Jewish Groups Split Over Ocasio-Cortez Comments on Cutting U.S. Aid to Israel

U.S. congresswoman says reelection of 'Trump-like' Netanyahu is part of 'ascent of authoritarianism across the world'; J Street president praises AOC's 'nuanced' stance, but Jewish Democrats group calls on her to 'engage' with party leaders on Israel issue

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Democrat of New York) looking on during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Washington, April 10, 2019.
\ AARON P. BERNSTEIN/ REUTERS

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Sunday she viewed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection as part of  “the ascent of authoritarianism across the world,” and that reducing military and economic aid to Israel as a way of signaling opposition to its policies is “on the table” and “can be discussed.” 

Speaking on Yahoo’s Skullduggery podcast, Ocasio-Cortez called Netanyahu a “Trump-like figure” and responded in the affirmative when asked whether the Israeli premier’s campaign statements promising to pursue annexation of parts of the West Bank should affect U.S. policy toward the Jewish state. 

“I think so,” the high-profile NY congresswoman said. “I think these are part of conversations we are having in our caucus, but I think what we are really seeing is an ascent of authoritarianism across the world. I think that Netanyahu is a Trump-like figure.” 

The progressive Democrat from New York said there were “many ways to approach this issue,” supporting a bill initiated by Democratic Minnesota Rep.  Betty McCollum that would prohibit U.S. military and financial aid to Israel from being used to detain Palestinian children in the West Bank. 

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The legislation, first proposed in November 2017, would “require the Secretary of State to certify that United States funds do not support military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.”

Ocasio-Cortez said that she “hoped and wished” diplomatic activity could also “impact policy” and that “it doesn’t all have to be legislative,” but she did not believe Congress should “sit on our hands.”

The 29-year-old democratic socialist representing New York’s 14th Congressional District has previously called for stronger U.S. advocacy of the Palestinian cause. During her primary campaign last year, she described the Israeli army’s actions on the Gaza border as a “massacre” and declared that “Democrats can’t be silent about this anymore.”

Asked Sunday if she would consider reducing military or economic aid to Israel as a way of signaling opposition to its policies, Ocasio-Cortez responded, “I think it’s on the table. I think it is certainly on the table. And I think it’s something that can be discussed.”

The freshman congresswoman emphasized that she did not view herself as a leader on the issue, deferring to those who had been “leading this for a long time” like Rep. McCollum. She said her job was to “play a facilitating role in this conversation, and a supportive role in this conversation.” 

She added, however, that she felt, “we need to expand what those policy conversations are.”

Reacting to her comments Monday, the Jewish Democratic Council of America signaled its unhappiness with the congresswoman. However, it stopped short of clearly condemning her remarks. Instead, the organization tweeted it was pleased that Ocasio-Cortez “recognizes she is NOT a leader on Israel in Congress. We recommend she engage with Democratic leaders Eliot Engel, Nita Lowey and Ted Deutch before contemplating the future of U.S. military aid to Israel. U.S.-Israel ties must supersede politics.”

By contrast, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami praised Ocasio-Cortez’s position as being “nuanced" in the “wake of Netanyahu’s annexation pledge.” In an approving tweet he wrote, “J Street view: U.S. can assure Israeli security without funding activities that run counter to U.S. values, interests such as annexation, demolitions.”