Democratic Illusions: Elite Unity on Israel

Photograph Source: U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv – CC BY 2.0

A very strange vision for these uncertain times appeared on stage in Washington, DC on Nov. 14: House Speaker Mike Johnson joined hands with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. They stood together, along with Sen. Jodi Ernst, to celebrate Israel’s genocidal war on and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Gaza. The handholding underlines the lack of daylight between bourgeois parties at each other’s throats in this era of partisan polarization. An eerie understanding arises that perhaps the last unifying force in America is not just war, but war crimes. Awash in media that portrays the political leadership of the United States as mortal enemies, to see them without the mask, holding hands and celebrating the heinous acts of an imperial client state, is incongruous with the spectacle we routinely consume.

Especially difficult to understand, at least using conventional political wisdom, is the lockstep nature of the political elite on this issue opposed to the vast majority of Americans. Polls taken recently show support for a ceasefire across the ideological divide[1]: 68% of all Americans, 82% of Independents, 77% of Democrats, and 53% of Republicans. Willingness to ignore the overwhelming majority of public opinion on a volatile issue is confusing in an era where elections, and electoral college votes, hang on slim majorities. Unlike much of our polarized era, this seems to be a situation in which the median voter theorem should work: both Democrats and Republicans should be shifting their positions to attract the vast majority of voters whose views on this issue overlap. Yet, they are doing just the opposite and choosing to ignore or shame their constituents that call for a ceasefire.

Confusion over Washington’s endorsement of Israel’s genocide seems to stem less from the historical continuity of American foreign policy than the dawning recognition from a broad section of the population that the American government is happy to condemn aggression from official enemies (China, Russia) but to accept the war crimes of an ally. American citizens witnessing war crimes perpetrated against civilians on a horrific scale in real-time have rightfully demanded their representatives acknowledge and do something – anything – about it. If the precepts of liberal democracy are to be believed, the overwhelming revulsion from the American public at the horrific pummeling of Gaza and the Palestinian people should spur at least a short-term realignment within the Democratic and Republican parties on the issue of ceasefire. And yet, as of writing, only 18 members[2] have signed onto a non-binding ceasefire resolution, primarily House Democrats whose symbolic shift cannot move legislation on the floor, with 63 in total[3] calling for a ceasefire in some way; but President Biden remains unyielding alongside Donald Trump – the likely Republican nominee – and the bulk of both parties in Congress and statehouses.

Voters believe their opinions are influential because it is a foundational myth taught within bourgeois democratic states. The ether around us is permeated from childhood with endless paeans to the virtuous citizen-voter. Non-voters appear as fools at best, willingly refusing their chance to influence government, and at worst as unsavory characters that have renounced their birthright. Those that vote for the wrong candidate or party – heaven forbid – are the spoilers and the snakes, a kind of fifth column to be rooted out by democracy’s champions. Countless scholars produce endless reams of articles and books on every aspect of voting, and even the turn within political theory towards endless discussion on deliberative legitimation has of late begun to include work on political parties. There is clearly a shock, even if not entirely unexpected, that elected officials can ignore the will of their voters so blatantly while demonstrating willingness to support the interest Israel – a foreign state – so definitively. John Fetterman and Ritchie Torres may now be the most notorious for this, but they are only the most strident and obnoxious voices within Congress.

This myth derives from the reality involved in two centuries of suffrage struggles that underlay the broad fight over the last two centuries by a succession of groups to be included in the definition of what it meant to be human, to have rights, and to be a citizen. This was no less true for African-Americans in the United States as it was and is worldwide for colonized peoples, women, and the working class. Liberalism, long wary of positive rights, was grudgingly forced to accept the right to vote as an important stabilizing force in the world-system. Inasmuch as this has occurred, the incorporation of formerly excluded groups into the bourgeois parliamentary institutional structure has tended to neuter their most anti-systemic tendencies: this most famously occurred in the socialist movement in the early twentieth century, and while there were clearly economic factors that led to a privileged portion of the working class accepting a rapprochement with the bourgeoisie, successive victories in extension of suffrage rights to the working class were what solidified the social-democratic position. Even if, as Marx long ago wrote, voting rights within capitalism do not directly challenge the rule of the bourgeoisie, the struggles and inclusion of the groups that won them were real, and if the system of bourgeois domination could not be overthrow via elections there certainly were class and group demands that were perceived as being met through voting.

To understand the near unity within the Democratic and Republican parties on support of Israel, it is time to discard the notion that the voting public matters to elected officials or that political parties exist as a transmission belt carrying the will of the voters upwards to parties-in-government. Rather, voters should be seen as at best a tertiary concern to officials and parties. The opinions of the average voter, even if we assume their ideological coherence, nearly always have virtually zero impact on legislation passed and policies adopted. Party maneuvering on political issues is bounded not by voter opinion but rather the interests of large campaign donors and industry blocs that are, less euphemistically, the capitalist class.[4] A model then emerges which fits the behavior of bourgeois parties and the function they play within modern society. This model explains well why Speaker Johnson and Majority Leader Schumer shared a stage on November 14 while simultaneously providing a holistic image of the function parties fulfill within the capitalist state. It will also provide the cause of Palestinian solidarity with the necessary tasks vis-à-vis the current political coalition and those of a future, anti-systemic revolutionary movement.

