Americans for Peace Now, the organization that was snubbed this weekend by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, doesn’t enjoy the political influence and resources that other liberal Zionist organizations, like the center-left Israel Policy Forum and the progressive J Street, have amassed over the past two decades. But it has a historical connection to the Israeli “peace camp,” and that connection still means something to a segment of the American Jewish community that dreams about a return to the hopeful days of Yitzhak Rabin and the “peace process” of the 1990s.
Rabin was a brutal military officer who fought the Palestinians for five decades before using his political power to become the first Israeli leader to seriously negotiate with the other side, a policy reversal that cost him his life. Along the way, he did something even more important than the Oslo Accords – he was the first, and so far only, Israeli prime minister who based his government on the support of Arab-Israeli politicians, refusing to accept the racist concept of a “government without the Arab parties” that has dominated Israeli politics since his death.
All that became irrelevant once Ocasio-Cortez came under fire from the online progressive left for accepting the invitation to speak at the October 20 event. She caved, and Americans for Peace Now was left to do the cleanup Saturday evening.
The good people at APN, however, should have seen it coming. For more than two years now, ever since Ocasio-Cortez emerged on the national political scene as a meteor of progressive energy, she has been courted publicly and privately by liberal Zionists, to no avail.
There have been quiet attempts to connect her to progressive political figures in Israel, but the same politician who was happy to publicize a phone call with Jeremy Corbyn last year never found the time to do something similar with the people fighting every day against the corrupt, nationalist government of Benjamin Netanyahu. Compare that to Bernie Sanders, who spoke earlier this year via satellite at a large Tel Aviv protest against settlement annexation.
The liberal-Zionist courting of Ocasio-Cortez is based on the fantasy of finding common cause with “the Squad,” the group of female lawmakers led by AOC and attacked regularly by Donald Trump. Because the president hates the Squad, many liberal Jews think, and we hate Trump, it would only be natural for us to work together. But no matter how hard liberal-Zionist Jews try to build a bridge to Ocasio-Cortez and her peers, the effort will always end as it did this weekend – with a bitter taste of disappointment.
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The members of the Squad, it’s time to admit, simply don’t want to be friends with this segment of the Jewish community. Two of them – Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan – have an ideological problem with Israel that goes way beyond the current government. Ocasio-Cortez, for her part, is too committed to her fan base of Twitter progressives.
The good news for groups like Americans for Peace Now is that they don’t really need the Queens-based lawmaker. Yes, she’s got a huge following, and it would have been nice to enlist her to the cause of peace, but if she’s not interested, or not brave enough to stand up to the BDS crowd, there are many other emerging political leaders who’d be happy to take the slot she was offered.
In fact, there’s a growing list of influential women in the Democratic Party who would have probably done a great job at the Rabin event. Take Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a war hero who lost her legs in Iraq and then ran for Congress, voted in favor of Barack Obama’s Iranian nuclear deal, and in 2016 defeated Republican Mark Kirk, who was one of AIPAC’s favorite senators and a key ally of Netanyahu on Capitol Hill.
Another option: Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), a Jewish former intelligence analyst who won a very tough election in pivotal Michigan two years ago. Giving her an important stage to speak on Middle East policy – her field of expertise – would also be a smart way to bolster a Democratic politician who’s actually fighting to help flip a crucial swing state this fall.
Duckworth, Slotkin and many other talented Democratic politicians, particularly women, don’t have the star power and national name recognition of Ocasio-Cortez. But they’ve played a much more important role in giving Democrats their only source of power in today’s Washington – their majority in the House of Representatives – and in limiting the Republican advantage in the Senate.
And unlike the Squad, they’re also deeply committed to a two-state solution – a commitment that Ocasio-Cortez refused to offer, again because of angry tweets from BDS supporters – and to opposing Trump and Netanyahu without boycotting Israel.
Chasing AOC is a waste of time for liberal Jewish Zionists. It would be better to focus on political leaders who actually want to be friends with groups like Americans for Peace Now – and who, not coincidentally, are also much more influential in the fight against Donald Trump and his servants in the Republican Party.