SDUSA Public Forum 2017

What: Social Democrats USA public forum 2017
Date: Saturday, August 12,
Time: 10:00 until 2:00 Eastern time
Location: Carnegie Stage in Carnegie, PA, and live stream
Cost: Free

10:00 Introductory remarks by SDUSA Chair Patty Friend
10:15 Social Democracy in Eastern Europe, with participants from Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Germany
11:25 Current news in Labor, with Charles Showalter of The Union Edge talk radio
12:45 Social Democracy in America and the Democratic Party, with Lane Kenworthy, author of Social Democratic America

You are welcome to attend in person, or
you can watch the program live at two sites: right here, or on our Facebook page.

Can Zionists Support BDS?

(Editors Note: This is a transcript of a talk by Sheldon Ranz at the November 19 2016, SDUSA Conference that was held in Buffalo, N.Y. Sheldon opinion on the BDS movement is controversial, and other SD members are critical of the BDS movement. Nevertheless, as a life-long activist in the Zionist movement. who is devoted to the survival of the State of Israel as a democratic state with a Jewish majority, and the son of two survivors of the Holocaust, we believed that Sheldon’s unique viewpoints deserved to be heard at the forum and appear here on our blog, and open to comments and debate.)

As I thank you, Social Democrats – USA, for hosting me at your Buffalo, NY conference, I must confess to having been a life-long fan of the New York Giants, so please be gentle with me.
It is a common feature of media accounts of the Israel-Palestine conflict to reference the BDS movement. Increasing numbers of US student bodies have endorsed it; so have the Connecticut branch of the AFL-CIO and the United Electrical Workers Union. While Bernie Sanders has not endorsed it, two of his delegates to the Democratic Party platform committee, John Abourezk and Cornel West, are outspoken advocates of BDS. So what is BDS?
It is an acronym for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions. The movement promoting this originates from the mainstream of Palestinian society. In 2005, over 170 Palestinian non-governmental groups formed the BDS National Committee to promote the boycott of Israel, divestment from Israel and international sanctions against Israel. Inspired by a similar campaign against apartheid South Africa, the now-global BDS movement calls for Israel to meet its obligations under international law by complying with these three demands:
1. Ending the occupation of surrounding Arab lands that began with the Six Day War of 1967,
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens to full equality, and
3. Instituting and promoting a Palestinian Right of Return that allows Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and property in Israel in accordance with UN resolutions.

In its campaign, BDS targets companies that have contracts with the Israeli military or with any other outlet of the Israeli government, including the settlements in the West Bank, and advocates boycotts of academics affiliated with Israeli state institutions. The tactics used are non-violent and have numerous successes to its credit. In 2015 alone, the BDS movement achieved the following:
Barclays Bank divested from Elbit Systems, an Israeli military company.
French corporate giant Veolia sold off all of its Israeli businesses, capping a seven-year boycott led by BDS.
The European Union introduced labelling of products from West Bank settlements.
The UN issued a report concluding that direct foreign investment into Israel in 2014 fell by 46% from the previous year.
Sodastream, whose spokesperson was the actress Scarlett Johansson, shut down its West bank operations and relocated to Israel’s Negev Desert.

By contrast, a smaller, less organized tendency among those whose views fall within the dovish part of the Israeli spectrum to boycott only products made in West Bank settlements has not produced a single known success.
As a result of BDS’s string of victories, Israel is in full-panic mode. The current regime of Benjamin Netanyahu passed a law making advocacy of BDS in Israel a crime and persuaded Governor Cuomo to issue an executive order forbidding New York State from doing business with any company that complies with BDS. Ditto with Jerry Brown in California.
So, can Zionists support BDS? That question needs to be answered first with another question – what kind of Zionists? From an institutional framework, there are two kinds of Zionism: State Zionism and Democratic Zionism. Democratic Zionism posits that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people and the state of all its citizens, period. State Zionism is the doctrine that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people and the state of all of its Jewish citizens who are to enjoy a wide range of privileges over its Gentile citizens. No State Zionists in their right mind would endorse the demands of BDS.
But Democratic Zionists? That’s a different story! Let’s look at the three demands of BDS from a Democratic Zionist perspective:
Demand #1 calls for an end to the 1967 occupation, a long-standing goal of Israel’s Peace Now movement and Left Zionist opposition. Check!

