There are three interrelated political factions that wield actual power to change blind U.S. support for Israel: the U.S. Congress, the Democratic Party, and the Biden Administration. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who claims to oppose this U.S. posture toward Israel, has significant influence in and responsibility for each: she is a member of Congress, one of the party’s most popular elected officials, and was a vocal supporter of the Biden campaign in the general election and is now a key surrogate for his administration.
As Israeli bombs fall on Gaza yet again as part of a conflict triggered by further incursions by Israeli settlers into occupied East Jerusalem, those key power centers remain steadfast in their support for Israel. The Biden State Department has issued one statement after the next so supportive of Israel that its spokesman, Ned Price, was petrified to utter a word that might be construed as empathy for Palestinian suffering — even refusing to condemn the killing of Palestinian children when asked explicitly if he does. After a two-minute opening statement on Sunday in which he announced that “the U.S. condemns in the strongest terms the barrage of rocket attacks fired into Israel” and heralded “Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself, its people and its territory,” Price took questions from reporters in which he appeared on the verge of some sort of seizure each time he was pressed to say what he thought about violence by Israel against Palestinians:
After the Biden State Department’s defense of Israel, one key Democratic leader after the next has issued one-sided statements pledging continuation of endless and unconditional U.S. support to Israel that are virtually identical to those issued by every pro-war, pro-Israel Republican, from Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) to Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) to Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX). The long-time Democratic Congresswoman representing Manhattan, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, praised Price’s comments and added her own: “This is terrorism,” the New York Democrat said of the Gazan response, adding: “Rocket fire is never the answer.”
Even with the emergence of a strong “America First” faction within the Republican Party and the vaunted Squad within the Democratic Party, the same bipartisan lockstep consensus on Israel that has reigned in Washington for decades continues, whereby billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer funds every year are sent to Israelis, whose health care and education benefits are better than those of millions of Americans. Meanwhile, U.S. officials reflexively defend Israel’s use of violence. Indeed, support for this foreign nation is such a high priority in U.S. politics that GOP governors have championed laws to prohibit American citizens from supporting a boycott of Israel if they want to keep their jobs (courts have struck down those laws as an obvious violation of the First Amendment). New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo did the same even after he ordered boycotts of American states — Indiana and North Carolina — for laws they passed. In U.S. politics, boycotting Americans is fine, while boycotting Israel is treated as a virtual crime.
Ever since Bush 41’s Secretary of State James Baker was vilified for attempting in 1992 to condition U.S. aid to Israel on the cessation of growing settlements — arguing that such settlement expansions harms U.S. national security by inciting anti-American sentiment around the world — leaders of the establishment wings of both parties have shoveled enormous sums of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Israelis even as Israel refuses to stop the conduct U.S. military officials warn is undermining U.S. national security. From Chuck Schumer to Joe Biden to Kamala Harris to Nancy Pelosi, that includes the most powerful figures within the Democratic Party, which now controls the Executive Branch and both houses of Congress. As The Intercept‘s Jeremy Scahill recently documented, Biden has been so fanatically pro-Israel for so long that it even made Israeli leaders uncomfortable.
So when AOC decided on Monday to finally use her massive platform to condemn specific political figures expressing this pro-Israel mentality, which of those powerful targets did she choose? None. Her brave outspoken moral stand was reserved for someone who has never held elected office and has zero power over U.S. policy toward Israel: New York City Democratic Mayoral Candidate Andrew Yang. As Democratic politicians in New York City have done for decades, Yang (just as his top rival, the African-American former police officer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, did) issued a standard pro-Israel statement, one very similar to the statements from countless Democratic officials across the country:
I’m standing with the people of Israel who are coming under bombardment attacks, and condemn the Hamas terrorists. The people of NYC will always stand with our brothers and sisters in Israel who face down terrorism and persevere.
(Responding to criticisms, Yang posted a new statement on Tuesday that, among other things, acknowledge the criticisms even from his own supporters for failing to acknowledge Palestinian suffering, saying: “I mourn for every Palestinian life taken before its time.”)
AOC said nothing about the State Department’s ongoing defense of Israel. She condemned none of her powerful colleagues in Congress who did the same. She refused to call on the Biden administration explicitly to change its policies or denounce Biden’s fanaticism on this issue. Her only previous utterance was a mealy-mouthed, barely cogent tweet in which she randomly threw the Israel/Gaza conflict into a laundry list along with “paramilitary violence in Colombia” and “the detention of children on our own border and the militarization of US police departments” to say: “the United States must seriously assess its role in state violence and condition aid.”
Wow, she told him! But on the same day that AOC so courageously attacked Andrew Yang, there was another person, one with far greater power than he, who issued a statement virtually identical to the one Yang issued. Her name is Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House whose re-election to that position AOC supported, with whom AOC posed on the cover of Rolling Stone, and who AOC affectionately and obsequiously calls “Mama Bear.” Among other powers Pelosi possesses that Yang does not, Pelosi could whip support within the Democratic House caucus for the bill from Rep. Betty McCollum (DFL-MN), quietly co-sponsored by AOC, to condition Israeli aid on a cessation of settlement expansions and human rights abuses in the Palestinian territories it occupies, or Pelosi could bring that bill to the floor for a vote.
