Can pro-Israel Democrats turn back the intersectional tide?

Congressional veterans say the surge in anti-Israel candidates is irrelevant. But the ideological trend among party activists bodes ill for the future.

Then-Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks at the 2018 AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington. Credit: AIPAC.
Then-Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks at the 2018 AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington. Credit: AIPAC.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

According to some of the leaders of the Democrats’ congressional caucus, their party is getting a bad rap on Israel. But while they’re used to deflecting or ignoring Republican critiques about liberal ambivalence about the Jewish state, when The New York Times drew attention to the growing trend of anti-Israel sentiment in their party, they had to respond.

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaking at the 2018 AIPAC Policy Conference. Credit: AIPAC.

The Times’ Oct. 7 story, titled “A New Wave of Democrats Tests the Party’s Blanket Support for Israel,” was actually late, and omitted a lot of information that could have placed its reporting about recent developments relating to the 2018 midterms in a more understandable context.

For example, it left out what happened at the Democratic Party Convention in 2012 in Charlotte, N.C., where a revolt by grassroots activists serving as delegates against a pro-Israel resolution was suppressed by the party leadership’s decision to ignore the overwhelmingly negative voice vote on the issue.

It could have also pointed out that the one issue on which there was substantive disagreement between Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries was on Israel, with the latter taking a highly critical tone to the cheers of the activist left-wing faction that is likely to dominate the voting in 2020.

The article also failed to address national polling along partisan lines that has shown a sharp contrast between the overwhelming pro-Israel sentiments of Republicans and the decidedly mixed views of Democrats about the Jewish state, which show that the GOP has been the party where “blanket support” is the norm for the last 30 years, rather than the other way around.

But the Times did make it clear that a rising tide of young Democrats running for Congress on the Democratic line are more apt to adapt critical or anti-Israel positions with Socialist rock star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the openly anti-Israel Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib in the vanguard, as well as propagandists like Leslie Cockburn.

Even some other progressives who have been in the spotlight this year who now claim to be friends of the Jewish community have problematic pasts. For example, Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas), who is running against Sen. Ted Cruz, voted against funding for the Iron Dome missile-defense system. He also signed a letter (along with 69 other House Democrats) urging a restoration of funding to Hamas-ruled Gaza and opposed efforts to isolate the Islamist terrorist state that governs the strip.

But that isn’t the message veteran Democrats want to hear, especially when it has the imprimatur of the Times. So the party establishment is doing its best to push back against the paper’s reporting pretty much in the manner of a police officer at a crime scene, trying to tell curious passersby that there’s nothing to see.

According to them, the talk about a trend against Israel is merely the function of a few isolated candidates who are unrepresentative of the party as a whole.

And if you look only at the people who form the leadership of the Democrats in Congress, then they have a point.

Party veterans like Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland have strong voting records on pro-Israel issues. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has spent his adult life in politics telling audiences that he is a shomer, or “guardian” of Israel even if—as with his decision to vote against the Iran nuclear deal, but not to persuade fellow Democrats to join him in opposing President Obama—his actions betrayed more political equivocation than pure principle.

But even looking beyond the leadership, groups such as AIPAC view most of the party’s rank-and-file membership in the House and Senate as reliable supporters. There’s no question that the majority of them aren’t interested in associating with the positions embraced by Ocasio-Cortez, let alone Omar or Tlaib.

That has enabled Democrats to continue to claim that talk of the GOP using Israel as a “wedge” issue is undermining bipartisan pro-Israel coalition. They also worry that U.S. President Donald Trump’s wholehearted embrace of Israel and his historic policy shifts, such as moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem or pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, are making it harder for young Democrats who despise the president to support the Jewish state.

But blaming problems that have been brewing for decades on Trump won’t wash. The issue isn’t so much who is currently representing the Democrats as it is the power of intersectional ideology, which views the Palestinian war on Israel’s existence as akin to the struggle for civil rights in the United States, among party activists that is all the fashion on the left.

On campuses and in deep-blue districts, the “resistance” against Trump is dominated by leftist ideologues like Women’s March leaders Tamika Mallory, who is a fangirl of anti-Semitic hatemonger Louis Farrakhan, and Linda Sarsour, a virulently anti-Zionist Palestinian-American.

Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory was a big deal because it had enormous symbolic value in that her upset of Rep. Joe Crowley not only knocked off a senior member of the Democratic leadership, but also a stalwart of the pro-Israel community. Replacing him with someone who is not sure what she thinks about Israel’s right to exist wasn’t as much an accident as a sign of the changing political culture of the Democrats.

The example of what happened in Britain when a hard-line leftist like Jeremy Corbyn helped transform the Labor Party into a bastion of anti-Semitism isn’t analogous to what is happening among most Democrats, who have little in common with him. But the drift the Times reported is real and far from isolated. Nor, given the lockstep loyalty of the majority of American Jews to the Democratic Party, is there any real pressure to push back against it. As long as Democrats are more devoted to “resisting” Trump than to resist either intersectionalism or the growing number of Israel opponents in its caucus, this issue won’t be going away anytime soon.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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