By Sheldon Ranz
Well, somebody out “there” noticed us. Overseas, that is, at the administrative headquarters of the Socialist International (SI) in London. SDUSA had not been a part of the SI since 2004 and since DSA had left the SI in 2017, there had been no American voice in it for the past five years.
But SDUSA nowadays consists of a different set of characters with a different mindset. We don’t adhere to the Cold War consensus of the past and don’t think the SI is hopelessly broken because of its past flirtations with neo-liberalism. With that in mind, we have been eager to rejoin the SI and so we applied for observer member status a while back. In October, SDUSA scored an invitation from outgoing SI Secretary General Luis Ayala to send an official delegation to its 26th Congress in Madrid during the Thanksgiving holidays. So off we went!
Arriving in Madrid in November 24 and staying at the Hotel Madrid Alameda Aeropuerto, our delegation consisted of our VP Michael Mottern, Kansas City Chair Susan Stevens, Monroe County (NY State) Legislator Carolyn D. Hoffman and yours truly. The Congress was held at the IFEMA Madrid Convention Center, from whose stages presentations were translated for those wearing headphones into either English, Spanish or French.
Newly elected SI Secretary General Benedicta Lasi and SI President – and Spanish Prime Minister – Pedro Sanchez set the tone for the Congress with their keynote addresses on Day One. Lasi spoke about succeeding Luis Ayala as both the first woman and first African in this role as well as her background as a socialist from Ghana. Sanchez stressed that while social democracy was on the ropes in much of the world, it was still very much alive and needed to be reinvigorated by addressing it through new avenues like combatting climate change in addition to remembering our core values such as fighting the dismantling of the social safety net and strengthening democracy.
After that, our delegation went to work. As invited guests, we networked with as many other delegations as time permitted (the Congress ended on November 27), exchanging ideas and answering questions about each other’s countries, especially the state of each other’s Left. Many delegates were as pleased about our presence as they were about US participation in the World Cup – which was all the rage in Spain while we were there – since, in their eyes, this would kindle hope that America would join the world, not avoid it.
One delegate that I ran into was Colette Avital from Israel. Currently a SI Vice President, Avital represents Meretz, which lost all of its seats in Israel’s Knesset (Parliament) in the latest elections. I had befriended her back in 1994 when I interviewed her on my WBAI radio program when she was Israel’s consul general during the historic but tragically ill-fated Yitzhak Rabin government. Rather than ask her the usual questions about the peace process, I focused back then on what her government was doing to address the inequality that Israel’s Palestinian citizens were suffering. It was delightful that she remembered me after all this time (28 years!) She also assured me that while Meretz was down now, it would be back.
More importantly, Meretz and the SI’s Palestine delegation (the socialist factions of the PLO – Fatah and the Palestine Popular Struggle Front (PPSF)) crafted a Two-State Resolution that the SI passed unanimously on the convention floor. What was different about this Two-State resolution was that there was no mention of the Oslo Accords or ‘land swaps’ whereby Israel gets to keep some settlements in a final arrangement. There was, instead, an emphasis on abiding by UN resolutions applicable to the settlements, the implication being that all the settlements must be disbanded since they are all illegal according to those UN resolutions. This is a bold step for Meretz, a party that has been sharply criticized by many on the Left (including me) for having been part of an apartheid Israeli government these past few years. It’s also a bold step for the PLO, since it has ties to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which on a day-to-day basis serves as a subcontractor for the Israeli military forces in the Occupied Territories. While the official policy of the PA under Mahmoud Abbas has been to oppose BDS, for instance, Bashar Azzeh of the PPSF was pleased with our support for it. And when Ahmad Majdalani of the PLO’s Executive Committee took to the podium to denounce the Israeli government as an apartheid regime, citing B’Tselem’s report, Colette Avital did not challenge him. Why did this all happen? Because the aforementioned parties saw that when the old ways kept failing, they tried something new!
Needing to try something new was a theme in presentations made by British Labourite Lloyd Russell-Moyle and Ukrainian Social Democrat Yuri Buzdugan. Russell-Moyle regretted that the Labour Party had exited the SI and looked forward to its eventual return. Buzdugan was careful not to mention President Zelenskyy by name or talk about military aid to Ukraine; this just days after it had been revealed that Zelensky had falsely accused Russia of having fired missiles at Poland. Instead, he struck a statesman-like note of reconciliation condemning the Russian invasion but not ruling out negotiations for its withdrawal.
Our Vice President Michael Mottern put me in touch with Dr. Mustapha Ben Jaafaar of Tunisia. He’s an Honorary President of the SI and from 2011-14 was the President of the National Constitutional Assembly of Tunisia, during the decade when Tunisia was a thriving democracy, the only success story of the Arab Spring. In those days, according to the V-Dem Democracy Institute run by Swedish researcher Anders Persson, Tunisia rated higher on the democracy scale than Israel, the so-called ‘only democracy in the Middle East’, and one reason was because the Tunisian cabinet included Rene Trabelsi, its Jewish Minister of Tourism. Pro-Israel propaganda claim that Muslim-majority countries forbid these arrangements, yet there it was. I spoke to Dr. Ben Jaafaar about Trabelsi. He said that since the coup d’etat from above by the current dictator, none of the people who served in that Cabinet are there anymore, but Trabelsi is doing fine, having served honorably for as long as he could.
I made a point of trying to reaching out to Chile’s and South Africa’s SI parties since they’ve been attacked by pro-Israel organizations in their countries for being insufficiently accommodating to Israel. While the South Africa delegation departed the Congress early, I chatted with members of the Chilean delegations. I shared with them an insight we have discovered: one can be a Democratic Zionist and support full BDS against Israel, since apartheid is in violation of Israel’s own Declaration of Independence. Therefore, this is something that Chilean President Gabriel Boric can cite whenever he gets flak from those organizations. (Note: Despite talk of the SI not allowing countries to be represented by more than one party, Chile was represented by three; our own delegation was sandwiched between two from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.)
In a nutshell, that is how SDUSA contributed – and can continue to contribute – to the SI: by using what we know to help our fellow social democrats overseas, and they in turn, can help us here with what they know. Come next spring, we’ll know more about whether we’ll be an Observer Member Party.
Sheldon Ranz is Director of Special Projects for Social Democrats USA and the editor of Socialist Currents.