Progressive Democrats Increasingly Criticize Israel
By: Alena Khan/Arab America Contributing Writer
In politics, everything you say or do is open to the public, and open to the public’s own interpretation. As a politician, what you say can and will most likely be used against you in the media, news, etc. Many topics in politics, of course, raise some controversy, and for many years now, commenting on Israel’s policies have been looked at as politically risky, however now a growing number of Democrats have begun to openly criticize them.
According to ABC News in 2018, “more than 100 Palestinians have been killed during clashes with Israel’s security forces,” and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had something to say about it. As a first time candidate, Ocasio-Cortez decided to include criticism of Israel in her campaign, discussing the recent massacre in Gaza, and expressing that we need more Democrats to shift their focus on the struggle of Palestinians. Her tweets on the conflict have gotten a lot of press, good and bad, grabbing the attention of her followers and other Democratic reps. Like any politician speaking out on a controversial topic, Cortez received heavy backlash for her comments from the Republican Jewish Coalition, calling her “a harbinger of the decline of Democrats’ support of Israel.” However, despite Cortez’s comments she still won her primary election, and become one of several progressives who has now increasingly called out Israel’s actions and policies.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez called Cortez’s public statement on her stance with Israel a representative of the future of the Democratic party, as he aligned himself with the “former political outsider.”
“It seems to be that some criticism of Israel is part of a package among young progressives.” According to Pew Research Center, the percentage of Democrats saying they sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians has declined from 38 percent back in 2001 to now the lowest level of support, 27 percent in 2018. On the other hand, their support for Palestinians rose from a low 18 percent to 35 percent.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders condemned Israel. As an independent, Sanders called Israel’s Gaza conflict “disproportionate,” and expressed that the US should do otherwise and treat Palestinians with “respect and dignity.” He’s continued to press on the issue through social media, showing that it’s possible for candidates to succeed while “embracing the grassroots support of the Palestinian cause.”
“More people are seeing the need to speak out and be a bit more frank with their criticism,” says Mal Hyman, another Democratic candidate in South Carolina. Hyman has personally spent time working on human rights in Israel, Gaza and West Bank, and often takes to Twitter to express his opinions on Israeli policies. “There is only one way to describe IDF’s actions: a massacre. Since US government is one of the biggest supporters of Israel, the onus is on us to send the message that these kinds of massacres go against every human rights principle.”
Minnesota State Rep. Ilhan Omar currently in an August primary with several other Democrats has called Israel an “apartheid state,” in defense of her previous tweets stating that Israel has “hypnotized the world” and committed “evil doings.”
Shibley Telhami, a fellow at the Brookings Institute believes that the public opinion has shifted on the issue after polling on American attitudes towards the conflict. According to Telhami’s studies, Democratic candidates have become less afraid of the repercussions of criticizing Israel. “Democrats have increasingly seen the conservative Israeli government as one that has opposing set values… Democrats, even separate from the partisan issue, have basically seen the Palestinian issue as part of their value system.”
As Democrats increasingly criticize Israel they show that they are open to talking about the sensitive issues, some may say that will ruin their campaign, but others say it might just help. Neil Strauss, the spokesman with the Republican Jewish Coalition says he worries that “the rhetoric has already become mainstream by the Democratic party.” Whereas James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute has been pushing Democrats to support the Palestinian cause for years, “the current political environment and ties between Israel and the Trump administration will help this recent shift maintain itself in the years ahead.”
For decades politicians have had to think over everything they would say, are their personal views, opinions or passions too politically risky? Can they express their true values, or will their personal opinions hinder the outcome of their election? Now more than ever we need as much support in issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s about time that the left of the Democratic party is becoming critical of Israel not worried about the repercussions.