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.
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.”
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.
Jeffreis’ endorsement of the Democratic Majority for Israel
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.
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 (see her Congressional record here).
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.
Nancy Pelos looks on as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaks on Capitol Hill, May 19, 2009. Harry Hamburg | AP
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.”
As Ha’aretz reports, “Participants, true to the maxim that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, declined to discuss any financial pledges… it is clear that tens of millions of dollars were raised to combat campus campaigns to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel — or BDS, as the movement is known.”
As the 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, and 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.”
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 sites 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, beat 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.
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.
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.
A screenshot showing Mark Mellman’s Twitter banner
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
Paul Begala is a political commentator, a professor, and a veteran Democratic political strategist. After helping engineer Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, Begala served in the White House as Counselor to the President, one of President Clinton’s closest aides. He has consulted for political campaigns across the country and around the world, including advising politicians in Israel, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. In 2012 Begala served as senior adviser to the pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA Action, a role he reprised in the 2016 campaign on behalf of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Additionally, Begala is an affiliated professor of Public Policy at Georgetown University.
Former Democratic Nevada Congresswoman Shelley Berkley is the CEO and senior provost for Touro University’s Western Division and the administrative and academic head of its Nevada and northern California campuses. Prior to joining Touro, Berkley was a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Nevada’s 1st District from 1998 to 2013. During her time as a member of Congress, Berkley was known as one of the strongest and most outspoken supporters of Israel.
Cliff Chenfeld has been active supporter of Democratic candidates and is the co-founder and co-CEO of Razor & Tie, an American entertainment company, which includes the successful, multi-platinum Kidz Bop music series. Prior to founding Razor & Tie, Chenfeld practiced law at the New York-based law firm Sullivan & Cromwell. Chenfeld is active in political, philanthropic, and community affairs.
The Honorable Henry Cisneros is the former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton Administration and former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, where he was subsequently elected to four terms. Cisneros served as President and COO of Univision Communications from 1997-2000 and is an active advocate for the Latino community. Cisneros is the Co-founder and Chairman of Cityview and Chairman of the Executive Committee and Principal of Siebert, Cisneros, Shank & Co. LLC. He has served as president of the National League of Cities and is a former member of the advisory boards of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation.
Mark Gerstein is a Democratic activist and a corporate partner at Latham & Watkins LLP and the immediate past global chair of the firm’s mergers and acquisitions group. He is a member of the board of directors and former Chairman of Youth Guidance, an independent agency on-site in Chicago Public Schools that helps guide at-risk youth toward paths of success through nationally acclaimed programs, and a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council at the University of Michigan.
Archie Gottesman is a Democratic activist and the co-founder of JewBelong, a groundbreaking organization focused on rebranding Judaism. For almost thirty years, Archie was the Chief Branding Officer/Principal of Edison Properties and the voice behind Manhattan Mini Storage’s iconic billboards. Archie has sat on various boards including: Animal Haven Shelter, Foundation for Jewish Camp, Kent Place School, and Zioness.
Former Democratic Governor Jennifer M. Granholm served two terms as Governor of Michigan, leading a state with a $40 billion annual budget and over 55,000 employees. As governor, Granholm pioneered clean energy innovation, economic development, and led the state through the national crisis in the turn-around of the American automotive and manufacturing sectors. Prior to being elected Governor, she was Attorney General for the State of Michigan. Granholm is currently a Managing Partner of RIDGE-LANE LP, where she leads the firm’s Sustainability practice. She also teaches policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley and is a Senior Fellow at the Berkeley Center for Information Technology Research in the Interests of Society (CITRIS). Granholm is a senior political commentator on CNN.
Former Democratic South Carolina State Representative Anton Gunn is the founder of the 937 Strategy Group, LLC, a consulting practice that provides services to leaders and healthcare organizations who want to build a world-class leadership culture that transforms employee engagement and service outcomes. Previously, he served as a senior official in the Obama Administration as Director of External Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), playing a key role in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Edward Kelly is the 11th General Secretary-Treasurer of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). Kelly was among the thousands of fire fighters at Ground Zero after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and also responded to the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Kelly climbed the ranks of organized labor and is known and respected for his dedication to the fire service and labor movement. As part of Kelly’s charitable efforts, he is a co-founder and member of the Board of Directors for Massachusetts Iraq and Afghanistan Fallen Heroes and the IAFF Foundation which is dedicated to protecting and assisting IAFF members who put their lives on the line to save others, as well as the communities they serve.
Sam Lauter is a fifth-generation San Francisco native and manages Barnes Mosher Whitehurst Lauter & Partners’ (BMWL) public affairs and lobbying business. In addition to working for Congressman Philip Burton (D-CA) and Congresswoman Sala Burton (D-CA), Lauter worked on the presidential campaign and Senate staff for Joe Biden, where he served as the Senator’s personal assistant and later for California Lieutenant Governor Leo McCarthy on field strategy, fundraising and speechwriting. Lauter has been a key activist and fundraiser in the pro-Israel community and the Democratic Party for over 30 years.
Barry Porter is a Democratic activist and was a co-founder and Managing General Partner of Clarity Partners, a private equity fund focused on media and telecommunications, and was a founder of a global telecommunications business. Barry is involved in numerous philanthropic organizations and is currently on the boards of Pacific Council on International Policy, the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice and Center for High Impact Philanthropy, and the leadership council of International Medical Corps. He serves on the board of NYSE listed Hudson Pacific Properties and a number of private company boards. Barry is also actively involved in YPO. After graduating from Wharton, Barry earned a JD-MBA from UC Berkeley.