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Outspoken US Democrat shows the Left how to call out antisemitism

In a lesson for the Australian Greens, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has described antisemitism as a threat not just to progressive values but to the broader community.
Dan Coleman
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US Dem Alexandra Ocasio-CortezY: Memorial Day Ceremony Attended By Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has spoken out strongly against antisemitism (Anthony Behar/Sipa USA)

Published: 19 June 2024

Last updated: 19 June 2024

There has been much discussion, debate, and anguish over the antisemitism that has overtaken the pro-Palestinian Left in recent months: how pervasive is it really? What do the confronting chants and slogans actually signify? What are we to make of the doxing, exclusion, and harassment of Jews?

The troublesome nature of these questions is amplified by the fact that no significant leader on the Left has stood up to take a strong position against antisemitism in the current context. Not until last week.

On June 10, New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) released a webinar on her YouTube channel titled “Antisemitism and the Fight for Democracy.” She was joined by Amy Spitalnick of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Stacy Burdett, an independent consultant on antisemitism prevention and response.

“Antisemitism is an assault on our values as Americans and especially as progressives,” Ocasio-Cortez said at the start of the 35-minute conversation. “Antisemitism is also a threat to a community that is a vital partner in our struggles against injustice. So when the Jewish community is threatened, the progressive movement is undermined.”

Antisemitism is an assault on our values as Americans and especially as progressives.

The Jewish Insider described AOC’s webinar as “a notable recognition and condemnation of antisemitism on the Left from one of the most prominent progressive leaders in the country.” The import of AOC’s remarks cannot be over-emphasised, given that she is among the leading progressive voices, not just in the US, but in the world.

And she comes by it rightly. AOC’s election to Congress in 2018 was based on an energetic grassroots mobilisation that ousted a long-term establishment Democrat. She followed that up in her first month in office by introducing Green New Deal legislation in Congress.

In last week’s webinar AOC cited Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt, who characterised Jews as the canaries in the coal mine, saying “it may start with the Jews but it doesn’t end with the Jews”. This is a reality that today’s social justice warriors rallying around the Palestinian cause, often vulnerable minorities themselves, would do well to remember.

As Amy Spitalnick told AOC, “the only world in which I am safe as a Jewish American woman is one in which my Arab American, Muslim, black, immigrant, LGBTQ neighbours are safe and vice versa” [emphasis added].

Stacy Burdett pointed to the connection between the 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, that of Latinos in El Paso, Texas, in 2019, and  in 2022 of African-Americans in Buffalo, New York, all perpetrated by believers in the antisemitic Great Replacement Theory.

Some have ascribed cynical motivations to AOC’s webinar, suggesting that there is a political calculation involved. However, Ocasio-Cortez won her district in 2022 with 66% of the vote. Re-election is hardly a major concern.

In addition, this is not AOC’s first expression of concern for antisemitism. After a controversial and deeply insensitive “All Out for Palestine” rally in Times Square on October 8, she condemned the event, saying, “it should not be hard to shut down hatred and antisemitism where we see it”.

This is not to gloss over Ocasio-Cortez’ long record of criticising Israel, speaking out against the occupation, against human rights abuses, and against the conduct of the current war. This track record underscores the importance of her now acknowledging a “line past which criticism of the Israeli government can slip into antisemitism”.

AOC is a strong proponent of what she calls “allyship”, declaring “it is so important that we stand up and defend each other” through building coalitions and alliances across communities. Allyship does not necessarily entail agreement on all matters. For AOC “it is possible for us to hold very different perspectives about these issues that often cut to the core of our beliefs, without turning our backs on each other”.

Spitalnick concurs, clarifying that “being an ally to the Jewish community right now means recognising the very real Jewish pain and grief following the deadliest day for our people since the Holocaust.”

As if to echo this point, last week The New York Times published a piece by Donzaleigh Abernathy and Avi Dresner, the children Rev. Dr. Ralph Abernathy Sr. and Rabbi Israel Dresner, two of Martin Luther King Jr’s close allies during the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.

AOC has modelled how a progressive leader can call out Left antisemitism and assert the importance of the safety of the Jewish community.

Abernathy and Dresner emphasise that “our fathers taught us by example how to make meaningful change through meaningful dialogue, especially with those who disagree with us… [their work was] rooted in love, love for each other, for humanity, for justice, for freedom, for equality, for America and for our world. We want the same for America, for Israel and for Palestinians.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may not have fully embraced the Gospel of Love articulated by the great moral leaders of the Civil Rights Movement but she is clearly on the path. While she has not directly faced down those advocating “death to Zionists”, she has taken a strong step in calling out hatred while promoting empathy and solidarity across communities.

AOC’s initiative should not be lost on progressive leaders here in Australia. After all, we have our own prominent advocate of the Green New Deal in the person of Greens leader Adam Bandt.

Bandt has said many times that the Greens oppose antisemitism along with various other -isms and phobias. But saying “we oppose” falls short of actively opposing. For Bandt, for his Greens colleagues Senators Jordon Steele-John and Mehreen Fahruqui, and for other leaders across the pro-Palestine movement, AOC has modelled, with clarity and fortitude, how a progressive leader can call out Left antisemitism and assert the fundamental importance of the safety and wellbeing of the Jewish community to sustaining a progressive, democratic society.

I urge readers to watch AOC’s webinar and share it widely across progressive political circles. Perhaps a prominent Australian progressive will be inspired to step up and follow her lead.

About the author

Dan Coleman

Dan Coleman is a former member of the Carrboro, North Carolina Town Council, and a former political columnist for the Durham (NC) Morning Herald. He is the author of Ecopolitics: Building A Green Society. He lives in Melbourne.


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The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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