After U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., unveiled the Green New Deal, Republican critics said it would eventually ground air travel. Sen.
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Democrats are entering the 2020 election cycle with many of their leading presidential contenders increasingly willing to break with a pro-Israel foreign policy orthodoxy that guided the party for a generation.
But in voting in near lockstep against it, the presidential contenders highlighted a shift that has been gaining steam among Democrats for years.In 2018, the Pew Research Center found that 27% of Democrats said their sympathies lied with Israel, while 25% said the Palestinians — with the rest saying neither. That was a sharp drop from the 43% who chose Israel just two years earlier.
Younger and more liberal Democrats, in particular, said they were more likely to side with the Palestinians. And some companies that cater to a younger clientele have also shifted their positions in response to Israeli government actions: Airbnb in November said it would stop listing rentals in West Bank settlements.The election of two BDS supporters Omar and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the first Muslim women in Congress — to House Democratic ranks last year pushed the issue to the forefront.
“We are finally able to have conversations that we weren’t really willing to,” Omar told CNN recently, “and so it is really important for us to get a different lens about what peace in that region could look like and the kind of difficult conversations we need to have about allies.”Their willingness to criticize Israel, often in the context of clear and unabashed advocacy for Palestinians, has already begun to test old rhetorical boundaries in a way that even some of the party’s more liberal elected officials have typically sought to avoid.
Freshman lawmakers like Tlaib, Omar and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been quick to reject those constraints, and seem poised now to insist on a conversation that top Democrats have long stifled or sought to avoid.
“Straight up, the party is not ready for the debate that is coming,” one senior aide to a Democratic senator told CNN last year “It is an overdue debate and my strong sense is that no, the party is not ready to have it — look who the foreign policy leaders are.But that doesn’t matter because it’s coming.”A major moment that opened the doors for Democrats to become much more critical of Israeli policy came in 2015, when Benjamin Netanyahu came to Capitol Hill to denounce former President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, a left-leaning Jewish advocacy group.”When he came to Congress and argued against the policies of the sitting President of the United States at the invitation of the Republican speaker at the time, that was really what I think will be regarded as the historical moment when that bipartisanship was shattered. And it opened up the possibility for people to have arguments over these issues in ways that they probably didn’t prior to that,” Ben-Ami told CNN last week.”It gave permission to people to actually say what they think. To open up.”Netanyahu “threw in his lot with these right wing dictators and with Trump and as a result the liberal Democrats that make up the majority of the Jewish community . are going to oppose what Netanyahu is doing,” he said.”Elected officials should be particularly sensitive and careful on the question of the role played by campaign contributions in influencing US policies toward Israel and the Middle East,” he said, adding that they “should also refrain from labeling all criticism of Israeli actions or policies as ‘anti-Semitic,’ in a transparent effort to silence legitimate discussion and debate.”What’s not yet clear is whether Democrats, including the party’s new progressive vanguard, are willing to go any further in breaking with the Israeli government or curbing long-standing US support.McCarthy tweeted on Sunday that “Anti-Semitic tropes have no place in the halls of Congress,” but before the midterms said in a post of his own, “We cannot allow (George) Soros, (Tom) Steyer, and (former New York Mayor Michael) Bloomberg to BUY this election! Get out and vote Republican November 6th. #MAGA” — a reference to three Jewish billionaire donors whose names have been used in anti-Semitic propaganda. He deleted the tweet a day later.President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has embraced Netanyahu and pleased pro-Israeli advocates within both parties’ ranks by moving the United States’ embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
In the spring of 2017, a bipartisan anti-BDS bill arrived in the Senate with more than 50 cosponsors, another sign of how deeply entrenched support for Israel has become at the highest levels of national politics.Despite the overwhelming initial support, Democratic Sen.Ben Cardin was pressured into redrafting parts of the legislation after it came under scrutiny by civil liberties groups. Gillibrand, an opponent of BDS initially listed as a sponsor of the bill, withdrew her name following a burst of criticism, led by the ACLU, and said she would ask the authors to “rewrite it” to make clear that individuals would not be targeted for taking part.Grassroots Jewish progressive groups like IfNotNow, which was formed in 2014 during a conflict that became known by many as the Gaza war, believe opposition to Israel’s presence in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — often described as “the occupation” fits in naturally with other, increasing popular priorities, many of them championed by Sanders.”The same progressive values that so many Americans use to support issues like ‘Medicare for all’ or abolishing ICE and promoting more humane treatment of immigrants, raising the minimum wage, stricter gun control, keeping fossil fuel money out of politics are the same progressive values — and they’re Jewish values — that lead us to oppose occupation,” said Emma Saltzberg, an IfNotNow co-founder and volunteer organizer.