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Heroes of Progressivism: Entry #2

Congressman Jamaal Bowman: The impassioned advocate for cease-fires and peace.

Jamaal Bowman lets his emotions dictate his foreign policy decisions. It is apparent when he addresses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Shortly after the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7, Bowman repeatedly called for a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. He fails to think through the consequences of his words. An immediate cessation of violence would only exacerbate conflict and confound relations with a critical ally.

The Representative of New York’s 16th District has been outspoken about ending the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians since arriving on the Hill in January 2021. Bowman has publicly demanded an immediate end to violence between Israelis and Palestinians on several occasions. As he sees it, a cessation of violence enables peace through the achievement of justice.

While on the House floor in May 2021, the representative addressed the need for a cease-fire amid an escalation of violence between Israel and Gaza. He stated: “I rise today to voice my strong support for a swift cease-fire…This is the worst escalation of violence in the region in years.” His words led to the introduction of House Resolution 429 calling for an immediate cease-fire and diplomatic efforts. Bowman cited the “palpable” fears of constituent parents about violence towards children for justifying the urgency of his demand.

Regarding the violence beginning on October 7, Bowman claimed: “We need a way to end this deadly violence that is killing and traumatizing generations of Israelis and Palestinians alike—including the blockade of Gaza…..We must work harder to ensure peace in the region.” The representative from New York acted on his words by signing Representative Corrie Busch’s cease-fire resolution. One month later he noted, “I remain hopeful. And I’m also very disappointed because America has to become the moral leader that we claim to be…and we’re not being that (moral leader) right now.”

The representative’s calls for an immediate cease-fire are misguided and naïve.

As his previous declarations for a cease-fire in 2021 demonstrated, cease-fires do not stop violence. They only delay it. Israel may cease fire, but it is Hamas who decides when to fire next. Take, for example, the eventual cease-fire from two weeks of violence in May 2021. It saved Hamas and other Palestinian militants from destruction and allowed them to fight another day, October 7. As a result, another immediate cease-fire would produce the same outcome—benefits to Hamas and its allies like Islamic Jihad. An immediate cease-fire also reinforces Hamas thinking. Hamas can escalate violence with the belief that it will ultimately be protected by demands for a cease-fire. Hamas makes no concessions when agreeing to a cease-fire.

Furthermore, a cease-fire would accomplish nothing long term unless accompanied by a sincere desire to reach a negotiated settlement by the involved parties. Just because Jamaal Bowman wants a settlement and justice does not mean either will transpire. The desire for a settlement must come from the involved parties — Israel and Hamas. Statements regularly indicate that there is no appetite for negotiations or peace. Hamas has repeatedly declared that it will not compromise on Palestine. The revisions to its charter did not endorse the existence of an Israeli state. Hamas remains convinced that the only solution to the conflict is the elimination of the Israeli state despite the deaths of thousands of Palestinian civilians and driving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into further squalor.

Does Congressman Bowman believe one can just make enemies stop fighting, sit down, and talk? And that if you keep them locked in a room together, a settlement will magically appear? It is not clear how Bowman will realize his calls for justice and peace.

The behavior and rhetoric of the Representative from New York also ignores U.S.-Israeli relations. And Bowman’s desires (if carried out) would complicate that relationship and ultimately endanger U.S. security and interests. The Israelis have paid dearly from previous cease-fires (which were not immediate) because they were attacked once again in proceeding months and years. What are Israelis to think if their supposed ally, the United States, immediately calls upon them to put down their arms after being attacked? Bowman’s desires sow distrust with an ally whose assistance is critical to counterterrorism operations, preventing Iranian nuclear ambitions, and containing Iranian regional activities.

Jamaal Bowman suffers from an affliction common among progressives. Instead of remaining calm, cool, and collected while discerning foreign policy decisions, they act on impulse. The inability to control their feelings blinds them—producing subpar, if not dangerous, reckless policy decisions. The initial signers of Corrie Busch’s cease-fire resolution (H. Res. 786) are self-proclaimed progressives. In 2021, Bernie Sanders, the progressive Senator from Vermont, also introduced a joint resolution (S. J. Res. 19) to block arm sales to Israel in an attempt to leverage an end to violence.

As demonstrated, an immediate cease-fire in the context of Israel and Hamas would have considerable fallout.

Emotions also dictate the responses of progressive politicians regarding other foreign policy matters. Here too feelings obfuscate the consequences.

One example is the progressive perspective on U.S.- Saudi relations. Bernie Sanders and others have worked tirelessly to terminate U.S. support of Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen. Sanders calls the Kingdom a “despotic dictatorship.” Representative Ilhan Omar considers U.S. relations with the Kingdom as a “test of our humanity.” Their disdain for the Kingdom blinds them to the fallout from their proposed bill. Terminating U.S. support of Saudi Arabia in Yemen heightens chances of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.

Representative Bowman’s impassioned declarations for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza are myopic. He fails to recognize the repercussions of his words. His failure to think through consequences demonstrates a policy driven by emotion and not by prudence. Representative Bowman’s emotive policy recommendation does more harm than good for the United States and its ally, making him a hero of progressivism.

About the Author
Eric Bordenkircher is a Research Fellow at UCLA's Center for Middle East Development (CMED). He is a former Visiting Assistant Professor at Claremont McKenna College and Pepperdine University. His writing has appeared in Newsweek, National Review, The American Mind, The American Spectator, The National Interest, Middle East Policy, The San Diego Union Tribune, The American Conservative, The Jerusalem Post, The Washington Examiner, Review of Middle East Studies, Middle East Quarterly, 1945, and the Fikra Forum. The views represented in this blog are his own and do not necessarily represent the position of UCLA or the Center for Middle East Development.
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