Some prominent Democrats have launched yet another Israel advocacy organization. The new “Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI)” intends to counter growing support among Democrats for Palestinian rights – only 19 percent of progressive Democrats now support Israel over Palestinians.
By Alison Weir
Some Democratic heavy hitters have formed a new pro-Israel organization focused on progressive Democrats. The new group, “Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI),” is the latest in a long line of groups working for Israel in the United States.
New York Jewish Week reports that the group was formed “to counter the drift — if not dive — away from support for Israel within the party.” Israel partisans are concerned at the growing support among Democrats for Palestinian human rights, as awareness of the situation has grown in recent years.
Numerous humanitarian agencies have documented Israeli human rights violations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Christian Aid, the International Red Cross, and others.
In addition, videos of Israeli settlers destroying Palestinian crops, Israeli soldiers beating people, including children, and killing unarmed protestors have become increasingly available on the Internet.
This has had a perception-shattering impact.
For many years surveys showed that more Americans sympathized with Israel than with Palestinians. But growing knowledge of the region among progressive Democrats has now reversed the numbers within that group. A 2018 Pew survey found that “nearly twice as many liberal Democrats say they sympathize more with the Palestinians than with Israel.”
In addition, the New York Times reports, Israel partisans were jolted by the election of Representatives Ilhan Omar (MN) and Rashida Tlaib (MI), who support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) who has called the occupation of Palestine a humanitarian crisis.
Working to reverse decreasing support for Israel
Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper reports that pro-Israel groups in the U.S. “have tried to reverse this trend in lots of ways: free junkets to Israel for everyone from feminists to firefighters, increased educational programming on college campuses, and new organizations like Zioness.”
The Democratic Majority for Israel, in the words of its president, wants to make sure that the pro-Palestinian-human-rights trend doesn’t “metastasize into a bigger problem [sic].” Its specific role will be to “work within the progressive movement to advance policies that ensure a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.”
DMFI includes a number of influential Democrats, including a former governor, a cabinet member, Congressional reps, TV commentators, and a J.P. Morgan executive and top Democratic Party fundraiser.
Its president, Democratic strategist and pollster Mark Mellman, has helped on the campaigns of 30 U.S. Senators, a dozen Governors, over three dozen Congress members, and numerous state and local officials.” He has been an analyst for CBS, PBS and the Wall Street Journal. He has also worked on political campaigns in Israel and other nations abroad.
According to Mellman, DMFI has “substantial” financial backing and plans to “be around for years.”
DMFI will lobby presidential candidates, form PAC to protect pro-Israel Democrats
According to the New York Times, DMFI is “planning an ‘early states project’ with the goal of organizing pro-Israel Democrats in the first nominating states to lobby the party’s presidential hopefuls.”
It also plans to launch a political action committee to protect friendly Democrats from challenges in the primaries.
One of the pro-Israel politicians to be protected is expected to be New York’s Hakeem Jeffries, fourth-ranking Democrat in the US House of Representatives. Jeffries’ has endorsed DMFI and is featured on the DMFI website. Democratic progressives are reportedly planning to challenge Jeffries in 2020.
Jeffries has been backed by the powerful pro-Israel political action committee Norpac and has taken strong positions promoting Israel. While Israel was perpetrating a 2014 attack on Gaza that killed and maimed thousands of civilians and children (video below), Jeffries participated in a pro-Israel demonstration at the UN headquarters in Manhattan.
Establishment Democrats endorse DMFI
The Jewish Democratic Council of America says it welcomes the group: “While our mission is distinct from DMFI’s, we welcome additional pro-Israel voices and look forward to working with DMFI to elect Democrats in 2020.”
A number of Congressional leaders have also endorsed it, including Democratic whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md), chairman of the House Middle East subcommittee Rep. Ted Deutch (Fla.), and the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee Sen. Robert Menendez (NJ).
Arizona Senator Kirsten Sinema has also jumped aboard.
