Democrat and Republican Jewish Groups Chide Ocasio-Cortez for Remarks on US Aid to Israel

By Patrick Goodenough | April 17, 2019 | 4:30 AM EDT

(CNSNews.com) – Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has peeved both Republican and Democrat Jewish organizations by agreeing that Congress should consider the question of reducing U.S. aid to Israel in response to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s policies towards the Palestinians.

A Democrat group advised her to engage with pro-Israel Democrat leaders in Congress “before contemplating the future of U.S. military aid to Israel,” and a Republican organization questioned both her knowledge on the subject and her response to the outcome of Israel’s recent election.

In an interview on the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast, Ocasio-Cortez was asked about Netanyahu’s recent remarks – on the eve of the election, which has put him on track for another term – about the possibility of annexing parts of the disputed West Bank where Jewish communities are located.

Asked whether she thought that should affect U.S. policy towards Israel, Ocasio-Cortez replied, “I think so.”

“I think these are parts of conversations that we’re having in our caucus but, um, I think what we’re really seeing is the ascent of authoritarianism across the world,” she said. “I think that Netanyahu is a Trump-like figure.”

Ocasio-Cortez expressed the hope that diplomacy could help impact policy in Israel.

“It doesn’t all have to be legislative, but I think that if we just sit on our hands …”

“Would you be in favor of reducing military or economic aid to Israel?” asked co-host Daniel Klaidman.

“I mean I think it’s on the table, I think it’s certainly on the table,” she said. “And I think it’s something that can be discussed.”

Ocasio-Cortez voiced the hope she could play “a facilitating role in this conversation and a supportive role in this conversation” but conceded that others in Congress have been “leading on this for a long time.”

She cited as an example Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who in 2017 introduced a bill forbidding the use of U.S. assistance to Israel for the “military detention, interrogation, or ill-treatment” of Palestinian minors.

Reacting to the comments, the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) tweeted, “We are pleased AOC [Ocasio-Cortez] recognizes she is NOT a leader on Israel in Congress. We recommend she engage with Dem leaders Eliot Engel, Nita Lowey & Ted Deutch before contemplating the future of U.S. military aid to Israel. U.S.-Israel ties must supersede politics.”

The JDCA is a liberal Jewish Democrats’ group established in 2017 as “the voice for Jewish Democrats and progressive, pro-Israel values that Jewish voters hold dear.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Engel (N.Y.), House Appropriations Committee chairwoman Lowey (N.Y.) and House Foreign Affairs Middle East subcommittee chairman Deutch (Fla.) are senior Jewish Democrats with strong pro-Israel credentials.

They recently expressed concern about Netanyahu’s election-eve remarks on annexation, reiterating their view that a two-state solution is “the best option to achieve a Jewish, democratic, secure Israel living side-by-side with a democratic, de-militarized Palestinian state.”

Also responding critically to Ocasio-Cortez’ comments, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), which said Israel is not a recipient of U.S. “economic” aid. (It was Klaidman who referred to “military or economic aid” but the interviewee did not dispute the point.)

“If you don’t even know that we don’t give Israel economic aid, you shouldn’t have any say in if it, or military aid, is cut off, AOC” the RJC tweeted. “Anyway, 75% of that military aid must be spent w/U.S. companies, and we get much more in R&D back from Israel than $ spent.”

The RJC also tweeted: “Absolutely no respect for democratic elections. AOC doesn’t like the will of the Israeli people so she shows her true colors by calling to cut military cooperation w/Israel in the form of cutting military aid that’s spent on U.S. goods, made by U.S. workers.”

‘Nuanced’

The congresswoman from New York did get support from the liberal Jewish organization J Street, whose president, Jeremy Ben-Ami called her stance ‘nuanced.”

“Nuanced position from AOC in wake of Netanyahu annexation pledge: open up discussion of U.S.-Israel relations,” he tweeted. “J Street view: U.S. can assure Israeli security w/o funding activities that run counter to U.S. values, interests such as annexation, demolitions.”

J Street has made no secret of its disappointment at the outcome of last week’s Israeli elections.

In a letter to supporters, Ben-Ami pledged the group would “lead the fight” against the “Trump-Netanyahu agenda” in the months ahead.

“In our communities, in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail, we will promote a policy vision to counter the Trump-Netanyahu agenda, and ultimately to reverse the terrible damage these leaders have done,” he said.

Israel is the biggest recipient of U.S. military aid.

For fiscal year 2019, the Trump administration has requested $3.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for Israel, and $500 million in missile defense aid.

FY2019 marks the start of the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the Obama administration in September 2016. It pledged $38 billion in military aid ($33 billion in FMF grants and $5 billion in missile defense appropriations) over the period FY2019 to FY2028.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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