The Austin Chronicle

Greg Casar, DSA, and Palestine: Will It Matter?

Congressional candidate requests Austin DSA withdraws endorsement over Casar's views on Israel

By Austin Sanders, February 11, 2022, News

Greg Casar's congressional campaign has requested that Austin Democratic Socialists of America withdraw its endorsement, following tension within the organization over a letter the former City Council member wrote to Rabbi Alan Freedman of Temple Beth Shalom, in which Casar outlined his stance on the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

In the letter, first published by Jewish Insider, Casar wrote that he believes the people of both nations deserve to live in "peace and security" and that the "clearest path" toward achieving that goal is through a two-state solution. He also says he does not support the Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) movement of economic protest against Israel, which much of DSA supports to pressure national powers to provide relief to the Palestinian people. Austin DSA's rank-and-file knew this when the members voted overwhelmingly in December to endorse their longtime friend and ally Casar in the TX-35 primary.

But in the letter, Casar also said he supports "continued federal aid for self defense of Israel," which crossed a line for some. Following a meeting of its leadership committee Feb. 6, it became clear that for Casar to keep the Austin DSA endorsement, members would need to vote again. Given Casar's status as the highest­-profile, most accomplished DSA local official, it's possible he could have won that vote – but it likely would have occurred during early voting ahead of the March 1 primary, which begins next week.

Instead, "I write to you to respectfully withdraw from the Austin DSA endorsement," Casar wrote to chapter members. "I remain deeply appreciative of the work we have done together. ... While we do not have the same policy stance on issues like BDS, I remain committed to conversations on the topic and working to improve the lives of Palestinian people."

In their own statement, Austin DSA leadership wrote that the chapter's "elected leadership finds that" Casar's statements on Israeli defense spending "are not reconcilable with DSA's stance in solidarity with Palestine." The statement continues: "We have a long history of working with Greg Casar" on progressive policies like paid sick days, housing justice, and labor rights, "but we will no longer be working on this campaign as an organization."

Does that matter? Some of Austin DSA's members, loyal to the candidate, say they'll continue to knock on doors on his behalf. Before the split, Casar announced the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – who this Saturday, Feb. 12, will be getting out the vote in San Antonio for both Casar and Jessica Cisneros, who is challenging scandal­-plagued U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, in the TX-28 ­primary. Other than Bernie Sanders, AOC may well be the ­biggest draw to motivate progressive activists and voters to turn out once early voting begins Feb. 14.

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