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October 8, 2020 9:05 am

Jewish Groups Should Engage and Push Back on AOC

avatar by Harry Onickel


Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) questions Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on ‘Monetary Policy and the State of the Economy,’ in Washington, DC, July 10, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Erin Scott.

If anyone is truly perplexed at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC)’s refusal to engage with mainstream Jewish leaders, they either haven’t been paying attention or they’ve ignored AOC’s every public statement on Jews and Israel.

In a July 2018 interview with Margaret Hoover, referring to a tweet in which AOC accused Israel of “mass shootings of protesters” during Hamas’ March of Return riots, AOC was asked to give her position on Israel. She explained that she saw the incident through the lens of an activist and an organizer. She then, as an activist, tried to connect Israeli self-defense against Gazan rioters to deaths in Ferguson Missouri, the South Bronx, and Puerto Rico.

She referred to “the occupation of Palestine” as leading to a humanitarian crisis. When asked what she meant by “occupation of Palestine,” AOC had difficulty answering. After furtively mentioning settlements and the difficulty of Palestinians accessing housing, she admitted that she was not the “expert on geopolitics on this issue,” and fell back on favoring a “two-state solution,” thereby dodging the question.

She did agree with Margaret Hoover that if she got to Washington, she would have a chance to talk to people on both sides of the issue. She said she was “willing to learn and to listen … and willing to learn and evolve.” But by now we know that “both sides” means one side, and listening and learning are limited to people and groups who share her anti-Israel opinions.

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AOC is one fourth of “the Squad.” Two other squad members, Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar — of Michigan and Minnesota respectively — have not been shy about expressing antisemitism and hatred for Israel. AOC’s alliance with them suggests she already harbored similar sympathies and has been receiving her continuing education from Tlaib and Omar.

In addition to ignoring mainstream Jewish groups, AOC also recently backed out of attending an event sponsored by Americans for Peace Now honoring the late Yitzhak Rabin. One concerned progressive Zionist group was particularly obsequious in their open letter to AOC protesting her slight: “While we are frequently inspired by your bold and trailblazing female leadership … we cannot overlook the positions you have taken that marginalize American Jews.” They also wrote, “Your decision is painful to us. … It will … advance the forces of white supremacy.”

AOC hasn’t ignored all Jewish groups. She’s met with members of the anti-Zionist, pro-Iran Neturei Karta. AOC has also expressed support for the British Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn, whose tenure was marred by repeated instances of antisemitism.

AOC has also met with American Muslims for Palestine. These meetings can only have amplified her negative feelings toward Jews and Israel.

Everything I’ve mentioned is not only public knowledge, but at times has caused waves in the Jewish community. Except for the original interview (prior to her election), AOC has not tried to hide her views. Her rejection of mainstream Jewish groups was predictable, and it’s terrible to watch Jewish leaders refuse to confront her on this.

As AOC will be in Congress for many years, this is terrible policy. AOC is going to have influence in this country for years to come. Jewish groups need to try to publicly engage her on these issues, and speak out forcefully and publicly if she won’t do so.

Harry Onickel is a freelance writer from Ferndale, Michigan.

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