Cease Fire!

On the last day of his grueling Congressional campaign, impassioned, his voice raising, his arms flailing, a chief supporter dancing around him, the candidate’s final plea was not to claim victory, to denounce his opponent, to advance an agenda, to call for a march but to say over and over “Cease fire!”

Cease fire? Surely in the annals of political combat Jamaal Bowman had issued one of the most subdued rallying cries to supporters, merely a pause in the furious Israeli attack on beleaguered Gaza. But it was in keeping with his campaign.  Given conditions and the forces arrayed against him, that was all he could ask for. Even so, he lost the Democratic primary election and his seat in the U. S. Congress.

His delivery had been more strident than his message. Dogged and determined, he never stood a chance and in frustration occasionally resorted to name calling and obscenities. He was also faulted for not reaching out to the sizable Jewish community in his Congressional district in which there were sure to be some division on Gaza. The Jewish voter cannot be stereotyped. He had no stronger supporter than U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who might complain that a backroom deal thwarted his own aspiration for the U.S. Presidency. “Israel had the right to defend itself against the terrorist attack,” he said. “But it does not have the right to go to war against the entire Palestinian people.”

In response Marshall Whittman replied with some satisfaction:” The outcome of the race once again shows that the pro-Israel position is good policy and good politics.” He’s the spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and its candidate, centrist George Latimer, handily won. The main reason, as in most political contests in the U.S. today, Is money. AIPAC has lots of it and spent 14 million on Latimer with other Jewish groups adding another four million, making it one of the most expensive primary elections in U.S. history. Bowman had a mere1.75 million. 

Flushed with success, AIPAC says it will unseat other office holders too supportive of Palestinians. That pledge must be taken seriously since political candidates are currently allowed to spend as much money as they please or their donors will give them, suggesting that today’s American democracy is not quite what it purports to be. Money rules. In the Bowman case Israeli power overcame the Black Power that had raised Borman to political prominence. Bowman is black, Latimer white, but race didn’t figure prominently in the campaign where the chief issue was Israel.

A bone of contention was Israeli Prime Minister Banjamin Netanyahu, who is responsible for Israeli policy toward Gaza.  He has been invited to address both houses of the U.S. Congress later in July where he is expected to be enthusiastically received. That’s a terrible mistake, says a group of American and Israeli leaders, including former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. They write in the New York Times that Netanyahu doesn’t speak for Israel or its citizens. He has no plan to end the war and avoids negotiations. His appearance at the U.S. Capitol will only embolden him and his supporters.

In the background to the Bowman campaign was an outbreak of vigorous pro-Palestinian demonstrations. Turning violent at times, it seemed to many a revival of antisemitism maybe embedded in the American character. But first things first. What enraged Americans were the photos of dead and dying Palestinians, many of them children, under Israel’s incessant, indiscriminate bombing. If that stopped, so no doubt would most manifestations of antisemitism.

Bowman’s defeat is also considered a setback for the so-called Squad. a group to the far left of the Democratic Party and considered a nuisance by centrists. But why should an aversion to war be considered far left or far right for that matter? The centrists seem to be too content with the warring status quo from which many profit. They seem all too complacent about conflicts in the Middle East so destructive of its people. That’s why we need, whatever his faults, a Bowman.

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