This is a sharp departure from Sinema’s past, when she was known for her anti-war activism, support for Palestinian human rights, and Green Party membership.
In the early 2000s, Ha’aretz reports, Sinema organized for Palestine solidarity groups, was a member of Women In Black, and led a group called “Local to Global Justice,” which was supportive of Palestinian rights. In 2007-08, the group signed onto petitions against U.S. aid to Israel and condemned Israeli “human rights violations against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and against civilians in Lebanon.”
This changed during her 2012 campaign for Congress. According to Ha’aretz:
“Sinema’s transformation from anti-war activist to centrist politician with national aspirations included a major shift regarding her positions on Israel. That change took place during her run for Congress in 2012 – specifically during the party primaries, when she vied for the Democratic nomination against two Jewish competitors.”
Once elected, Sinema’s record has been “pretty bulletproof on Israel,” says Jewish Democratic Council Executive Director Ron Klein. “Her position has been very clear: She is supportive of the agenda of pro-Israel Democrats.”
Journalist Philip Weiss, a Jewish supporter of Palestinian rights, attributes her shift to “money and the establishment.”
When Sinema decided to move up to the Senate in 2018, Ha’aretz reported: “With the race so tight, Arizona’s estimated 108,000 Jewish voters can have a decisive impact.” Sinema was endorsed by numerous pro-Israel PACs, received over $266,000 in campaign donations, and won the race. (Her Congressional record is here.)
Top Congressional leaders Schumer and Pelosi
Senate Minority leader Charles “Chuck” Schumer (who says God made him a “guardian of Israel“) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi do not seem to have made any public statements about DMFI. However, their photo is featured on the organization’s home page, suggesting that they endorse DMFI or, at minimum, are allies. Phone calls to Pelosi and Schumer inquiring about their connection to DMFI were not returned.
Recently Pelosi, addressing the annual conference of the Israeli-American Council, announced a list of pro-Israel lawmakers she planned to name to key committee positions. (One of the primary purposes of the Adelson-backed IAC is to be a pro-Israel pressure group.)
“We have people very well paced to share our values,” Pelosi assured the audience.
Pelosi said she would name Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) to chair the Appropriations Committee, Eliot Engel (D-NY) to chair the Foreign Affairs Committee Ted Deutch (D-Fla) to chair the Middle East subcommittee, Adam Schiff (D-Calif) to chair the Intelligence Committee, Alcee Hastings (D-Fla) to chair the human rights-monitoring Helsinki Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla) to a key Appropriations Committee position, and Lois Frankel (D-Fla) to a key Foreign Affairs Committee position.
Ha’aretz reports: “All have longstanding pro-Israel records and all but Hastings are Jewish.
“Pelosi, appearing together with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader in the Senate, were pushing back against the perception that Democrats have drifted away from Israel. Interviewing them was Haim Saban, the Israeli-American entertainment mogul who with casino magnate Sheldon Adelson are major backers of the IAC. Saban is also a major backer of Democratic politicians, and Adelson is seen as a Republican king-maker.”
Saban has been open about his focus, telling the New Yorker in 2010, “I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel.”
New York Jewish Week reports it’s “an open secret that the group was conceived and initiated by AIPAC,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
According to The Forward, 11 of its 15 board members have either worked or volunteered for AIPAC, donated to it, or spoken at its events.
A pro-Israel Democrat familiar with AIPAC told the Forward: “For years, even before this last election, AIPAC has been discussing credibility problems with progressives at the highest level. And they have been exploring the possibility of creating a Democratic group that would push AIPAC policy and fight the pro-Israel fight within the Democratic Party. That’s something they’ve been discussing for years.”
Ann Lewis, DMFI’s co-chair (and former White House Director of Communications under President Bill Clinton), said the organization was the result of 18 months of discussions about how to ensure continued support for Israel in the Democratic Party. “People who are active in AIPAC were sitting around some of those tables.”