Demand #2 calls for Israel to live up to the words of its own Declaration of Independence:
“…THE STATE OF ISRAEL…will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants…it will ensure complete equality (emphasis mine) of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex…WE APPEAL…to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions…

At this point, enter Albert Einstein! In 1978, at the behest of my father, Holocaust survivor John Ranz, I and five other children of Holocaust survivors formed The Generation After, an organization dedicated in part to introducing a class analysis of the roots of the Holocaust into the mainstream of American Jewish life. One of its Honorary Presidents was Dr. Otto Nathan. He was the executor of Albert Einstein’s literary estate as well as his close friend. One day, I asked him why Einstein turned down an offer to become President of Israel once its then-President, Chaim Weizmann, stepped down. I didn’t quite believe the official explanation, that he wasn’t equipped to handle the diplomatic amenities or presiding over ceremonies. I mean, he was a genius, so what’s the big deal?

Dr. Nathan said that while that was true, it was far from the whole truth. Einstein, he said, had deep misgivings about the direction Israel was taking under David Ben-Gurion. He objected to Israel siding with the West during the Cold War, wishing it had joined the Non-Aligned Movement. And he was also upset with the inequality Israel imposed on its Arab citizens from the very beginning. The Arabs were subjected to military rule; their movements restricted; they were deemed a security risk. Einstein did not want to be associated with any of that, so he politely said no to the Presidency.

After Israel imposed this military rule, it rolled out other laws discriminating against its Arab, indeed, against all of its Gentile inhabitants. Today, there are around fifty such laws; one of the most odious is the law, enshrined by the Jewish National Fund, barring Gentiles from owning land. Looking at these laws as one package led the Black Lives Matter movement to characterize not just the occupied West Bank but Israel as a whole as an apartheid state. Well, whatever label you use, these laws clearly undermine democracy and promote bigotry, so next to BDS Demand #2, place a check.

Demand #3 appears to be the “tricky one”, since, on first glance, it plays into fears that it mandates Israel allowing a flood of Palestinian refugees that would turn Israel’s Jewish majority into a minority. Not only is this highly unlikely, since Jews have not flooded Israel under the Jewish Law of Return, but the demand’s wording only deals with the principle of the Right of Return and does not concern itself with its actual implementation. More importantly, Israel owes recompense to its Arab citizens who were victimized by false promises of equality, and this should include repatriation of some of their displaced relatives from the Palestinian Diaspora. So, a check goes next to #3, and that is how, as a Democratic Zionist, I can support BDS.

Why is BDS especially important right now? Look at the current direction of Israel. In 2014, its government launched an unprovoked attack on the Gaza Strip. This resulted in the deaths of over 1800 Palestinian civilians, including 500 children. As a lifelong Zionist, this is not easy for me to say, but it needs to be said: this is the first time in Israel’s history that it committed mass murder.
Around this time, Israeli lawmaker Ayelet Shaked posed on her Facebook account a call for even more killings of Palestinians. She cited approvingly these words from her late mentor, a leader of the West Bank settlers and an advisor to Netanyahu: “The Palestinian people has declared war on us, and we must respond with war…What’s so horrifying about understanding that the entire Palestinian people is the enemy?…They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there…There is nothing more just, and nothing more efficient.” The day after she posted these words on Facebook, six Israeli Jewish teenagers lynched a Palestinian teenager, Muhammed Khudair.
Shaked is the current face of Israel. She will be the face of Israel in the future if the BDS movement does not succeed. I believe that the most effective way to help this movement is to do so as Democratic Zionists. You do not have to be Jewish to support Democratic Zionism. As American taxpayers, you should be appalled that billions of our tax dollars are being sent every year to Israel, whose government is saying and doing all these terrible things.
As a secular Jew, I pray that the BDS movement succeeds, because if it does not, then this most right-wing government in Israeli history, joined with this most right-wing government in American history, will plunge the entire Middle East into a regional apocalypse. BDS is Israel’s last best hope for becoming the kind of country that Albert Einstein would have wanted to be President of!

Announcement: The Biannual National Convention of SDUSA will be held from August 11-12 in Carnegie, Pa.

