Daniel Biss’s Balance Between Progressive Politics and Loyalty to His People

Just a week ago, I attended Daniel Biss’s announcement of his running mate, Carlos Ramirez Rosa. It was exciting, actually. Rosa is a powerful, passionate speaker. I thought he balanced Biss’s thoughtful, soft-spoken approach rather nicely.

But on September 6, Biss announced that Rosa was no longer on the ticket. The reason? Rosa supports the boycott, disinvestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign.  Biss said that Rosa had changed his position and moved in the direction of support for BDS. Rosa says that his position has been consistent for several years.

Biss explained that because he is a grandchild of Holocaust survivors and the son of an Israeli mother, “the safety and security of the Jewish people is deeply personal to [him].”  He cannot act counter to those values.

What is BDS?

BDS is a movement to encourage governments, financial institutions, businesses, and consumers to boycott Israeli products, divest themselves of financial interests in Israel or Israeli companies, and sanction Israel to pressure it to change its treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories and in Israel. It began in 2005 and has been gathering support recently. The organizers modeled it on a similar movement to isolate South Africa while it maintained apartheid.

Pushback from Democrats

After Biss announced that Rosa was his running mate, Brad Schneider, who represents Illinois’ 10th Congressional district, withdrew his endorsement of Biss. Politico reported that a Republican vying for Schneider’s seat had criticized Schneider’s support for Biss because of Biss’s selection of Rosa as his running mate.

What Was the Disagreement About?

Rosa and Biss weren’t really that far apart on Middle East issues. Both support the continued existence of Israel and an independent Palestinian state. Both believe that at least some of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is unjust, and the injustice must be rectified. Rosa agrees that BDS is not an appropriate subject for state or local government regulation, but he thinks it is appropriate on the federal level, where Biss does not.

I imagine that Biss was getting a lot of heat from supporters and Democrats who aren’t as far to the left as Rosa. And  if he is pressured to view Rosa’s position as an attack on Israel or the Jewish people, it’s only natural that he would move to protect them. How could he not?

We Shouldn’t Have Had to Choose

Daniel Biss shouldn’t have had to choose between the progressive ideals he holds and support for his—actually, our—people.  State government has no responsibility for foreign policy. Why should the issue of the relationship between the U.S. and Israel interfere with our gubernatorial election?

Having said that, we cannot blindly support everything Israel does, no matter how unjust. It’s difficult and painful to confront the possibility that Israel acts unjustly. When Israel commits injustice, we need to oppose it just as we would here in the U.S., because as Jews,  we’re taught to pursue justice.



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