It is, of course, not particularly novel to point out the influence the pro-Israel Lobby[5] has on U.S. politics; Mearsheimer and Walt presented that case in detail.[6] That there is a significant pro-Israel donation bloc that mobilizes quickly against critics of Israeli policies and cuts across the Democratic and Republican parties is clear, though its extent may surprise those tangentially aware of the campaign donor world.[7] Rather, political donations are the lifeblood of politics in the United States and allow the capitalist class to set the boundaries of acceptable political behavior by parties, their candidates, and elected officials. Parties do not usually receive direct marching orders from the bourgeoisie, but we can generally understand what is out of bounds for anyone but marginal members of parties to elevate to a topic of discussion or legislation: single-payer universal healthcare is a classic example of this boundary line. When supporters have had the requisite votes, even supermajorities as in New York State where most Democrats in the legislature had signed on to a single-payer bill as recently as 2021[8], it is never brought up for a vote; similarly, in California, supermajorities of Democrats control the legislature, but the single-payer bill has never passed.[9]

We may also ask what US industries, or even individual companies, have supported Palestinian liberation movements, such as BDS? Besides Ben and Jerry’s, which decided to stop selling its ice cream in Gaza and the West Bank (but not Israel), what notable business has joined BDS? Since there is no industry bloc that has joined the protest movement, we can safely assume they are best indifferent to US foreign policy towards Israel, and far more likely supportive given the profit to be made either directly in Israel or via contracts with the US military-industrial complex. BDS provides[10] a list of companies it is actively targeting for boycott, which must pale in comparison to the real number of corporations profiting in some way from US Israeli policy. If parties navigate the whims of the capitalist class via donors, if those business blocs are either active in supporting pro-Israel policies or not actively breaking with them, and if the BDS segment of donors is so miniscule as to be nearly irrelevant, then we have arrived at an initial answer to why there is such fervent cross-party support of Israel during such allegedly polarized times regardless of whether a majority of voters would prefer a permanent ceasefire and are horrified at the genocidal acts committed by the IDF against Palestinians.

As Marx noted, the “executive of the modern state is nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” This definition is expandable to the larger permanent institutional apparatus of the contemporary state, and as such it is impossible to see bourgeois parties now as anything else but quasi-state institutions. They give broad articulation to the demands of the capitalist class and its role within the container of the U.S. state. These “common affairs” sharply orient towards maintaining U.S. status as global hegemon, and this requires state investment in the military-industrial complex[11] (and serving as the primary world arms dealer), securing and retaining alliances, and to the extent possible turning developing allies into symbiotic client states. Thus (bourgeois) parties are dramatically limited: both in their room to articulate positions contrary to donors and in maintenance of imperial state interests.

If then, voter wills have virtually no impact on legislation and if party policies are bound by the capitalist (donor) class, why have political leaders closed ranks so violently and reacted with viciousness towards most people horrified at the continuous broadcast of genocidal acts in Gaza by Israel? The answer is twofold, but I think not overly complicated to understand. Conflicts over surplus distribution are the primary struggle within the bourgeois state superstructure. The persistence of the parliamentary form in bourgeois states long after the defeat of the aristocracy as a political power in the West is owed partly to the size of bourgeois forces with disagreement on how best to distribute said societal surplus. In capitalist states (current or historical) with one or two hegemonic blocs of bourgeois industries, especially where those blocs have found a rapprochement, the parliamentary form tends to be weak (or nonexistent). In states with a more Madisonian dispersal of political factions, the form dominates. Of course, class and subaltern group struggle in the 19th and 20th centuries forced an expansion of suffrage and produced a tension within the bourgeois parliamentary state: these groups, whose views would never direct (bourgeois) party policy, were technically necessary and their choice of party could impact surplus distribution.

Mass parties exist as a technical solution to this tension. Parties socialize voters into partisans; their culture and pronouncements, echoed through the media, amount to ideological socialization sessions. Simultaneously, parties tend to move towards limiting the potential for wild shifts in surplus distribution through party cartel formation, gerrymandering, and changes to electoral law that make it far more difficult to cast a vote or build a new political party. We are told our vote matters greatly, even when it rarely does, and that we must vote to have our will heard, though our will is irrelevant. What matters is that voters believe these things to be true, and anyone willing to question or break from said paradigm is castigated relentlessly as an enemy of democracy. The will of the capitalist (donor) class is transmitted downwards to voters through the transmission belt of parties and their media allies. Thus, when the bourgeoisie and elected officials are united over a policy, but the public is largely ignorant or uninterested, there may be faux verbal sparring (or not), but no mobilization of party socialization tools will occur.

On the contrary, political caste shrieking over Israel is not just conveying donor desires but also a reaction to the broad dislike of Israel’s genocidal policies, mass protests, and growing demand that the US put a halt to the actions of its client state. It is an attempt to whip voters back into line, coupled with a fear and hatred of the possibility that there might be an attempt to organize a mass movement that could disrupt economic and political life. Thus, the extremely vicious nature of the political assault on Palestinian solidarity groups and anti-Zionist forces like Jewish Voice for Peace. It is the tension of mass suffrage and elections expressed via mass political parties inside a capitalist dictatorship. Our voices are irrelevant, except they are relevant just once – on Election Day – provided voters do what they are told. To engage in disruptive activity that might force contradictions to a breaking point: mass civil disobedience, strikes, and political education is verboten. For it is not that the capitalist dictatorship cannot be forced through class struggle (or threat of) to change course; indeed, it lives in fear of this.

Incidentally, this is also why Bernie Sanders, the “Squad” and the politics of groups like the DSA and WFP[12] have been exposed in the last two months: the faux opposition of the Democratic “left” has always served to bind voters, prevent alternatives, and present illusions that their will could be represented within government (and provide jobs and cash for those organizations). AOC, Sanders, et al have been placed in an untenable position: speak out against genocide and US policy towards Israel and actively agitate against US imperialism or save their careers and fall into line with their party. AOC made her name with a toothless Green New Deal resolution and with fake opposition to Nancy Pelosi, but she was allowed to equivocate on those issues and seem like a radical. Yet, there is no middle ground on genocide. That they have largely failed comes as no surprise to those who have long understood their real role, but it is nonetheless a sobering political lesson for the rest: you cannot oppose imperialism within an imperialist party.

The answer to the second reason for political caste hysterics on Israel relates to the tenuous nature of the US political system in an era where its hegemonic decline is clear. Neither Biden nor (likely) Trump offer inspirational or programmatic visions forward, with the real decay of societal infrastructure, and general decline of working-class living standards having massively accelerated since the beginning of 2020. Jill Stein and the Green Party and Cornel West on the left have mounted presidential campaigns that are gaining traction, and RFK Jr. remains popular in national presidential polls. Political dissolution of the socializing infrastructure constructed by the mainstream bourgeois parties is quickening, and the potential that independent parties which represent working class interests, with a desire to engage in open class struggle on parliamentary terrain, is not outside the scope of possibility. This, of course, leads the bourgeois parties to first close ranks around imperial policies (Israel) and, if necessary, eliminate threats via election law changes, criminalization of dissent and – in the extreme – threaten to eliminate parliamentarism and replace it with authoritarian government (all of which have been either upheld by or contributed to by the court system of late).

If forced, bourgeois parties will become even more furious against Palestinian solidarity groups. HUAC-style hearings, anti-free speech legislation, mass arrests, and blacklisting are all visible in embryo today. They will get worse if protests show any signs of spreading. This will become even more furious if more voters begin to show signs of breaking away from the established ideological pronouncements. Verbal swerves may occur (and fissures in the coalition) if there is a serious threat, but with no real changes in foreign policy unless the complete failure of the pro-Israel coalition seems in the offering, and even then, there is no real assurance any change will occur.

What are our tasks, then? Firstly, political education is necessary around the true nature of the pro-Israel sentiments of the bourgeois parties, the structure of the system, and its function in socializing us in our role maintaining capitalist control. Secondly, this is only possible with a counter-hegemonic organization, and likely organizations, that provide a safe space to generate a counter-hegemonic ideological culture. Finally, this counter-hegemonic coalition must accept that ideological commitment to independent politics foregrounding the need to smash capitalism is a pre-condition for assembling a larger coalition that advocates against Israeli genocide, for de-colonization of Palestine, and on the domestic issues that will build a broad base of workers and subaltern groups in the imperial core. There should be no social-democratic illusions: the road will be long, and difficult indeed, but we will not find succor within the parties currently abetting genocide, nor will reform be enough to end the American empire. Of course, this is not easy – politics is long, slow boring through tough boards[13] – but it is necessary.



2. Of course, the symbolism of the resolution’s cosponsors and those that have called for the ceasefire verbally is important, but a resignation en masse from parties embracing a genocidal imperialist foreign policy would be even moreso.

3. See the ceasefire tracker.

4. The political scientist Thomas Ferguson calls this the investment theory of party competition, detailed in his book Golden Rule.


6. Mearsheimer and Walt, The Israel Lobby.

7. See:;;;;;





12. The Working Families Party is a political club in New York (and a few other states) that has a ballot line it primarily uses to cross-endorse Democrats, though it has done so with Republicans as well.

13. See Max Weber’s Politics as a Vocation.

Peter LaVenia received a PhD in Political Theory from the University at Albany, SUNY. He has been an activist and organizer for over 15 years and has worked for Ralph Nader in that capacity. He is currently the co-chair of the Green Party of New York, and can be reached on Twitter: @votelavenia.