The new freshman class of Democrats in Congress has some pro-Israel Jews worried. In particular, there are concerns about Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
Omar is seen as particularly problematic. She is one of two members of Congress to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, although she opposed it during her election campaign. She once tweeted that Israel “hypnotizes” the world. And, to the particular concern of the pro-Israel community, she was recently appointed to the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, is the other new member who supports BDS. During her run for office, she withdrew her support for the two-state solution, prompting the liberal pro-Israel J Street to withdraw its endorsement of her. Of course, Tlaib is not alone in her opposition to the two-state solution. Many on the right in the United States and in Israel also oppose it — even if for different reasons.
Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise victory in last summer’s primary, and election in November, brought her into the spotlight, where her ideas seemed unformed. Since her election she seems to have become an internet and Twitter star, and she continues to make members of the pro-Israel community nervous.
According to a Buzzfeed News report, “The young progressives who have ascended to power within the Democratic Party over the last few years want to force what were once fringe views into the mainstream, and significantly change U.S. policy toward Israel.” That report is consistent with the fears of many in the Jewish community that the Democratic Party is sliding into the anti-Israel camp. We disagree with that conclusion.
First, as many in the pro-Israel community often forget, Israel isn’t a major concern or issue of focus for most American voters — whether they be Democrats or Republicans. Instead, most Americans worry about domestic issues like the economy, health care and our dysfunctional government, and don’t give much thought to Middle East policy questions.
Second, the three freshman legislators who are prompting current concern represent just 1/145, or 0.7 percent, of the House. The Democratic caucus is led by two veteran politicians — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — both of whom have strong pro-Israel track records.
Third, inexperienced members of Congress are just that. The pro-Israel community has a long and successful record of educating members of Congress — even those who might initially be ignorant about Jews or are hostile to Israel.
Just as we encouraged outreach and engagement efforts with Ocasio-Cortez after her primary win, we do the same with regard to Omar and Tlaib, as we continue to believe that nothing will be gained by simply writing them off. Rather than wringing our hands and giving up hope, let’s make the point that a strong, confident, articulate and sophisticated Jewish community is an opportunity for these politicians to cultivate — not a threat.