Liberal and progressive Jews are worried.
Over the last few years, Jewish supporters of the Democratic party have sounded the alarm around increasingly prominent left-wing figures who seem to constantly engage in antisemitic behavior. Feeling trapped between a right-wing where nativism has played a bigger and bigger role and a left-wing that seems to be unconcerned with prominent left-wing activists espousing antisemitic rhetoric, American Jews have good reason to feel uneasy. The conversation around this subject can be seen most prominently in online groups centered around Jewish Democrats who feel increasingly pushed out of left-wing spaces; groups like “Sounds Like Your Intersectionality Doesn’t Include Jews”, “Yes, You Can (and Should) Be a Feminist and a Zionist”, and “Progressive Zionists of the California Democratic Party” boast thousands of members. Prominent Jewish feminists and Democratic leaders like Mayim Bialik, Sarah Silverman, and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz have also spoken out about the issue of antisemitism on the activist left – one that threatens to bleed into the broader Democratic party.
The message is simple. The progressive movement often renders anti-Semitism and Israel advocacy an afterthought or an inconvenience.
As Democrats throw their name in the hat for the 2020 nomination, there’s a likely candidate headed into the mix uniquely qualified to unite Jews on the left, with a strong track record of confronting anti-Semitism. He is both firmly aligned with Israel, and capable of standing up to right-wing policies which undermine its very existence as a monument of Jewish values.
Beto O’Rourke has an excellent voting record and a history of standing up to those on the right who want to use Israeli loyalty as a bargaining chip to lure Jewish voters, as well as those on the left who intertwine anti-semitic dog whistles into their progressive message.
In the coming months, the right-wing outrage machine will be deploying propaganda to gripe about Beto’s 2014 vote to oppose rushing a bill giving extra military aid to Israel’s major assault on Gaza. They will ignore his support for AIPAC, smear his connection to J-Street, and try to brand the latter of the as somehow anti-Israel simply for aligning more with the Israeli left than the increasingly renegade Likud party. Do not let it discourage you. Beto O’Rourke consistently supported pro-Israel resolutions as a Congressman, and his voting record on Israel is nothing short of excellent. He is someone who can challenge bad Israeli policy without engaging in the troubling trend of undermining Israel’s right to exist or inserting antisemitic canards into the conversation.
That 2014 “no vote?” The right thing to do to defy Republicans rushing a bill to the floor without debate. Just last week Republicans used a similar tactic, exploiting support of Israel as a wedge when they attempted to pass funding resolutions despite the shutdown and prompting condemnation from reliable pro-Israel Democrats and allies. The right candidate for president will stick up for Israel while standing up to this Pro-Israel tokenism and false conflation of supporting Israel with supporting failed right wing policies.
The many Jews who agree that the activist left increasingly fails to include jews in their intersectionality have in Beto O’Rourke a candidate who expertly stands up to these elements that take criticism of Israel to an anti-semitic extreme. Despite the “anti-Israel” yellow flag thrown at him from the right, his backing of Israel has prompted anti-Israel activists to call his consistent support “egregious.” His refusal to support the BDS movement takes courage in today’s climate.
Here on the left we can debate where we fall on the “AIPAC-to-J-Street” spectrum, but when Beto runs we will have a rare thing: a candidate who supports a progressive vision and agrees that no matter where we fall on that spectrum, our Jewish values are not restricted by party norms. We will have someone who knows that J-Street doesn’t hate Jews and AIPAC wasn’t created to propagate a refugee crisis, and someone who knows we can challenge bad Israeli policy without undermining its statehood or bad-mouthing Jews.
Beto has not declared that he’s running yet, but his campaign’s infrastructure is already developing around him. Pages like Draft Beto O’Rourke for President and Beto for President 2020 have gathered tens of thousands of followers, Facebook pages to support Beto in key primary states are already beginning to populate and the twitter hashtag #DraftBeto yields pages upon pages of results as Americans hope for a formal announcement.
Our candidate will almost inevitably be labeled anti-semitic by the right. Even if Democrats fielded David Ben-Gurion, Tucker Carlson would probably call him anti-Israel. Don’t let right wing talking heads discourage you: Beto O’Rourke is the candidate for Jewish Democrats to unite behind. Now is the time to start.