israel that are funded by pro-Israel organizations.
"In New York City there is a unique system in which City Council members are taken on Israel lobby-funded trips, propaganda trips to be specific, to Israel," said Awad. "And what we are pushing for is elected officials not to take trips that whitewash Israel’s occupation and cover the reality of Israel’s apartheid.”
But city council members say delegation trips are not unusual.
They travel to many countries besides Israel, including China, which has come under fire for human rights abuses.
“This is contrary to the goal of reconciliation, of mutual understanding, and of promoting connections between peoples," said Mark Levine, a City Council member from Manhattan. "We need more exchange of ideas. More exchange of culture and learning amongst elected leaders and regular people. And to ban travel is contrary to that goal of openness. So this is really indefensible in many levels.”
Some local leaders are demanding a retraction of the controversial questionnaire, and an apology from DSA. They say if the organization refuses, candidates should shun their endorsement in the future.