In June, 28-year-old challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stunned the political world by defeating Joseph Crowley, a 10-term incumbent who was fourth in line in the House of Representatives' Democratic leadership, in a Democrat primary.
Political analysts immediately cast Ocasio-Cortez's win as the biggest upset since House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican, lost in 2014 to a little-known right-wing professor, Dave Brat. Ocasio-Cortez's win also put Israel in the spotlight as she has been a harsh critic of the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians and is seen as the embodiment of the Democrats shifting away from Israel.
In an interview with PBS, Ocasio-Cortez seemed to attempt to walk back her previous criticism of Israel saying, "I am not the expert on geo-politics on this issue." However Ocasio-Cortez did repeat her claim that Israel is "occupying" Palestine, saying, "I also think that what people are starting to see at least with the occupation of Palestine is the increasing crisis of humanitarian condition. And that to me is where I tend to come from on this issue."
The outcome of the New York race added fuel to the battle between the Democratic Party's establishment wing, led by longtime House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and a more liberal faction inspired by Bernie Sanders' presidential run in 2016. Ocasio-Cortez served as an organizer for Sanders' campaign.
In the midst of her primary campaign, Ocasio-Cortez spoke out strongly against the Israeli army’s actions on the Gaza border on May 14, tweeting, “This is a massacre. I hope my peers have the moral courage to call it such. No state or entity is absolved of mass shootings of protesters. There is no justification. Palestinian people deserve basic human dignity, as anyone else. Democrats can’t be silent about this anymore.”
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Asked later why she chose to post the tweet, Ocasio-Cortez compared the Gaza protesters to civil rights activists in the United States.
“I think I was primarily compelled on moral grounds because I could only imagine if 60 people were shot and killed in Ferguson. Or if 60 people were shot and killed in the West Virginia teachers’ strikes. The idea that we are not supposed to talk about people dying when they are engaging in political expression just really moved me,” she said.
She told interviewer Glenn Greenwald that the “silence” around the Palestinian cause “has been a little interesting to me,” adding that her Puerto Rican roots her to relate to the Palestinian protesters.
“Puerto Rico is a colony that is granted no rights, that has no civic representation,” she said. “If 60 of us were shot in protest of the U.S. negligence in FEMA I couldn’t imagine if there were silence on that.”
Allison Kaplan Sommer contributed to this report