columnU.S. News

AOC and progressives can’t hide their role in stoking antisemitism

The liberal Jewish establishment applauded her condemnation of extreme haters. But the roots of the current surge run deep in leftist ideology.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) at a rally on Staten Island with workers from the JFK8 Amazon fulfillment center who formed the first Amazon Union, April 2022. Credit: John Nacion/Shutterstock.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) at a rally on Staten Island with workers from the JFK8 Amazon fulfillment center who formed the first Amazon Union, April 2022. Credit: John Nacion/Shutterstock.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

If you were wondering whether Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was just a publicity-hungry leftist provocateur or a serious politician determined to do everything to advance her career on the national stage, you now have your answer. In an act of political triangulation worthy of former President Bill Clinton, the founding member of the leftist congressional “Squad” popularly known as AOC managed to take a stand against antisemitism and earn the applause of the liberal Jewish establishment while being bashed by even more extreme Jew-haters.

That AOC did this after repeatedly employing rhetoric about Israel’s war against Hamas, including falsely accusing the Jewish state of genocide that has helped fuel the current surge in antisemitism throughout the United States, illustrates not just her hypocrisy and chutzpah but also that she is a savvy political player. For years, she’s been an avid supporter of the stands of “Squad” colleagues Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) as their open antisemitism became a national disgrace, as well as an indication of how she and fellow “progressives” were taking over the Democratic Party.

Her ability to flip the narrative about her anti-Israel incitement and demonization of the Jewish state is a testament both to her political acumen and the willingness of some of the people whose job it is to fight antisemitism to stay in sync with their allies on the Democratic left wing. But it’s also a sign of her ability to take advantage of an opportunity to position herself closer to the mainstream, thanks to the intolerance of left-wing extremists.

Pushing Biden to betray Israel

Since the Oct. 7 massacres in southern Israel, AOC has been a reliable Israel-basher and a key part of the left-wing coalition that has been pushing President Joe Biden and his administration to betray the Jewish state and let Hamas win the war. But for some on the far left, that wasn’t good enough. Videos of the congresswoman being harassed by extremists for supposedly not being sufficiently anti-Israel went viral and wound up getting more publicity than her positions and statements making it clear that she was firmly in the anti-Zionist camp, along with her pals Omar and Tlaib.

Such attacks were annoying, but they also served her purpose as she eyes a future in national politics. That might mean an attempt to challenge Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, also of New York, when he runs for re-election in 2028 or even a longshot run for the presidency that year or in the future.

Having staked out ground as a fierce opponent of Israel and an inveterate basher of the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby in terms that are indistinguishable from traditional antisemitic tropes, AOC ought to be radioactive to mainstream Jewish groups. But even after the events of the last eight months as the anti-Israel progressives did all they could to help Hamas and to undermine support for the Jewish state’s right to self-defense, some of the people tasked with defending the Jews are still eager to help their erstwhile allies.

Providing cover for an extremist

A prime example of this is Amy Spitalnick, head of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella of Jewish community-relations groups across the nation. As I predicted when she was chosen for her job last year, Spitalnick is, even after Oct. 7, still more interested in fighting for the progressive political agenda and partisan Democratic goals than defending Israel and the Jews. So, it was unsurprising that she joined AOC, along with Stacy Burdett, a former ADL official, on a livestream webinar broadcast on X titled “Antisemitism and the Fight for Democracy.”

The title was the tip-off that the purpose of the program was to promote the Democratic Party’s main 2024 talking point rather than doing something about Jew-hatred. The point being that liberal groups like the JCPA agree that the only way to defend democracy is to keep the Democrats in power and regard the fact that it is the political left that is the main source of contemporary antisemitism as an inconvenient fact that may be an obstacle to achieving that objective.

So, Spitalnick and Burdett were happy to provide cover for AOC to try and wiggle the progressives out of their current dilemma where there is no longer any doubt about their being primarily responsible for an unprecedented surge in antisemitism. In order to do that, AOC had to be willing to do something that the leader of her party—the supposedly moderate pro-Israel President Joe Biden—has not been willing to do: Denounce the antisemites in his own party. As I noted earlier this year, Biden has been unwilling to have a “Sister Souljah moment” with the antisemitic wing of his party and has instead been kowtowing to the Democrats’ far-left and Arab-American elements as he sought to shore up support for his re-election effort among his party’s base.

Sensing an opportunity to position herself closer to the political mainstream without actually having to moderate her positions, AOC pounced. During the course of the webinar, she made a statement that made her appear as if she is an opponent of antisemitism while not budging an inch in her anti-Zionism and willingness to smear Israel as a monstrous country guilty of “genocide” against innocent Palestinians.

