Recent reports showing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez avoiding meeting Jews and avoiding attending Jewish events ignited a debate: Is it because she avoids all things Israel-related? Or is there an element of racism and anti-Semitism to it?
My personal experience in New York politics leads me to the unavoidable conclusion that AOC’s avoidance of Jews is more personal than others think.
Let me explain.
In 2014, I contacted then-veteran congressman Charlie Rangel. I was not representing an organization, a PAC, or anything like that. I told him that representatives of the Jewish community would like to meet with him. Within less than a week, his car rolled up in front of the Mount Sinai Jewish Center in north Manhattan. And he sat with us — a group of 15 Orthodox rabbis.
He didn’t necessarily agree with everything we had to say, but he did what New Yorkers do best: Respect those who are different from us. Congressman Rangel charmed the room. He listened, shared with us stories about his encounters with the Jews from his years in the military and growing up. And while he didn’t necessarily change his position, he showed us respect, gave us his time, and took from his time to do what our state does so well: Bring people together.
Since then, I have had several other meetings with Jewish community leaders and members of the New York congressional delegation. They have all been cordial, professional, and we knew that we are building a better future of tolerance, dialogue and respect. I believe that members of the New York congressional delegation represent the best of our country: Always respectful, always open to dialogue, and always looking to increase cooperation, and move our state and country forward.
I have had the same experience with state and city representatives. Even when there was little we can agree on politically, they were always ready to listen.
Then came Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. This situation has led us to some of the most absurd scenarios. Some have turned to other members of Congress to try and get her to give us the time of day. Others have simply given up.
After so many years of progress, the Jewish community finds itself excluded from American life once again. It is hard not to think about the country clubs, hospitals, universities and other institutions that excluded Jews early in the 20th century. Most often, like with AOC, Jews bit our tongues, built our own clubs and hospitals, and continued to fight for equality.
Sure, occasionally Ocasio-Cortez will tokenize Jews here and there, and meet groups of Jews like IfNotNow that do not recognize Israel’s right to exist, or show up at a Hanukkah party with those who will “as Jews” support boycott-divestment-sanctions.
Yet when it comes to showing common courtesy to her fellow Jewish New Yorkers, Ocasio-Cortez will take the approach of white supremacists in the early 1900s. We are not welcome in her country club, not even a show of solidarity in a soup kitchen for the poor, or a school for children with special needs. Ocasio-Cortez’s contempt for events related to the Jewish community has reached the level, that when in January, tens of thousands marched on the Brooklyn Bridge protesting rising levels of anti-Semitism, it was not clear if she would attend.
When she did, it became a uniquely newsworthy item. Clearly, Ocasio-Cortez’s treatment of the Jewish community is not all related to Israel, and this open secret is becoming less and less of a secret.
Ocasio-Cortez’s hostility and tokenizing of the Jews resurfaced again recently as she agreed to — and then canceled — her appearance at Americans for Peace Now memorial of late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. To be clear, this is an organization as far left as you can go without calling for the full dismantling of the state of Israel.
It is an organization that supports the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, while uprooting a half-million Israelis that live in the West Bank.
Rabin himself was assassinated for his far-reaching efforts and concessions favoring peace with Palestinians. Considering Ocasio-Cortez’s record of avoiding Jews, the surprise was not that Ocasio-Cortez canceled, but that she agreed in the first place.
The Jewish people have seen racism and persecution countless times throughout our history. Sadly, Ocasio-Cortez has chosen the wrong side of that history. Confronting the plague of racism should begin at least inside the halls of the U.S. Congress.
I do not believe that Ocasio-Cortez represents the values of the people of New York, just like I do not believe that notoriously racist congressman Steve King’s values represent those of Iowa. I would be more than happy to be proven wrong by Ocasio-Cortez, releasing her records of meeting with any Jews over the past three years.
Sadly, I do not believe this is possible. As a historically persecuted minority who has had to deal many times even with those who scorned us, I believe that Jewish organizations will continue to reach out to Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez.
I do not judge them for that. I do hope she lives up to the American quest for a world free of racism and hate, and changes course.
The author is a writer, teacher and rabbi, and is president of Eitan-The American-Israeli Jewish Network.