The week opened with a loose alliance formed between AOC, as the Bronx/Queens congresswoman is known, and Britain’s Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. By Friday, a predictable rumor emerged that a Jewish Labour member of Parliament might form a breakaway party.
Could it happen here?
I have long wondered how Jews in England might respond to Labour’s anti-Israel policies and allegedly anti-Semitic attitudes. It makes sense that they would exit the party to either form a new party or join an existing party, along with sympathetic non-Jewish Labour members.
After one hot spot among Labour leaders was extinguished, another emerged. John McDonnell, known as the shadow chancellor in Parliament, demanded that MP Luciana Berger of Liverpool dispel rumors that she has considered forming a breakaway party. [MP is short form for Member of Parliament.]
As The Jewish Chronicle of London reported, McDonnell said on a radio program, “Luciana has been associated in the media with a break-away party…the media have asked her to deny that and she hasn’t been clear on that…So, my advice to Luciana is just tell people you’re not leaving Labour, you’re not jumping ship…on all of this is for Luciana to just put this issue to bed.”
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, called it a “disgrace” for him to be “demanding loyalty…rather than addressing the racism in your party.” Added Labour MP Chuka Umunna, “How about demanding her CLP treats her with the respect she deserves. How about the party deals with that racism. Words fail me. Totally unacceptable.”
Berger, the parliamentary chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, faced no-confidence motions for criticizing Corbyn and the party leadership for failing to tackle anti-Semitism. Both motions were absurd, with one accusing her of “continually using the media to criticize the man we all want to be prime minister,” and the other alleged that she was “continually criticizing our leader when she should be working for a general election and opposing the Tories.”
Both motions were withdrawn on Friday, six days after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke by phone with Corbyn, who tweeted: “Let’s build a movement across borders to take on the billionaires, polluters and migrant baiters, and support a happier, freer and cleaner planet,” as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported. She subsequently told a Brooklyn writer that she and Corbyn shared “a great hope in the peace, prosperity and justice that everyday people can create when we uplift one another across class, race and identity both at home and abroad.”
Neither Corbyn nor Ocasio-Cortez mentions Israel in those statements, but British Jews believe Labour betrayed them by backing anti-Israel policies and tolerating party members with anti-Semitic attitudes. Labour has long been the political home of English Jews, and American Jews can now fear that Democrats like Ocasio-Cortez are striving to transform the Democratic Party into Labour’s American counterpart.
Before she was elected, Ocasio-Cortez assailed Israel without bothering to criticize the Palestinians, just as Muslim congresswomen Rashida Tlaib of Detroit and Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis have done.
Both Tlaib and Omar are playing the religion card and persisting on one-sided attacks on Israel; the U.S. House of Representatives is ready to grapple with an Israel-aid bill; some American Jews are calling these congresswomen “anti-Semitic”; and one pro-Israel group – the Zionist Organization of America – is urging Israel supporters to ensure that Jerusalem remains united.
Against this backdrop, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy threatened to take action against Tlaib and Omar if the Democratic majority does not do so, JTA reported. However, he did not specify the kind of action nor did he identify what comments have offended him.
“If they do not take action I think you’ll see action from myself,” he said. “This cannot sustain itself. It’s unacceptable in this country.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not spoken out about them and in fact assigned Omar a post on the Foreign Affairs Committee where Israel supporters fear she can influence Middle East policy. It would not make sense for Pelosi or many Democrats to empower Omar because some are surely taking the approach of these congresswomen personally.
The New York Times reported that Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, a Jewish New Yorker, told Omar that he would not let some of her “particularly hurtful” comments to be “swept under the rug.” Pelosi herself, who is Italian-Catholic, has been close to the Jewish community most of her life.
Maybe Pelosi was involved with the formation of the Democratic Majority for Israel, a new organization designed to retain Democratic support for Israel and offset an exodus of pro-Israel Democrats to the GOP or another party – exactly what that Labour leader, John McDonnell, fears could happen in Britain. The New York Jewish Week suggested in an editorial that AIPAC, the leading pro-Israel lobby, conceived and started DMI.
DMI could well strike these congresswomen where it hurts – in the ballot box. Tlaib is already very vulnerable. Omar’s perch on Foreign Affairs could turn her into a lightning rod that might resound in her hometown. Ocasio-Cortez appears to be in a strong position, but naturally nothing is predictable here.
When Elad Nehorai, the Brooklyn writer, asked Ocasio-Cortez to inquire about Labour’s anti-Semitism issue, she said, “We cannot and will not move forward without deep fellowship and leadership with the Jewish community. I’ll have my team reach out.”
Her team will reach out? AOC is going to lead American Jews into an alliance with a foreign political party that antagonizes British Jews? Ahem.