Behind Enemy Lines Takes Palestine Support Beyond the Ballot

The resistance to supporting and arming Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has sparked mass protests across the country. The complicity of Joe Biden and the United States in killing more than 32,000 Palestinians and displacing more than two million has left many Americans outraged.

One of the organizations advocating for an immediate and permanent ceasefire—as well as an end to the occupation of Palestine—is “Behind Enemy Lines,” which began in Chicago but has since expanded to New York City.  

Michael Boyte, the co-founder of Behind Enemy Lines, first became an activist in high school. At that time, Boyte mainly organized against the Iraq War, but he also became involved in groups opposing police brutality, U.S. involvement in the Philippines, and Israel’s occupation of Palestine. 

In 2020, during the Black Lives Matter uprising, Boyte and a friend observed that for many newer activists, the movement lacked an international lens. The two of them, equipped with past experience organizing in pro-Palestine groups, wanted to fill this gap with a new organization. 

The name Behind Enemy Lines, Boyte says, evokes the idea that U.S. imperialism is an oppressive force throughout the world. And in that sense, U.S. citizens are behind enemy lines and have the opportunity—and responsibility—to demand change from the inside. 

Since October 7, the group has seen the tide shift: An increasing number of people want to stand up for Palestinians. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm for doing more,” Boyte tells The Progressive. “A lot of people may [say], ‘Oh, I’ve called government officials, or I went to a protest. But what else is there to do?’ ”

One option for action on which Behind Enemy Lines focuses is the Palestine Vote Pledge. The pledge reads: “I pledge not to vote for any U.S. politician who has voiced support for Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza or its ongoing occupation of Palestine, or who has orchestrated or approved U.S. military aid and funding for Israel. I will not be cowered by ‘lesser of two evils’ logic to give electoral approval to genocide and apartheid. No politician who supports Israel’s war and occupation should be able to claim moral decency or the political legitimacy that my vote would give them. This pledge is not a petition; it is a commitment.”

So far, 790 people have signed the pledge. The group travels to different neighborhoods around the city and asks people to sign, as well as asking people riding public transportation and attendees at various events. Most people are receptive to these conversations, Boyte says. 

A pressing concern for many who do not want another Trump presidency—but are not enthusiastic about voting for Biden—is the fear that Trump’s second term would be much worse. However, Boyte says, for those who have signed the pledge, Biden’s policies on Israel and Palestine cross a line. 

“What evidence is there that the lives of oppressed people actually improve when Democrats are in office?” he asks.

“When [Democrats] come and blackmail you in August and September and October [saying] ‘Donald Trump is going to do this and that,’ ” Boyte says, “remember how you felt when [Israel] first bombed a hospital. Remember how you felt when you first heard about doctors performing surgery without anesthesia. Remember how you felt when you found out that two million people have been displaced from their homes . . . . And that’s what they’re trying to make you forget.”

Campaigns to vote “uncommitted” in the Democratic primary, instead of for Biden, have gained traction in several states. In Michigan, where there is a large population of Arab and Muslim Americans, 13.3 percent of voters, amounting to more than 100,000 people, chose “uncommitted.” As John Nichols wrote in The Nation, for “uncommitted” voters, “Their message was blunt: Biden’s presidency could hang in the balance if he doesn’t pay attention to voters he needs in November.”

Similar campaigns have been launched across the country. In Minnesota, one in five Democrats voted for “uncommitted” instead of Biden. Roughly 29 percent of Democrats in Hawaii chose “uncommitted,” as well as nearly 10 percent in Washington State.

In Boyte’s view, Behind Enemy Lines’s role is more to push people beyond the “business as usual” character of electoral politics. 

“It’s certainly a positive thing that people went out and said, ‘Not even in a primary [will I support] Biden’ and want to find a way to express that disgust,” he says. But, citing Standing Rock and the Black Lives Matter movement, “in the history of the last decade, the social movements that have made the most impact and the most noise have done so because they were outside of official politics.”

The group has an ambitious plan for this summer: canceling the Democratic National Convention.

As a part of their current organizing, the group has an ambitious plan for this summer: canceling the Democratic National Convention (DNC), scheduled to be held in Chicago during mid-August.

“Behind Enemy Lines Anti-Imperialist Resistance is currently waging a campaign to demand the City of Chicago cancel the Democratic National Convention . . . due to Biden and the Democratic Party’s material, moral, and political support for Israel’s occupation, apartheid, and genocidal war,” reads an Instagram post from the organization. “But if our demand is not met, we’ve got a backup plan: mobilize the broadest possible opposition in Chicago to the DNC while calling on anti-imperialist students and youth to flood the city, organize its residents to protest, and be on the frontlines of those protests with the goal of preventing the coronation of Genocide Joe.”

The 1968 convention, also hosted in Chicago, went down as one of the most significant protest events in American history. An estimated ten thousand protestors gathered in Chicago to oppose the celebration of the Democratic Party amid the atrocities being perpetrated by the United States in the war in Vietnam. 

Behind Enemy Lines believes that shutting down the DNC, or at least disrupting it, is an attainable goal—otherwise, Boyte says, they wouldn’t be doing it. Looking back to the protest groups of 1968, he wants to focus both on encouraging people to be bold as well as going “to the people” and organizing them. 

“The combination of those two things actually had a little bit of magic,” he says. “Yes, we can be bold and determined and risk our lives and our bodies to shut down this criminal war. And we can devote hours and hours and hours of our lives to talking to people, to struggling with them, to convincing them.”