Dear Members & Friends

We are holding our biennial national convention in Carnegie, Pa on August 11-12 at the Off the Wall Theater and Community Center outside Pittsburgh. Call National Chair Patty Friend at 661-245-5252 for more information. We have invited Thomas Frank, author of the book, Listen Liberal or What Ever Happen to the Party of the People to speak on a panel exploring The Future of the Democratic Party and Social Democracy in the United States. Other proposed panels will be on the topics: Reviving the Rustbelt and Other Forgotten Parts of America; The Future of Social Democratic Parties in Europe and the former Eastern Blog; Organizing the Unorganized including a followup report on Organizing Hospital Workers in Pittsburgh

We invite you to come to the convention and summit resolutions to the convention on policies & strategies for the SD. Remember, SDUSA is your political organization. If you want us to have a position on a subject, please do not hesitate to summit a resolution on the issue to the
convention. Any ideas that you may have for the program of the convention and how we may outreach to a wider public would be very welcome.

In Comradeship

David A. Hacker
National Secretary & 2nd Vice Chair

A Review: Shattered- Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign

When I was a small boy, growing up in the poor area near the meat packing plants of Oklahoma City, there was a universal understanding of politics. It was not the politics of platforms
and policies, much less the politics of personality clashes. Instead, it was the profound
sense that Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal had literally saved the lives of people like us. In the homes of Armour and Swift workers, there were frequently two pictures: one of Jesus and the other of Roosevelt. In the event that one picture had to come down, it would not necessarily be Roosevelt’s that would go. Probably nobody in that neighborhood had ever
read the Democratic platform but they all understood one important fact: Franklin Roosevelt was on our side. His Democratic Party was for people like us; the nearly-invisible Republicans were for rich people.

How far we have come from those days is apparent in the new book on the 2016 campaign by
Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes. Largely based on off-the-record interviews with campaign staff members, it depicts a dysfunctional campaign that was more of a snake pit than the well-oiled political machine that we would expect from two accomplished people who have pursued the Presidency, one of them successfully, for their entire adult lives. But more important, it shows a party that had lost its way and a candidate who had overwhelming ambition and a sterling resume but no principled center. Hillary Clinton, by all accounts, is a policy wonk, and certainly she had policy statements on nearly every subject, but she lacked two elements that Roosevelt, the Hudson Valley aristocrat, had: deep empathy for the problems of the American people and the ability to communicate that empathy.

Clinton’s fundamental shortcomings are made clear in the book’s first chapter, when her speech writers are struggling to come up with a memorable, hopefully even historic speech, to kick-off her campaign. The event has been scheduled for Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York’s East River (optics are important in modern campaigns and this is intended to link her tightly with FDR). There is only one problem: neither the candidate nor the hired help can come up with an acceptable rationale for her quest for the Presidency. The bright graduate of Wellesley and Yale Law can’t articulate answers to one aide’s questions: “why you? why now?” These questions will haunt the campaign until it ends in defeat at the hands of a man who can encapsulate his purpose in four vacuous words: Make America Great Again.

The broader failure, I suggest, is not that of Hillary Clinton but of the Democratic Party
that she not only shaped but that shaped her. The legacy of FDR was a party that, with
many failings, was seen as the champion of the working class and the poor, and large parts of this legacy remained at least through the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson. The leadership of the Democratic Party began to pull away from that legacy under Carter and
Bill Clinton, the neoliberal New Democrats. With the ascendancy of leaders who could not and did not want to speak for them, the working class began to leave the party of Roosevelt. States that had once been Democratic strongholds, such as Wisconsin, Michigan
and Pennsylvania, became battleground states. While it is true that Trump’s winning margin
was small in those states, the real question is why millions of working class people had previously moved over to the Republican Party in numbers sufficient to make those states even close.

The Bernie Sanders campaign proved at least one thing: there are still millions of Americans
who respond to the spirit of the social democratic message that FDR articulated in his 1944 State of the Union address. Had Clinton understood that, she might have brought home to the Democratic Party the key working class voters who cost her the election. Unfortunately, she, her husband, Barack Obama and their neolib allies had hollowed out the ideological
core of the Party, and she could not make up for that loss by ordering her staff to find a rationale for her candidacy. It was too much to expect that a candidate who hung out with millionaire pals in the Hamptons and who took hundreds of thousands from Goldman Sachs could
truly understand the fears and hopes of working Americans. But from Clinton’s loss, a catastrophe in so many ways, may come a new birth of the Democratic Party and make it again
“our” party. That is the Social Democratic challenge today.

