State Democrats roiled by resolution opposing Israeli settlements

Har Homa neighborhood in east Jerusalem.
Har Homa neighborhood in east Jerusalem.Dan Balilty/Associated Press

State Democratic Party heavyweights are sounding a red alert against a provocative proposal for their state committee to declare opposition to Israeli settlements in the West Bank without specifically mentioning Palestinian violence, a step some top leaders fear would lead to an exodus of Democratic voters.

If approved, a resolution offered by Carol Coakley of Millis, an 18-year member of the Democratic State Committee, would put the state party on record “that Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank are obstacles to peace.”

It would call on the state’s 11-member congressional delegation — all Democrats — “to clearly express their opposition to Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, in pursuit of a negotiated peace.”


But former state treasurer Steve Grossman and other Democratic leaders are sounding the alarm, and hoping to derail it before the effort could go before the full Democratic State Committee next week.

Grossman, the former chairman of both the state and national Democratic parties, as well the one-time head of the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said the resolution, if successful, could gravely damage Democrats politically.

He said it feeds a “one-sided blame game,” which is playing out across college campuses and in pockets of the “progressive wing of the Democratic Party,” and would send a disturbing message to many Democratic activists.

“A lot of people would read about it and would read the language and say: ‘Frankly, that’s the last straw. This is not a place I feel comfortable any longer,’ ” Grossman said.

“Many would see it as an attempt to drive a rhetorical stake through Israel’s heart and lay the blame — not part of the blame, but virtually the exclusive blame — for the failure of the peace process at Israel’s door, to the exclusion of any responsibility by Palestinians,” he said.


Coakley, in an interview with the Globe, said she was inspired to propose the resolution in part by the anti-Islamic sentiment stirred up by the 2016 presidential election.

Her resolution quotes from the State Department under former president Barack Obama, which at one point last year described settlement activity as “corrosive to the cause of peace.”

“There’s a much better chance to get to some negotiations if they stop building settlements,” Coakley said.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank have grown under every Israeli government over the past 50 years, despite international opposition, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently announced construction of 5,500 new houses.

In February President Trump told an Israeli newspaper that settlements “don’t help the process” and that he didn’t believe “going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace.”

Coakley acknowledged there has been “a fair amount” of pushback from Democrats who think the resolution would alienate supporters.

Coakley proposed the resolution last August; party leaders sent the resolution to a new subcommittee of about a dozen members to study it.

The subcommittee held a hearing on the resolution Wednesday night in Boston. Several members of the public testified in favor of Coakley’s resolution; fewer testified against it, according to a person who was in the room.

The subcommittee members will vote on the resolution over the weekend, according to its leaders, Alex Pratt and Marianne Rutter.

The subcommittee has several options. It can refer the document to the full state committee for a vote on April 29. It can table the resolution. It could amend it. Or members can farm it out to another subcommittee for more review.


Cole Harrison, the executive director of Massachusetts Peace Action and a Democratic activist, testified Wednesday in favor of Coakley’s resolution, which he said has been repeatedly delayed by the party.

Grossman’s warnings, he said, are “just scare tactics.”

“This resolution targets a hypocrisy in the position of the national Democratic Party — let’s call it the Hillary-wing of the party — which says it supports a two-state solution, but gives huge aid and backing to Israel and very little to Palestinians,” Harrison said.

He denied the resolution is one-sided and pointed to language saying Massachusetts Democrats deplore all acts of violence against civilians “including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement, and destruction; and we concede that these too are obstacles to peace committed by both sides.”

Besides Grossman, other Democrats are also weighing in against the resolution.

James Segel, a former state representative and aide to Barney Frank, said in a letter that the “very partisan and divisive resolution” blames one party for the deadlock in the peace process, “while ignoring the many contributions of the other to the conflict.”

He submitted different wording that he said is more aligned with the national party’s platform. The Democratic National Committee platform calls for “a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiated directly by the parties.”

“The Democratic State Committee cannot afford such a divisive and ill-advised resolution at a time when our party needs to unite to protect the values and commitments we hold dear,” Segel wrote.


“If adopted it is almost certain to spark a bitter, very public and entirely unnecessary debate that would seriously undermine party unity and alienate many of our core supporters,’’ he said.

Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim submitted written testimony, calling Coakley’s effort “unnecessarily divisive” and pushing for Segel’s wording, which Zakim called “a more balanced approach.”

But Richard Colbath-Hess, a leader of the Cambridge-based Palestine Advocacy Project said his group backs the Coakley resolution.

“Settlements are illegal under international law,” he said. “We’re glad the Democratic Party is trying to step up to this. We don’t want people in the Democratic Party to be apologists for the State of Israel’s human rights abuses.”

Coakley, the resolution’s author, disagrees that it would drive away supporters.

“I think there will be some people upset, but I think it’s pretty obvious [settlements] are an obstacle to peace,” Coakley said.

“It’s pretty obvious nobody in this country would put up with those living conditions,’’ she said. “I don’t find many opponents of the resolution among people who are active on [the issue] because they just think [settlement policy] is an embarrassment.”

Gus Bickford, the chairman of the state Democratic Party, did not respond to repeated requests for comment Thursday.

Arsenault can be reached at mark.arsenault@globe.com. Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com.