A #throwback to the time when outposts were illegal
NEW YORK (JTA) – After Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shocked the political world by defeating longtime New York Rep. Joseph Crowley in a Democratic primary last month, Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez quickly aligned himself with the former political outsider, saying on a radio show that “she represents the future of our party.”
If so, that future appears to include the kind of sharp criticism of Israel once considered taboo in both major parties.
Ocasio-Cortez ran on a platform of Medicare for all, fully funded public schools and a universal jobs guarantee. But she has also been critical of Israel, calling its military’s killing of Palestinian protesters in May a “massacre.”
The Democratic Socialists of America, of which Ocasio-Cortez is a member, supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. Ocasio-Cortez has remained silent on the issue.
In Minnesota, Democratic congressional candidate Ilhan Omar calls herself an “intersectional feminist” and Israel an apartheid regime. In Virginia’s 5th Congressional District, Democratic nominee Leslie Cockburn is the co-author, along with her husband, of Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the US-Israeli Covert Relationship, a scathing 1991 attack on the Jewish state.
“It seems to me that some criticism of Israel is part of a package among young progressives along with healthcare for all and jobs for all,” Democratic strategist Brad Bannon told Newsweek.
That puts Democrats who are both liberal and pro-Israel in a bind. Whether the result of “intersectionality,” which links Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to other leftwing causes, or a willingness to call out its right-wing government, progressive ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ marches during the Bronx’s pride parade last month. criticism of Israel may make for some hard choices come Election Day.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, the percentage of Democrats saying they sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians has declined from 38% in 2001 to 27% in 2018 – the lowest level of support on record. Support for Israel further decreased among self-identified “liberal” Democrats from 48% in 2001 to 19% in 2018. In the same time period, their support for Palestinians rose from 18% to 35%.
Although the Pew survey received notable criticism, the general trends it notes have been shown elsewhere.
Some credit Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) with normalizing such criticism of Israel. While the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate defined himself as “100% pro-Israel,” he recently called on the US to adopt a more balanced policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. In late March, Sanders’s office posted three videos to social media harshly criticizing Israel for what he deemed its excessive use of force in Gaza, and the Trump administration for not intervening during the border clashes.
Last year, Perez appointed as his DNC deputy Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who, in addition to being dogged by ties to the antisemitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, implied that US foreign policy in the Middle East is “governed” by considerations of what is good or bad for Israel. (Ellison, who was the first Muslim elected to Congress, is running for attorney-general in Minnesota and is not seeking reelection. Omar is seeking his seat.)
Left-wing activists have also drawn Democratic politicians into Israel controversies. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a potential 2020 presidential candidate who has recently tacked left, penned a glowing Time magazine write-up of controversial progressive heroines and Women’s March leaders Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour. Mallory, in a non-apology steeped in intersectional progressive terminology, has since defended her own relationship with Farrakhan following his recent antisemitic rants. Sarsour, who argued that Zionism and feminism are incompatible, is a prominent supporter of BDS.
“There’s a lot of evidence that defining liberalism through an intersectional lens has had the effect of casting Israel as an ‘oppressor’ and thus a nation worthy of condemnation, even as its actual policies on issues associated with intersectionality are infinitely better than those of its neighbors,” KC Johnson, a history professor at Brooklyn College, former Fulbright instructor at Tel Aviv University and regular Washington Post contributor, told JTA in an email interview.
The Republican Jewish Coalition is expected to make the rise of the Democratic Left a target of its activism. It already has run ads in a Philadelphia-area congressional district where the Democratic candidate, Scott Wallace, faced heat after a charity he runs was shown to have given to anti-Israel groups. (He said he wasn’t aware and is pro-Israel.)
RJC spokesman Neil Strauss told JTA that anti-Israel rhetoric has become mainstream in Democratic politics and is a means of securing left-wing support.
“Democrats running in competitive primaries, some in swing districts, are getting