Yet AOC, over the course of more than 12,000 tweets to her almost 14 million followers, has never once used her massive megaphone to even mention that bill let alone advocate for it or agitate for a vote on it. Nor has she uttered a peep about the far more consequential statement about the Israel/Gaza conflict — universes more important — than the one issued by Yang: namely, the virtually identical one issued by Speaker Pelosi on Monday:
Is it even possible to imagine AOC attacking Pelosi with such harsh language and aggressive attacks the way she did with Yang? Is it possible to imagine AOC telling her 14 million followers that the reason Israel receives billions each year in U.S. funds — while the country’s infrastructure, schools, health care and education system crumble — is because Obama gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a record-shattering $38 billion package on his way out (just as Obama broke records with military aid to the Saudi dictatorship)? Is it possible to imagine AOC making clear to her loyal flock of millions that the real parties responsible for what she says she regards as deeply immoral, even as war crimes, are — by name — Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi?
Of course not: that’s why she chose to attack Yang, an easy and pointless target for her wrath. Yang has no power over her. Indeed, he has no power over anything. The online liberal world and activist left who adore her share an intense animus for Yang. So blaming him for his pro-Israel posture — instead of the powerful Democratic leaders actually responsible for these policies — is vintage AOC: performative, theatrical, symbolic, and, with a few fleeting and rare exceptions, avoiding placing the blame for anything on the specific Democratic Party leaders by name who are actually responsible for what she wants to posture as opposing.
How can you be in the U.S. Congress and decide that the person you are going to attack for bad foreign policy views is a New York City Mayoral candidate instead of the dozens of people by whom you’re surrounded every day, who bear actual responsibility for those policies in the halls of power you occupy? The answer lies in AOC’s actual function in Washington.
When she first ran for Congress by challenging long-time senior Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), AOC, almost entirely unknown at the time, regularly posted tweets like this one, aimed at what she perceived to be the evils of the Democratic Party:
When I interviewed her during that campaign (I was, honesty compels me to confess, one of her earliest supporters in media back then), she told me that, if elected, she would not support the re-election of Speaker Pelosi or Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to the leadership posts (one of the first things she did after being elected was vote for both). She warned in that 2018 interview with me that identity politics is often corruptly weaponized by the Democratic Party to preserve the status quo by deceptively changing its facade, using what she called “Trojan Horses” — people from marginalized groups who would trick people into believing they represented change while doing nothing more than serving the interests of Democratic donors. That was how she sold herself: as someone whose principal focus would be to work within the party to criticize, subvert and change it by denouncing its leaders.
Her real function is now exactly the opposite. The soft left has a major problem: after being promised a “political revolution” by self-proclaimed democratic socialists such as Bernie Sanders and AOC, they instead found themselves being herded into campaigning to put in the White House one of the most right-wing Democrats over the last several decades — a key architect of the Mass Incarceration State, a fanatical Warrior on Drugs, a servant of credit card companies and banks, and an advocate for virtually every U.S. war — along with his running mate, a life-long cop and prosecutor notorious for aggressive prosecutions of non-violent offenders. And as they are trained to focus more and more on the evils of Trump and his movement — The Insurrection! White Nationalism! Kids in Cages (remember them?) — the differences between this faction of the activist, online left and the Democratic Party they need to believe are their adversaries have become vanishingly small.
AOC’s primary value is that she solves that psychological dilemma. With her radical lifestyle branding, militant poses, and slightly edgier rhetoric, she assuages the fears of millions of liberal-left Democrats that they have turned into their establishmentarian parents by endlessly cheering for Biden, Harris, Pelosi and Schumer. Instead, she helps them to believe they are at the vanguard of some sort of revolutionary politics of “liberation” — somehow advanced by endlessly empowering Democratic Party establishment politicians who, as this week’s events demonstrate, have nothing but antipathy for their professed values and beliefs.
But this only works if AOC reserves her scorn, anger and indignation for everyone except the actual Democratic Party leaders who wield power within the party and shape U.S. policy: Biden, Harris, Schumer, Pelosi, Blinken, Pentagon Secretary Lloyd Austin, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Richie Neal (D-MA), and DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison. That’s the tactic that leads her to pretend that the villain and culprit when it comes to justifying Israeli aggression is not Joe Biden or Antony Blinken or Nancy Pelosi but Andrew Yang. With tweets like the one attacking Yang, she maintains her and her followers’ self-image of radicalism: oh, look, she’s willing to stand up for Palestinians. But it’s all sleight-of-hand deceit, since the only real purpose of what she did is to distract everyone’s attention away from the actually powerful Democrats responsible for those policies — ensuring that none of the indignation gets directed toward them or to the Democratic Party.
She runs this scam over and over as they swoon. They send her money in the name of leftism and socialism and she forwards that cash on to corporatist and militarist Democrats, and then is forced to beg them to accept it (often they return it). Her photo shoots are designed to make the stultified, oligarchical Democratic leadership look fresh, cool, and vibrant. Even when they openly humiliate her — as they did when they overwhelmingly rejected her bid for a key Committee position in favor of a center-right Democrat who actually had the courage to vote against Pelosi’s re-election in 2018 — she returns the next day to promoting the DNC line and encouraging everyone to believe that the real enemies are Republicans.
None of this is to say that there are no virtuous or positive contributions from AOC’s role in the House. She can be a serious lawmaker at times and on occasion uses her platform to try to change views rather than foster partisan loyalties or promote her celebrity. But watching her attack Andrew Yang rather than the extremely powerful Democratic Party leaders who control the government is just such a vivid and perfect illustration of her actual role in U.S. politics. She is, by far, the most effective and important branding spokesperson for the Democratic Party among millennials and those who are younger.
On the subject of U.S. largesse for Israel, I was interviewed on Monday by The Hill‘s Rising program and posed this question about how such policies can be reconciled with the “America First” ideology espoused by Trump’s MAGA movement and other factions of the GOP. I will most definitely be returning to this question and am interested in interviewing prominent MAGA ideologues who support this bipartisan consensus on Israel to understand how they answer this question: