Democrats Shouldn't Be Afraid Of Opposing BDS Bans

By Brandon Williams (@bmwilly) and Colin Bowers (@colinsonofroy)

With the recent election in Israel handing a fifth term to far-right Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, many progressives (including progressive Jews) are reconsidering the relationship between the progressive community in the United States and Israel. As Bibi entrenches his alliance with Trump and the global far right, it is becoming clearer that the left needs a new strategy on the topic of Israel. One option is BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction), a movement which aims to pressure Israel in order to extract concessions to improve the human rights situation of Palestinians.

The response to the BDS movement from both the right and the center-left has been not only condemnation, but policy proposals aimed at banning boycotts of Israel.

While reasonable people can disagree on supporting BDS, banning it is a clear infringement on free speech and the freedoms protected by the first amendment (free speech defenders where ya at?).

We wanted to know what the public thinks. From January 25 to 29, 2019, Data for Progress fielded a survey of 1,282 nationally representative voters with YouGov Blue about these issues that are deemed too controversial to support. Fully 18 percent of respondents were not sure of their opinion on the issue (higher than the recent questions we discussed). Those respondents are excluded from this analysis, but keep that in mind when reading the data.

(Un)surprisingly, the American public does not view these topics as controversial as Twitter pundits would have you believe.

A plurality of respondents oppose laws prohibiting boycotts of Israel (41 percent). At their core, laws outlawing BDS are about free speech and the First Amendment but they often serve as a proxy discussion about views on Israel (note that the more progressive option, opposing boycott bans, is colored blue).

 
Support for the progressive position goes to the right of the y-axis, and support for the conservative position goes left. Percentage labels are the values for each blue and red area (thus, do not add up to 100%).

Support for the progressive position goes to the right of the y-axis, and support for the conservative position goes left. Percentage labels are the values for each blue and red area (thus, do not add up to 100%).

 

A plurality of all generational groups oppose anti-BDS laws, but that opposition is highest among millenials. This finding is not surprising given the changing relationship between Israel and the American public, particularly during the far-right Netanyahu regime.

 
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A plurality of all racial groups polled oppose anti-BDS laws, but there is not a clear story to tell about why the numbers vary like they do. There may be an underlying narrative but its possible that progressive voters would respond to discussion by Democratic leaders on this issue by showing stronger support than we currently see.

 
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Finally, we see that pluralities of Democrats and Independents oppose anti-BDS laws. Unfortunately there is plurality support among Republicans, the party of “free” markets, for laws forbidding boycotts of Israel.

 
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Despite the lack of discussion and support from leading national Democrats, “taboo” policies, including opposition to anti-BDS laws, have strong support with the potential to go much higher. This flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that progressive candidates running on progressivism will doom us all.


Brandon Williams (@bmwilly) is a data scientist and patzer living in Berlin.

Colin Bowers (@colinsonofroy) is a data scientist and engineer with an interest in advancing progressive causes, especially those related to the environment, international affairs, and social justice.

Data and code for this post can be found here.

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