Following the 2018 midterm elections, many people celebrated the diversity of representatives elected to Congress — a record number of women including the first Muslim women, the first Native American women and the highest number of women of color in general. Among these women are democratic socialists Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. For people like myself who view the Democratic Party as much more centrist than progressive, seeing these more left-leaning women in Congress was, at the least, refreshing and a small step in the right direction. However, predictably, Democrats are doing all they can to stifle the more progressive views of these officials. This is a mistake.
Most recently, Omar faced a great deal of controversy from both the left and the right for criticizing the Israeli state and proposing that pro-Israel lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) pays politicians to maintain a pro-Israel stance. Omar has long criticized the Israeli state’s treatment of Palestinians. Democratic leadership quickly accused Omar of using “anti-Semitic tropes,” and the public outcry over her statements pushed her to issue an apology.
Let’s examine Omar’s situation. She alleged that politicians’ support for Israel’s policies is “all about the Benjamins” due to AIPAC’s influence. Accusations of anti-Semitism stem from Omar’s connection between “Benjamins” — money — and Israel, which seems to perpetuate a classic stereotype about Jewish people. On the surface, I can see how critics came to this conclusion. However, that is not the case. Factually speaking, the goal of lobbying groups is to advocate for specific interests — often in the form of providing campaign money to politicians — and AIPAC is no exception. M.J. Rosenberg, who formerly worked for AIPAC, wrote for the Huffington Post that Democrats are influenced by the group in the same way Republicans are influenced by the National Rifle Association, saying “AIPAC uses the same tactics as the NRA to ensure that the United States never deviates from support for whatever policy the Israeli government is pushing at the moment.” He emphasized that his colleagues worked diligently to ruin the reputations of politicians who stray from that mission.
A former employee of the very group Omar criticized for influencing politicians effectively confirmed Omar’s claim. Rosenberg pointed to a specific piece of legislation sponsored by Democrats which would make it a felony for Americans to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. It is important to note that this movement’s aim is to end international support for Israel’s policies that oppress Palestinians. This legislation would criminally punish people for their political opinions on Israel, a clear violation of the First Amendment. That legislation was backed by Democrats and AIPAC. Omar’s assertion that Democrats often support pro-Israel policies due to the organization’s influence has a clear basis. This is the real reason Omar was condemned by House Democrats, not because she displayed anti-Semitism.
This is only the latest example of establishment Democrats attempting to nudge self-identified democratic socialists to fall in line with the party. For instance, Democrat Nydia Velázquez has been known to advise Ocasio-Cortez “in private conversations against targeting her fellow Democrats.” Why are Democrats so desperate to silence criticisms of their party from people within it? One would think they would welcome these conversations; after all, the disaster that was the 2016 presidential election indicates that Democrats’ usual strategies are failing. An April 2018 Reuters poll indicated that in just two years, millennial support for Democrats decreased by nine percent, while millennial support for Republicans remained around the same. Perhaps an embrace of more progressive politics could be beneficial.
I cannot pretend to have the solutions for the Democratic Party. Personally, I do not identify as a Democrat nor as a democratic socialist — truthfully, I feel that Ocasio-Cortez and Omar don’t go far enough. Regardless, there is something to be said for how it seems that media attention has gone more toward criticisms of Ocasio-Cortez and Omar than toward the Democratic Party’s platform and plans for the 2020 elections. A number of Democrats have announced their intent to run for president in 2020; more media attention should be dedicated to comparing candidates and informing voters.
The trend of moderate Democrats railroading democratic socialists must end if the party seeks a different outcome than that of the 2016 election. Their energy would be better spent restructuring the party into something voters can be proud of than disparaging their own party members.
Sarah Molano is a senior double-majoring in English and philosophy, politics and law.