Joshua Teitelbaum
Historian of the modern Middle East, activist, Jew, Israeli, American

With Harris for VP, the Dems remain true to their roots — for now

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Congratulations to Kamala Harris, the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party for Vice President of the United States. The choice of Senator Harris, a liberal, mainstream and uniting candidate, should give those of us who cherish liberal values a respite, at least through the first term of a – hopefully – Biden-Harris administration.

Full disclosure: I’m a Jew from the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m 62, so my American cultural and political world view was informed by the sixties and seventies — MLK, Selma, Watts, Vietnam, Nixon (“tin soldiers and Nixon coming“), Kent State (“four dead in Ohio“). My American political home is the Democratic Party. My Jewish cultural and political world view was formed by the life of our synagogue, the fight for the liberation of Soviet Jewry, the victory of the Six-Day War, a united Jerusalem, and Israel, Israel, Israel. I love Israel and have made my home here. Naturally, just as I do not like everything about the United States, I do not like everything about Israel. But, you know, it’s still the homeland.

This puts me in the age cohort of those who have also seen the rise and fall of totalitarian communism and fascism, and the results of the Holocaust, which makes us really suspect of voices who would speak in the name of the masses or shut down competing voices. I have found that my younger, woke friends, who were not witness to these developments, often don’t appreciate their danger.

It is no secret that the trajectory of the Democratic Party is leftwards.  The self-described “woke,” anti-Israel progressive wing has seen some significant gains over the past few years. Witness the recent primary victories of anti-Israel candidates Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, and the defeat of pro-Israel stalwart Congressman Eliot Engel by the anti-Israel Jamaal Bowman. The Democratic Party Platform has grown increasingly anti-Israel over the past several years.

The so-called progressive wing of the Democratic Party prefers groupthink, lock-step policies and identity politics that leave little room for nuance or a plurality of opinions within shared, liberal values. This trend has led to what has sometimes been called cancel culture (whose first victim a generation ago was probably author Salman Rushdie), a form of online shaming, where a challenge to the woke is shut down with derisive, ad hominem attacks – without discussion of the issue, in a kind of social media plague of COVID-19 proportions. (I can hear my woke friends saying, “this is just giving voice to us who used to be the cancelled ones.” They may be partially right.)

Senator Harris has embraced her rainbow of identities in all their wonderful complexity. Although she is black-passing, she embraces her Tamil and African-Jamaican roots. In Congress, she is a member of both the Black Caucus and the Asian Pacific American Caucus, as well as the Women’s Caucus. And she is married to a Jew, attorney Douglas Emhoff (check out this hilarious impression of her mother-in-law, Barbara). Harris has chosen  the complexity of identity over the wokeness of identity politics. In doing so, she represents much of what is good about America.

Like America, Israel is also weathering a period of democratic instability. We’ve recently had three elections in a very short period. Our Prime Minister has been indicted for several criminal offenses. We have no term limits, and he is a master manipulator who has managed to hold on for way too long. While the US is under no obligation to support all of Israeli policies, some of which, like annexation, are even self-defeating, Israel does need assurances that the US stands by the true security needs of the Jewish state. And it will continue further cooperation with the US, in so many spheres, to the mutual benefit of both countries. It is here that President Biden and Vice-President Harris can be trusted to hold the line against the growing woke, whose slogan, “from Ferguson to Palestine,” is a perversion of the just cause of #blm.

So good luck, Joe and Kamala. May you crush our embarrassment of a President and restore dignity to an office we all yearn to respect once again. I know it will not easy to balance your compassionate, liberal values against the power of identity politics, the Bernie Bros, “The Squad,” and the rank and file woke of the Democratic Party. I won’t say I’m not worried about the trajectory of the party, but I trust your good hearts and instinct.

As for now — just Beat Trump!

About the Author
Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum teaches modern Middle Eastern History at Bar-Ilan University. He has held several visiting positions at Stanford University, including this past year as Visiting Scholar at the Center for International and Strategic Cooperation. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, he moved to Israel in 1981.
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