It took only a few hours after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise victory in the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th Congressional District for the broad anti-Israel brush to be applied to the first-time candidate. The conclusion of many first responders in the Jewish press and Jewish community is that Ocasio-Cortez is anti-Israel and a harbinger of the Democratic Party’s continuing descent into anti-Israel purgatory.
We think that is the wrong lesson to take from her victory.
Some of the criticism — and much of it came from people who wouldn’t have been able to pick Ocasio-Cortez out of a lineup the day before the election — is largely based on guilt by association, although she has made statements that can be reasonably be read as anti-Israel. She’s a member of Democratic Socialists of America, which supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, among other things. But there is no evidence that she supports BDS. And boycotting Israel is nowhere to be found among the items in her campaign platform.
That platform includes Medicare for all, tuition-free public college, criminal justice reform, gun control, combating climate change, immigration reform, a universal jobs guarantee, and abolishing immigration and customs enforcement, or ICE. Far from winning an election because of her positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ocasio-Cortez instead bumped off the fourth ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives because of her far-left domestic policy views.
Ocasio-Cortez’s chief Israel-related sin as a candidate seems to be a May 14 tweet in which she called Israel’s killing of Palestinian protesters at the Gaza border that day a “massacre.”
“This is a massacre,” she tweeted. “I hope my peers have the moral courage to call it such. No state or entity is absolved of mass shootings of protesters. There is no justification. Palestinian people deserve basic human dignity, as anyone else. Democrats can’t be silent about this anymore.”
The Jewish Democratic Council of America begged to differ, but it took six weeks to do so on the day after her victory. In a statement, the Jewish group, whose mission is to elect pro-Israel Democrats to Congress, cited the tweet and her membership with Democratic Socialists of America as the reasons “her position on Israel is not in line with our values.”
With token Republican opposition, Ocasio-Cortez is likely to be elected in November. She will be the youngest woman in Congress, and if history is a guide, she will probably hold her office for quite some time. Instead of wringing their hands in worry, Jewish groups should seek to engage with her, to discuss the issues. While there are no guarantees, nothing will be gained by simply writing her off.
Ocasio-Cortez may soon be the farthest left politician to walk the halls of Congress since Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was elected, but that shouldn’t preclude our community’s efforts to work with her to help her understand the importance and mutual benefit of the American-Israel relationship. JN