After fierce backlash from state party leaders, Massachusetts Democrats are moving to formally kill a provocative proposal for the state committee to declare opposition to Israeli settlements in the West Bank without specifically mentioning Palestinian violence.
A party subcommittee voted over the weekend to recommend that the full Democratic State Committee table the resolution at a meeting on April 29.
The resolution, which was 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 calls 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.”
Top leaders, including former state and national party chairman Steve Grossman, said the resolution was starkly unbalanced and could lead to an exodus from the party.
And a powerful local Jewish group, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, said “by offering a one-dimensional response to a multidimensional problem, the resolution is a failed opportunity to offer constructive guidance on how to achieve peace.”
But after the news of the subcommittee’s vote was released Monday, the blowback is now coming from advocates who have tried to move the resolution forward for months and feel unfairly thwarted.
Cole Harrison, executive director of Massachusetts Peace Action and a Democratic activist, said he thinks it’s “unfortunate the committee would want to avoid a vote on this important question, especially after they’ve postponed it several times before.”
Harrison said it shows the state committee is ducking its responsibilities and expressed hope it will reconsider and take a vote on the Coakley measure Saturday.
“Why bother with the Democratic Party if it’s not going to take up hard issues?” he asked acidly in an interview.
Others echoed his view.
“It makes us sad and frustrated that there are forces in the Democratic Party that want to kill this amendment,” said Richard Colbath-Hess, a leader of the Cambridge-based Palestine Advocacy Project. “This amendment is not a radical departure from what the last five presidents of the United States have supported — ending settlement construction.”
Coakley, for her part, had a shorter take: “Too bad.”
Yet Coakley, who works part-time for Massachusetts Peace Action , expressed hope that her resolution might live to see another day.
Grossman, for his part, said he is pleased with the subcommittee’s move.
“I believe the subcommittee acted wisely because they saw the resolution as deeply divisive,” Grossman said Monday. “The Democratic Party and its activists need to be unified to fight the Trump agenda that threatens our progressive tradition.”
Also happy with the subcommittee’s move was James Segel, a former state representative and aide to Barney Frank, who had offered alternative language to the resolution he felt was more balanced.
“This is an issue that has eluded world leaders for 50 years, so for the Democratic State Committee to get involved in it takes a lot of hubris in the first place,” Segel said Monday. “But if they do, people should study it and have been there.”
He said for the state committee “to stay out of it is smart.”
The subcommittee recommended that the full state committee take actions on four resolutions, approving two and tabling two, including the Israel one.
The full state committee will take an up-or-down vote on that recommendation, but won’t be able to pull out individual resolutions — the one on Israel, for instance — for debate and a vote, according to state party chairman Gus Bickford.
He said he will encourage the committee to accept the subcommittee’s recommendation. If it does, Bickford said, in effect that means the Coakley resolution “will not be accepted and the state committee has said we’re not going to support it.”
In a brief interview, Bickford expressed eagerness for the party to engage on other issues, saying he “absolutely” thinks state Democrats should be focused on matters closer to home than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We’ve had interference in our past election by the Russians, we’ve got a president who lies every day, and we’ve got a governor who doesn’t seem to be standing up to a right-wing agenda,” he told the Globe.
The proposed resolution is primarily about Israeli settlements. But the debate about it comes as the so-called boycott, divestment, and sanctions, or BDS, movement against Israel has gained ground on college campuses and in certain parts of the Democratic Party.
Proponents of that movement say they hope BDS, inspired by the historical effort to pressure the South African government to end apartheid, will push Israel to obey international law and yield control of occupied territory.
Opponents say BDS is an effort to undermine Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state, and that it unfairly places responsibility solely on Israel for a complex conflict.