Unionism For Millenials

I will never forget a discussion I had last year. A friend of mine was discussing socialism, a word that he admitted was new to his lips. He was explaining why he was a socialist and why Bernie Sanders needed to be president. In response, I mentioned that Hillary Clinton had more support from organized labor and I asked, “how do we reconcile that? How can our socialist flag-bearer not have labor behind him?”

    My friend, without a blink, or trace of sarcasm asked me, “Who cares? What do unions have to do with socialism?” My eyes rolled with a weight I had never experienced.

    I am beyond excited at the level at which social democracy is freely discussed in our political discourse. I know so many people my age (30) and younger who have come to accept, learn, and proselytize these ideas in a truly impressive way. It is exciting. It is also a little scary. Just like any ideology, it dies without a sense of unity (and probably a sense of history).

    Our generation comes with some unique factors. Everything is commoditized. You can make a living sitting on your couch, with a cell phone and a car, or with whatever combination of twenty-first century niceties we have around us. Don’t forget the artists, the academics, and the professional helpers (activists, advocates, etc.) It seems difficult to connect a party line based on labor to the modern workforce, but it must be done.

    The sad fact is, most socialists I have met in the last couple of years have been artists (of all varieties), adjuncts, non-profit workers, part-time retail associates (often with multiple jobs), and low-level corporate managers. Meanwhile, labor elected Donald Trump.

    So, what do we artists, independent workers, and people-centered workers do? There are options. In grad school, I was a GTA, while also working in various settings, providing Drama Therapy services to children. In total, I worked four jobs. I found the Freelancers Union ( While they might not appear to be a formal labor union, they boast 350,000 members under the motto: “Independents. United.”

They will help get you health insurance and they will get you connected with groups of workers who are living just like you. Architects, bloggers, designers…pretty much any profession that works independently, or anyone who is working more than one job is considered a freelancer. They have rallied and fought alongside other unions and are making quite a name for themselves.

I graduated with my masters and found employment at a non-profit agency that helps survivors of domestic and sexual violence. My union membership does not come from this job (though I am often caught whispering a Draper quote, or a Seeger lyric into my co-workers’ ears) but, these unions do exist.

To some, it seems selfish. If your job is about helping people, why would you unionize? The clients come first!

    Of course, the clients come first. However, my line of work is rife with burnout. Non-profits in the human services world experience extremely high turnover. You cannot put a price on helping those who need it, but that does not mean that you should be taken advantage of. Everyone deserves free time. Everyone deserves to be safe. Everyone deserves to have their voices heard. This is why workers with the IFPTE, Local 70 (, the SEIU ( and so many, many others have come together.

When I am not working as advocate, I am writing. I am currently a member of the National Writers Union ( We are officially local 1981 of the United Auto Workers. There are 12 internal branches of the union and their activity ranges from defending free speech, mobilizing for any political activity that threatens our work, and providing legal assistance to writers when their contracts aren’t being honored.

The first  story I ever sold was for $4 and a contributors’ copy. I didn’t get it. I know that a check for $4 and a magazine worth $10 doesn’t sound like a lot, but that is not the point. My work has value. The publisher made money off of it, so should I. If I had been aware of the NWU back then, they could have helped. Of course, there are many options for any creative workers out there.

    Navigating the labor world is complicated. If a movement toward a social democracy is based in the labor movement, we need to organize. Before we do, we need to accept a few things:


  1. We creative types do not perform blue collar work. No matter how grim our background, or how much sweat we conjure over our manuscripts and canvases, this remains a fact. I am the first person in my family to finish high school and I worked (and borrowed) my way through college. It’s hard. I get it. No one is saying art is not important. It is essential! However, without the mills and textile plants, our creative vision would remain in our heads.

  2. Our work has value. There are also many ways we get paid: money, contributors’ copies, access to resources, etc. A deal is a deal. There is nothing glamorous in being taken advantage of. Protecting your work from a corporate interest is not selling out. They will make money whether you do, or not. If I never sold a story again, I would keep writing. However, if I do sell a story and they don’t pay me, I will demand what I was promised.

  3. Make sure your work does not come at the cost of others. Your great, new, technologically advanced, well-intentioned idea is sometimes all it takes to push a fellow worker out into the cold.


If for no other reason than to meet like-minded people, organize. Protect your work and the work of others. Fight for what is fair, fight for what you deserve. It must remain that (much to my friend’s surprise) unions have everything to do with socialism.