“Antisemitism, hate and violence against Jews because of their identity is real, and it is dangerous,” said Ocasio-Cortez, earning herself praise not just from her accomplices Spitalnick and Burdett, but even from a pro-Israel stalwart like Abe Foxman, the former head of the Anti-Defamation League in the days when it prioritized the fight against antisemitism rather than the cause of the Democratic Party, as is the case with his successor, CEO and national director Jonathan Greenblatt.

Indeed, Foxman wasn’t the only one duped by AOC into lauding her stand because of the belief that even the most minimal acknowledgment that antisemitism exists on the left seemed a breakthrough.

However, her point was that antisemitism undermined the progressive agenda. “Antisemitism is an assault on our values as Americans and especially as progressives,” she said. “Antisemitism is also a threat to a community that is a vital partner in our struggles against injustice. So, when the Jewish community is threatened, the progressive movement is undermined. That is why we reject it as fiercely as we reject and look for misogyny, Islamophobia or any form of bigotry or discrimination in any space that we occupy. Right now, antisemitism is on the rise in America and across the world. Acknowledging that fact does not take away from fights for liberation, it actually advances them.”

Still opposing Zionism

The congresswoman made clear that she was merely distancing herself from the more vulgar forms of Jew-hatred, like the rampage of “pro-Palestinian” demonstrators outside the White House, anti-Israel mobs protesting in front of a Wall Street exhibit about the Oct. 7 murders at the Nova music festival, the targeting of Jews during a “day of rage” on the New York City subway and the red-paint vandalization of the homes of officials associated with the Brooklyn Museum.

In essence, what she was trying to do was to separate herself from the thugs on the streets while still opposing the existence of the one Jewish state on the planet. She also essentially backs efforts to ensure that the genocidal and fascist terrorists of Hamas are allowed to escape accountability for atrocities on Oct. 7, and go back to governing Gaza and working towards their goal of destroying Israel.

“It is also important to say here in this moment and during that conversation that criticism of the Israeli government is not inherently antisemitic and criticism of Zionism is not automatically antisemitic,” AOC added.

Of course, criticism of any Israeli government is not antisemitic. But “criticism of Zionism” is indistinguishable from an effort to deny Jews rights that no one would think of denying to anyone else. This statement gave her—and by implication, other “progressives”—a pass for engaging in the worst kind of libels against Israel and demonizing its efforts to defend itself against those who see Oct. 7 as just a trailer for what they wish to do to the rest of Israel.

No responsible Jewish leader should be providing cover for a member of Congress who has done so much to advance the anti-Israel cause. But more important is the need for those who pretend to lead the Jewish community to understand that the ideological basis for the open antisemitism in the streets of America’s cities and on college campuses is to be found in the beliefs about critical race theory and intersectionality that an avowed Marxist like AOC calls “fights for liberation.” A condemnation of antisemitism that doesn’t acknowledge that the extremism and violence against Jews so ubiquitous right now can be directly linked to the promotion of these ideas is useless.

As has been abundantly clear for years but can no longer be ignored since Oct. 7, the mindset that sees the world divided into two groups of “white” oppressors and “people of color” who are their victims, locked in a perpetual race war, inevitably falsely labels Israel and Jews as the former. The fact that the JCPA and ADL have refused to renounce their endorsement of these toxic woke progressive agenda items, even as they acknowledged the spike in antisemitism from their former allies on the left, shows just how morally bankrupt these organizations and leaders like Spitalnick and Greenblatt have become.

The future of the Democrats?

There should be no pass given to politicians, academics or anyone who pretends to oppose antisemitism while still opposing Israel’s existence and right to exist. And none for those, like AOC, whose main goal since Oct. 7 has been to prevent the elimination of Hamas. Those progressives who don’t want to dirty their hands in the way the masked thugs do aren’t opposing antisemitism. The mobs in the streets may have gone farther than the congresswoman and other progressives are comfortable with in expressing their hatred for Israel and the Jews. Still, their end goals are no different from hers and anyone else who is working for victory for Hamas. Her advocacy advances their cause, whether or not she or they are willing to admit it.

Those who see AOC as the future of the Democratic Party probably aren’t wrong. Most Democrats aren’t in agreement with her extreme positions on foreign policy, or even the environment and “green new deal” measures that would impoverish the nation and harm middle- and working-class Americans while elites like AOC remain untouched. But the progressives dominate the younger generation of Democratic activists and the party base.

That she is disassociating herself from the worst excesses of her allies while still engaging in antisemitic tropes about AIPAC and Zionism is no reason for Jews who purport to speak for American Jewry to back her deception. Indeed, it says more about the collapse of Jewish leadership at a time when it’s needed most. Either way, AOC’s determination to act in a matter that will allow her to advance her toxic causes and personal ambitions is a warning for those who care about not just Israel and the Jews, but the future of America. The more influential a Marxist extremist like her grows, the more dangerous a place this country will be not just for Jews but for the cause of liberty itself.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war. JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you. The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support? Every contribution, big or small, helps JNS.org remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Topics
Comments
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates