I want to reiterate that the problem is not necessarily with one or two statements that she’s made, but rather, that AOC has demonstrated a pattern of continuously disregarding the Jewish People and her Jewish constituents specifically. What’s most telling to me — even more so than her egregious lies — is that she snubbed Jewish community leaders for TWO YEARS, while Jews are the MOST TARGETED MINORITY in hate crimes in New York City. She said she was focused on the issues happening in her own backyard. Antisemitism is happening in her own backyard. Why was this never a priority for her?
I don’t believe that AOC wakes up in the morning thinking “Jews are evil.” I think that she has some deep-seeded implicit antisemitic bias that she refuses to reckon with. I suspect she believes that Jews are too privileged or too white to be afforded the same considerations as the other marginalized groups she enthusiastically rallies behind. And that, in itself, is antisemitism.
WHO IS AOC?
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an American Democrat congresswoman currently serving as a representative for New York’s 14th congressional district. Her district includes Rikers Island, the eastern part of the Bronx, and parts of north-central Queens. She’s been serving since 2019.
AOC has received widespread recognition as the youngest woman to ever serve in Congress. She defeated the 10-time Democratic incumbent during the 2018 midterm primaries and later defeated Republican Anthony Pappas during the general election.
AOC is known for her highly influential social media presence and is popularly regarded as a member of “the Squad,” a group of “progressive” Democratic women of color serving in Congress.
REFUSAL TO MEET WITH JEWISH LEADERS
Antisemitic hate crimes in NYC — including AOC’s districts — have increased by 50% since 2020. Jews, who form only 13% of the population in New York City, are consistently the most targeted minority in civilian hate crimes, above all other marginalized groups. We also know that Jews seriously underreport, particularly Orthodox Jews, who are targeted the most. Following the Israel-Gaza war in the summer of 2021, hate crimes skyrocketed, in large part due to incitement and inflammatory comments on social media.
In 2020, AOC repeatedly refused to meet with New York City Jewish leaders who wished to discuss the state of antisemitism in her districts. The heads of the Jewish Community Relations Council and the New York Board of Rabbis expressed dismay at her lack of engagement with her Jewish constituents.
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik of the New York Board of Rabbis even stated that he ran into AOC at several events and she consistently gave wishy-washy answers. It wasn’t until nearly two years later — in April of 2021 — that AOC finally met with the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. When asked why she took so long to engage, AOC claimed that she was focused on the issues happening in her “backyard.” But here’s the thing: what’s happening in her backyard is virulent, violent antisemitism. So why was this never a priority for her?
To be fair, AOC does engage with Jews sometimes — however, it happens that she only seems to engage with Jews that validate her views regarding Israel-Palestine, even when these groups oppose all of her other “progressive” values. Most notably, AOC has met with the Neturei Karta, a virulently antisemitic, LGBTQ-phobic, sexist, Holocaust denying fringe Jewish group whose only “common value” with AOC is their anti-Zionism. Even if her meeting was accidental or if she wasn’t aware of their bigoted positions, she has never issued an apology. AOC also frequently amplifies Jewish Voice for Peace, another fringe, xenophobic, racist, revisionist, and antisemitic group (see my post WHO IS JEWISH VOICE FOR PEACE?).
DANGEROUS COMMENTS ABOUT I/P
AOC is an avid supporter of the Palestinian cause, which is neither a problem nor antisemitic. However, it is one thing to support the Palestinian fight for equal human rights and self-determination. It is quite another to blatantly lie.
In the past, she has equated the situation in Israel-Palestine to the colonization of Puerto Rico. This is as ahistorical as it is offensive. Jews are an Indigenous ethnoreligious group violently expelled from our ancestral land (Israel-Palestine). For over 3000-years, Jewish peoplehood and culture have centered on the Land of Israel. Both Spain — and now the United States — had/have zero cultural, ancestral, or historic claim to what is now Puerto Rico. Whatever one thinks of Zionism or the State of Israel, this erasure of Jewish history and identity will always be inherently antisemitic.
Later, when called out for these comments, AOC responded: “I am not an expert on the geopolitics of this issue.”
Recently, AOC claimed that Israel keeps Palestinian children in cages in the West Bank, which is an flat out lie that crosses the line into the antisemitic conspiracy of blood libel. When asked to elaborate (or prove her claim), AOC’s office did not respond. She also claimed that, in the media, “Palestine is a banned word,” which, given the disproportionate amount of media coverage I/P receives, is statistically untrue. Personally, I couldn’t help but notice the “Zionists (or Jews) control the media” undertones of her comment.
EXPLOITATION OF JEWISH TRAUMA
Non-partisan Jewish groups, Jewish groups from across the political spectrum, esteemed historians, and other reputable organizations expressed opposition to AOC’s comparison of ICE detention camps to concentration camps in the Holocaust. Jews have repeatedly expressed anger and frustration at the constant use of Holocaust comparisons, which are not only triggering but also universalize the Holocaust, ultimately de-centering Jews and Roma from our very own genocide. As a Latina immigrant myself, I find the conditions in ICE detention camps to be abhorrent and inhumane. But to compare them to Auschwitz or Treblinka or another Nazi camp is both ahistorical and a false equivalency. To start with, immigrants are not being corralled into gas chambers.
AOC claims to oppose antisemitism, yet it seems that the only time she does so is when she can use it to fire back at her political opponents. Following the January 6 insurrection, AOC tweeted at Ted Cruz, asking him to take accountability for the neo-Nazism and antisemitism in the insurrection. And while Ted Cruz certainly has a lot to answer for, the constant parading of Jewish trauma in political debate is exhausting and once again strips Jews of our very own narrative. Antisemitism should be called out every time, all the time, no matter where it comes from. And it should be called out irrespective of Ted Cruz or anyone else. It should be called out for one reason and one reason only: to keep Jews safe.
Following heavy criticism from Jewish groups for misguided (and arguably antisemitic) comments regarding Israel-Palestine, AOC “revealed” during a Hanukkah celebration in 2018 that her ancestors were Sephardi, which, apparently, she discovered from a DNA test.
As a refresher, Sepharadim are a Jewish sub-ethnic group consisting of the descendants of the Jewish communities established in the Iberian Peninsula sometime during the Middle Ages. “Sephardi” can also refer to a broader cultural definition, specifically, the tradition of “Sephardi liturgy” now practiced by Mizrahi communities whose ancestors never spent any time in the Iberian Peninsula. In 1492 and 1496, respectively, Jews residing in Spain and Portugal were expelled (ethnically cleansed). Many fled to the Americas and lived secretly as “crypto-Jews” and were still persecuted for centuries.
To be clear, it’s estimated that 25% of Latin Americans have a small percentage of extremely distant Sephardi DNA. But a tiny percentage of “Jewish DNA” does not make a Jewish person, and to deflect from accusations of antisemitism by appropriating the distant heritage of Jews that had to fight tooth and nail to survive an ethnic cleansing and a genocide is extremely offensive, reminiscent of white Americans claiming distant Native heritage to deflect accusations of racism. What’s particularly frustrating is that antisemitism is still a major and deadly issue in Latin America — an issue that she, as a non-Jewish Latina, does not face (nor has ever addressed). Should AOC wish to reclaim this distant Sephardi heritage, she can formally follow the protocol of joining the Jewish tribe through a process of conversion.
The correct thing to do when called out for any bigotry is to reflect and if necessary, take accountability. AOC does neither, and she enthusiastically supports those who also do neither. Speaking of Marc Lamont, who was fired from CNN for making antisemitic remarks (and has continued making antisemitic remarks), AOC bemoaned “cancel culture.” Interestingly, in the past, she has dismissed cancel culture as not a real thing. Only when a person is held accountable for antisemitism does AOC suddenly condemn cancel culture.
Every single time other members of the Squad have been called out for making antisemitic remarks — some plucked straight out of 1930s Nazi propaganda — AOC has defended them, often gaslighting Jews by in turn accusing them of Islamophobia or racism.
Most notably, in December of 2019, AOC officially endorsed UK politician Jeremy Corbyn, going so far as to share a campaign video to her social media. Corbyn has long associated with Holocaust deniers, antisemites spouting blood libel and 9/11 antisemitic conspiracies, and more. In 2011, Corbyn wrote the foreword for a book accusing “men of a single and peculiar race” of controlling the finance world for centuries. Corbyn stated in internal Labour Party debates that he was worried about Jews receiving “special treatment.” In 2014, Corbyn laid a wreath at the graves of members of the Black September Organization that were behind the 1972 Munich Massacre. In 2020, Corbyn was suspended from the Labour Party after an investigation found that the party had breached the Equality Act 2010 in relation to antisemitism. However, in response to backlash, Corbyn was reinstated a month later.
In light of everything else, AOC has a questionable record in Congress as it pertains to Jewish issues.
In September of 2021, AOC and other members of the Squad pressured Democrats to remove $1 billion to fund the Iron Dome, Israel’s missile defense system, from a bill to prevent a US government shut down. She later tweeted that the reason for this was to stop “the bombing of Palestinian civilians [and] media centers.” The Iron Dome, however, doesn’t bomb anyone. It’s a missile defense system that disarms incoming missiles in the air. Worth noting that nearly 5000 missiles were launched into Israel in 2021. These missiles target civilians, which is a war crime. The Iron Dome has a 90% success rate, meaning that it’s saved thousands of lives (mostly Jewish lives, seeing as half of the world’s Jews live in Israel). It costs $50 million to replenish each Iron Dome battery, and each missile interceptor costs $50,000. Iron Dome technology doesn’t just benefit Israel. As part of the Israel-US agreement, the US has access to it.
AOC later stated that Israel receives “unlimited aid” from the United States, which is also untrue (unfortunately the exact details of the Israel-US agreement are too much to fit into this post).
Following the exponential increase in antisemitic hate crimes during the Israel-Gaza war in the summer of 2021, AOC voted against a bill to combat antisemitism, which would require the attorney general to review the issue within 90 days and would remove a 10 year maximum penalty for hate crimes for those who have a prior hate crime conviction. Her reasoning was that if antisemitism was added to this bill, so should other forms of bigotry. And while that’s probably true, in light of her track record, it’s interesting that AOC has a problem explicitly advocating for Jews when we are under attack.
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