© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Anti-war progressives mount “no preference” campaign in today’s Massachusetts primary to protest Biden’s support for Israel

A sample ballot for the 2024 Massachusetts Democratic Primary.
Josh Landes
A sample ballot for the 2024 Massachusetts Democratic Primary.

Activists in Massachusetts are attempting to send a message to President Joe Biden with a “no preference” vote campaign in today’s Democratic primary.

While there is little suspense over Biden’s ability to secure his party’s nomination as he seeks a second term, Democrats are torn over his administration’s support for the Israeli military campaign in Gaza. Over 30,000 Palestinians have died during Israel’s campaign in response to Hamas’ October 7th attacks.

On Monday, activists held a press conference outlining their plan for the primary.

“We are here today as a united group of organizations which have been out in the streets since October demanding a ceasefire, realizing that peace is not achieved through bombs, and also urging the Democrats to listen to their base. It's been a very few times in the history of our democracy that the polls have showed such a different thing from the policies that our elected leaders are pursuing," said Dr. Lara Jiramnus. “Our group has really been inspired by what has come out of Michigan, and the uncommitted campaign, which had such an overwhelming victory in last week's election. So today, we join a national movement, which has been galvanized by the what has come out of what has come out of Michigan, and we're asking people to use their ballot to tell Biden we say no to genocide. You'll see on your ballots, that no preference is an option. It's listed under the registered candidates’ names, we ask people to please fill in that bubble.”

More than 100,000 of the 618,000 votes cast in the Michigan primary were “uncommitted” amid an organized protest of Biden’s support for Israel.

Berkshire County residents are among those pushing the Democratic Party to say no to the billions of dollars of military aid Biden has approved.

“A lot of the American people are very unhappy with the idea that we are funding genocide," Russell Freedman of Lanesborough told WAMC. "We see, unfortunately, on our televisions every day images that are haunting of women and children being killed, buildings being destroyed, and the US is providing the weapons and the diplomatic cover to continue this going, and we feel that the United States has to change its policy and pressure to stop the killing on the first hand, but also to deal with the military occupation long-term and deal with the rights of Palestinians to live in a state of their own.”

Freedman is the Massachusetts coordinator for Progressive Democrats of America.

“No one is supporting the outrageous attacks by Hamas in in October, but four months later, and 30,000, 40,000 people dead, women and children- Progressive activists have been calling the White House, have been demonstrating," he continued. "Here in Berkshire County, there have been weekly demonstrations in Williamstown, Great Barrington, Pittsfield. We've been calling, as I said, the White House, our representatives, and still we’re talking about sending billions of dollars more of weapons to the Israeli, right-wing Israeli government to continue the slaughter. And it's not good for this country, it's not good for Israel, and it certainly isn't good for the long-term electoral strategy on the part of the President right now.”

Freedman says efforts by the pro-Israel lobby to tag criticism of the state as anti-Semitic hit progressive Jews like him particularly hard.

“I think that there's a real problem when one equates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. You know, I was born and raised as a Jew- Excuse me for a second," he said as his voice broke with emotion. "But being critical of the Israeli government is not being critical of Judaism. I think in many ways, the activities of the Israeli government are antithetical to what I was brought up as a Jew. So, I think it's a misnomer. I think that there's real problems with our position in the Middle East, and I think it's, in terms of the long-term interests of Jews who live in Israel, it's not good politics for Israel, as well.”

Freedman says the “no preference” vote is about pressuring the White House to change its Israel policy from within the Democratic Party.

“The Biden administration's responsibility is to what's best for the United States and the American people, not what's best for the right-wing government of Israel," he said. "And while the US has been criticizing the politics of the government of Israel for years, they expand the settlements, and the US makes a statement saying don’t expand the settlements, and they expand the settlements some more. The US is calling for a two-state solution, and yet the Likud party of Netanyahu in their founding documents says, we'll never accept a two-state solution. So, in terms of- There's long-term problems and there’s short-term problems. In the short term, we really need to end this this horrible devastation that's going on there, but we also have to look to the long-term issues for the stability in the Middle East- But also the safety of the people in Israel, but the safety of the Palestinian people as well.”

In recent days, Biden has ramped up criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Vice President Kamala Harris called for a ceasefire. But for activists like Freedman, those gestures don’t go far enough with U.S. aid continuing.

“We read all the time, about 40% of the American people live below the poverty line here in this country, while we're talking about billions and billions of dollars being sent to another country for things that we don't agree with, you know that there are real problems, as we all know, in this country with housing, health care, and a number of other things," he told WAMC. "And yet, we have what a $900 billion military budget, which is really just robbing, you know, the things that we need in in this country.”

Freedman says stopping the carnage in Gaza remains the ultimate goal.

“There's talk about a ceasefire, which is good, we're glad to see that, even though it's short-term, and we wonder what happens at the end of the six weeks- Do they go on and continue the bombing and the killing over there?" he asked. "So, we're really talking about a change in policy at the national level, and the way we can- You know, this is America where we vote, and that's how we express our opinions, and we're trying to say to the administration that you're leaving behind a lot of your base, and that, you know, nobody wants to see – at least on my side – a Trump second term, that's for sure, but in the short term, we need to change policy to bring the Democratic Party together over a peace platform.”

The Berkshire Democratic Brigades – the county’s grassroots organizing body for the party – told WAMC it had no comment on the “no preference” campaign. The Massachusetts Democratic Party said it’s “not aware of any significant effort like this.” The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Polls close at 8 p.m.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
Related Content