DMFI targets Congress woman Betty McCollum
“The right-wing, extremist government of Benjamin Netanyahu and its apartheid-like policies are at the core of what is alienating Democrats and a growing number of Americans… there are now members of Congress who are not willing to ignore the Israeli government’s destructive actions because they are afraid of losing an election.”
McCollum has been in the sights of Israel partisans ever since she introduced a bill during the last session of Congress to prevent U.S. aid from subsidizing the abuse of Palestinian children.
In her statement introducing the legislation, McCollum wrote:
“An estimated 10,000 Palestinian children have been detained by Israeli security forces and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system since 2000. Independent monitors such as Human Rights Watch have documented that these children are subject to abuse and, in some cases, torture — specifically citing the use of chokeholds, beatings, and coercive interrogation on children between the ages of 11 and 15. In addition, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has found that Palestinian children are frequently held for extended periods without access to either their parents or attorneys.
“This legislation highlights Israel’s system of military detention of Palestinian children and ensures that no American assistance to Israel supports human rights violations. Peace can only be achieved by respecting human rights, especially the rights of children. Congress must not turn a blind eye the unjust and ongoing mistreatment of Palestinian children living under Israeli occupation.”
Human Rights Watch has documented Israeli military violence against Palestinian children, reporting: ” Israeli security forces have used unnecessary force to arrest or detain Palestinian children as young as 11. Security forces have choked children, thrown stun grenades at them, beaten them in custody, threatened and interrogated them without the presence of parents or lawyers, and failed to let their parents know their whereabouts.”
Israeli media and human rights organizations have also documented Israeli violence against Palestinian children.
For information on Israeli violence against Palestinian minors see the reports by B’Tselem and Defense for Children International – Palestine. For a list of children killed by Israeli forces see this timeline.
Thirty Congressional representatives signed onto McCollum’s bill as co-sponsors, but it was never voted on. If McCollum reintroduces the bill this year, DMFI’s action alert against McCollum may be a warning that it will mobilize against her re-election.
Movers and shakers behind DMFI
The DMFI board is composed of a number of Democratic movers and shakers.
President Mark Mellman’s clients have included Senators Harry Reid, Maria Cantwell and Brian Schatz; Governors Tony Evers, Jennifer Granholm, Jim Doyle and Christine Gregoire; and Members of Congress Jared Golden, Steny Hoyer, Annie Kuster, Ben McAdams and Seth Moulton.
Mellman has also worked for top level politicians in Israel, South Africa, Colombia and Albania. He was a consultant to CBS News for over 20 years, and was a presidential debate analyst for PBS and the Wall Street Journal.
DMFI Co-chair Ann Lewis served as the White House Director of Communications for President Bill Clinton, Senior Advisor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns, was Co-Chair of Jewish Women for Hillary, was the first female Political Director of the Democratic National Committee, was the Vice President for Public Policy of Planned Parenthood (1994-1995) and the Former Chief of Staff to Congresswoman Barbara Mikulski.
Richman’s DMFI bio reports:
“Todd Richman is a top Democratic fundraiser raising money for several Members of the House leadership and several US Senators including; Sherrod Brown, Amy Klobuchar, Joe Manchin, and Jeanne Shaheen.
“Richman served as a Democratic political consultant and worked for numerous elected officials, including: Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-NY), Congressman Steve Rothman (D-NJ), NY State Attorney General Robert Abrams (D-NY) and Congressman Stephen Solarz (D-NY).
“Richman has served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and was a John Kerry Trustee in his 2004 bid for the Presidency. He has also led and participated in several missions to Israel with elected officials.”
Other prominent DMFI board members are media commentator Paul Begala, former Clinton cabinet member Henry Cisneros, and two-time Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm.
Other board members are wealthy, well-connected Israel partisans from around the U.S. Many have lobbying and media connections. Below are their official bios.
DMFI’s board of directors
Promotional video for DMFI
Israel’s 2014 invasion of Gaza