Eliot Engel, the Democratic congressman whose New York district neighbors that of rising star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, said last night that Ocasio-Cortez and three other progressive Democrats “need to be educated” to support Israel.
“We are going to continue to work in Congress to make sure that we have overwhelming support for Israel on both sides of the aisle,” Engel told a White Plains, NY, synagogue audience gathered by the Israel lobby group AIPAC. “I know there was an interesting story in the New York Times today. I am certainly cognizant of the fact that people who are coming in as far as I’m concerned on the Democratic side, will be educated and need to be educated. But we have overwhelming support for Israel in the Congress. And… it will continue that way. We will maintain it that way.”
The New York Times article said that a new wave of progressive Democrats who are likely to enter Congress in 2019 “has dared to breach what has been an almost inviolable orthodoxy in both political parties, strong support for Israel.” The piece named four women nominees: Rashida Tlaib in Detroit, Leslie Cockburn in suburban Virginia, Ilhan Omar in Minneapolis, and of course Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the Queens and the Bronx (the 14th Congressional district just south of Engel’s 16th). All but Cockburn face weak or no opposition in the general election.
Ocasio-Cortez said, “This is a massacre,” when Israel slaughtered nonviolent protesters in Gaza last May. Tlaib has called for one state and an end to aid to Israel. Ilhan Omar has labeled Israel an “apartheid” state and said it has “hypnotized the world.” Cockburn co-authored a book titled, “Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the US-Israeli Covert Relationship.” Good luck on education. Maybe Engel should go right to mansplaining!
Engel bragged that the House Foreign Affairs committee, of which he is the ranking member, is the “most bipartisan committee in Congress.” Republicans and Democrats may disagree about a lot of other things, but he and Ed Royce, the Republican chairman, are dedicated to make sure the “United States and Israel stand as one.”
Engel assured an audience of over 400 that he sits down with AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which sponsored last night’s forum, to discuss every piece of legislation that comes out of the Foreign Affairs committee, and that he has attended 31 consecutive AIPAC policy conferences since entering the Congress in 1989. That guidance from AIPAC “is needed,” he said. Because “there are people in Congress who don’t understand what it’s all about.”
Nita Lowey, the congresswoman from the Westchester, NY, district in which the synagogue is located, also spoke. She said she is the ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, and she celebrated the new $38 billion dollar ten year memorandum of understanding between the US and Israel that was signed in 2016 by President Obama but that began a few days ago.
Lowey despaired of the two-state solution. “We must also acknowledge the difficult times we are facing. I am a lifelong supporter of the two-state solution, as I believe it is the only way we will one day see two states for two peoples. But I fear that we are now farther away from an end to the conflict than we’ve been in a long time.”
She said she was “eager” to see the Trump peace plan, but she lamented the Trump administration’s decision to cut off aid to UNRWA, which serves Palestinians. “We can all agree that Hamas is responsible for the sufferings of innocent civilians in Gaza,” she said. “Nevertheless I do worry that cutting off aid could not only hurt the civilian population, who depends on humanitarian assistance, but also the safety of Israel should stability in the region deteriorate.”
Engel appeared to differ with Lowey. He said that he too had been on the White House lawn for the signing of the Oslo Declaration of Principles in 1993, but that the Palestinians were responsible for the failure of the peace process, and for trying to push the Jews into the sea. Engel said the pattern went back to the 1947 rejection of partition by Arabs at the U.N. “The Jews said yes– once again, the first time– and the Arabs said, no. The Arabs tried to push the Jews into the sea. It didn’t work. Each time that is what happened. It was the Israelis who said yes and the Palestinians who said no.”
Engel concluded his remarks: “Am Yisrael Chai,” Hebrew for, the people of Israel live!
P.S. On two screens on the altar at Temple Israel Center last night, AIPAC stated that last night’s event was off the record and closed to the press. I registered for the event, which the synagogue billed as “a community wide event,” without receiving any such warning, then drove an hour each way to attend. And by the way, AIPAC also closes its annual conference, where hundreds of politicians parade, to me and many other members of the press.
P.P.S. Of all the names mentioned in this post, including Lowey and Engel and Ocasio-Cortez, only one is endorsed by J Street, the liberal Zionist organization: Leslie Cockburn, running in Virginia.