Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez isn’t on her way to Congress because of her hostility to the State of Israel. The upset victory of a Democratic Socialist over one of the highest ranking Democrats in Congress, as well as the boss of the party in New York City’s Queens County, did not hinge on her declaring that Israel was perpetrating a “massacre” in Gaza and her call for members of the party to join in denouncing the Jewish state.
She beat Rep. Joe Crowley for a number of sound political reasons, including the demographics of a district with an overwhelmingly minority population and the way the Democratic base—the people who turn out to vote in primaries—is shifting hard left. Ocasio-Cortez ran on an essentially Socialist platform of Medicare for all and a federal jobs guarantee, as well as for the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which means open borders.
These stands were irresistible to outer borough Democrats, who were already ready to embrace the idea of replacing a conventional, middle-aged, white male career politician with a charismatic young Hispanic woman. But though her race may have helped, the fact is, she did even better in portions of her district like Astoria with younger white voters than she did in Hispanic or African-American neighborhoods.
Ocasio-Cortez’s victory is one more indication of how Democrats are changing, and anti-Israel sentiments are—as she boasted in an interview with Glenn Greenwald—no hindrance in gaining the support of Democrats, including many Jews these days.
What’s driving this trend?
Put it down to the way every aspect of American politics has become radicalized in the age of Trump. Republicans are prepared to tolerate U.S. President Donald Trump’s egregious statements and tweets in exchange for conservative policies and judges. But they also like him because they see him as willing to fight the left without being constrained by notions of fair play or civility.
At the same time, Democrats seem to think that the only rational response to Trump is to get behind radicals who also won’t pull their punches or behave in a civil manner while conducting a fight to the death against the GOP.
Both sides claim that their opponents started it, but that’s a non-issue. Just as establishment Republicans didn’t understand that a Trump win was what their base wanted, so, too, are conventional Democrats being swept away by the desire of their grassroots for extremists. The end result is the transformation of both parties into outlets for populists and ideological absolutists. But one of the casualties may also ultimately be bipartisan consensus in favor of Israel.
As polls have continually shown, the vast majority of Americans are enthusiastic supporters of Israel. But the partisan divide on the issue is growing. Republicans are lockstep backers of the Jewish state, while Democrats remain divided. And the trend among Democrats is heading in the wrong direction. It’s clear that people like Ocasio-Cortez are the future of the party, and stereotypical establishment types like Crowley, who have always been reliable backers of Israel, are its past.
Democrats have complained loudly about the way some radical-right anti-Semites have infiltrated Republican ranks this year. Holocaust-denier Arthur Jones won the GOP nomination for Congress in an overwhelming African-American Illinois district where the party of Lincoln barely exists anymore. Paul Nehlen, another alt-right anti-Semite, is conducting a futile effort to replace House Speaker Paul Ryan in Wisconsin. Patrick Little, a California Jew-hater, also made some noise when running unsuccessfully for a chance to represent the GOP against the re-election bid of longtime Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
Then there is Virginia GOP Senate candidate Corey Stewart, who has flirted with extremists, but who now says he opposes them as he heads towards a likely defeat in November.
But all of these people, with the prominent exception of Stewart, are marginal and reviled by the entirety of the Republican Party—up to and including Breitbart.com. That’s not the case for Democrats opposed to Israel.
In Virginia, Leslie Cockburn, co-author of an anti-Israel conspiracy screed, is not only being helped by national Democrats, she’s actually been given a decent chance to win the Charlottesville district currently held by a Republican.
In Minnesota, a virulent critic of Israel and former Louis Farrakhan supporter, like Rep. Keith Ellison, is expected to be replaced by fellow Democrat Ilhan Omar, who has referred in the past to Israel as having “hypnotized the world” into ignoring “the evil doings” of the Jewish state.
The trouble is that anti-Israel types like Ocasio-Coretz aren’t merely getting nominations that are guarantees of victory in November. They’re also treated like rock stars by the liberal media.
While Hillary Clinton and her mainstream Democratic backers held off Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ challenge in the 2016 primaries and at the party’s convention that year, all of the enthusiasm in the party now resides with its left-wing, which is leading the “resistance” to Trump and which also is hostile to Israel.
But the problem goes deeper than that.
In an atmosphere in which even sensible moderate Democrats are ready to tolerate incivility and harassment of administration figures, the ardent support for Israel on the part of Trump and Republicans (which is requited not only by the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu, but also by the Israeli people), is likely to be lumped in with their other stands about immigration and border security. In a public square in which both sides don’t think of each other as being so much wrong on the issues as “evil,” some young Democrats who are applauding their more radical champions are starting to buy the lie that backing Israel is one more sign of fascism or racism on the part of Republicans.
Even when measured against Trump, I don’t think the takeover of the Democrats by people like Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez is a formula for a general election victory. Still, it would be foolish to think that the ability of such figures to be embraced by their party, as opposed to being consigned to the margins, won’t come without a high cost to the notion of a bipartisan pro-Israel consensus.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter: @jonathans_tobin.