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A Stumbling Block for 2020? Democrats' Growing Anti-Semitism Problem

02-22-2019
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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Photo: AP)

WASHINGTON – America's relationship with Israel could be a big issue for Democrats in 2020. Both parties have long supported the Jewish state, but with some new faces among the Democratic Party, that could be changing.

From Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), younger Democrats coming into Congress are speaking out against Israel, and in some cases, being called anti-Semitic.

For instance, Omar was recently forced to apologize for a tweet suggesting the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC bought the support of her congressional colleagues.

LATEST: Congresswoman Ilhan Omar Facing New Anti-Semitism Charges

New York Democratic Congressman Max Rose took the freshman congresswoman to task, saying, "At a time when anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise, our leaders should not be invoking hurtful stereotypes and caricatures of Jewish people to dismiss those who support Israel. In the Democratic Party - and in the United States of America - we celebrate the diversity of our people, and the God's we pray to as a strength. The congresswoman's statements do not live up to that cherished ideal."

And Ocasio-Cortez also came under fire for criticizing what she views as Israel's "occupation of Palestine."

"Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is doing a great service. Her argument is twofold: Israel a colonizing occupier of Palestine, and that she doesn't know anything about the conflict," The New York Post's Seth Mandel tweeted. "Accurate: those who think this have no idea what they're talking about. At least she's honest."

The rash of anti-Semitic rhetoric is causing a big headache for Democratic leadership and the party's 2020 hopefuls, who will have to take up this issue on the debate stage.

"I think Republicans will make sure it's an issue. I think Jewish Democrats will make sure it's an issue," Real Clear Politics' AB Stoddard said.

He went on to warn that the Democrats' growing problem with anti-Semitism could create a big opening for Republicans – and Democratic leaders know that.

"They're very concerned about the direction of the party, support for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement," Stoddard noted.

"Any kind of skepticism of (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu is one thing," she said, "but to go beyond that and to question the unbreakable bond I think is really going to cause a lot of strife within the party."

It may also cause potential issues with their own constituents.

A 2018 Pew Research poll found just 27 percent of Democrats sympathize with Israel, down from 38 percent in 2001. And younger voters are dramatically less supportive than older voters.

"And so I think that it is a big internal struggle that they don't want to make too public," Stoddard said. "They don't want to have the debate, be out in the open – but they're working behind the scenes, very aggressively, to try to make it clear to people that we stand with Israel."

A group of prominent Democrats has formed a pro-Israel group to counter any skepticism – but that may not be enough.

"President Trump, when he runs next year, he's not going to do nuance," Stoddard warned. "He's going to hammer them over this in simplistic terms that will make it very complicated for the Democratic nominee."

Instead of talking about other ideas, Democrats may find themselves defending and explaining themselves on an issue few of them want to address.

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