Freshman Democrat Ocasio-Cortez says cutting aid to Israel ‘on the table’

New York congresswoman criticized by Jewish Democratic group after saying caucus having conversations about Israel support in wake of Netanyahu re-election

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) listens during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on April 10, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images/AFP)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) listens during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on April 10, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images/AFP)

WASHINGTON — Freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently said that cutting US aid to Israel should be a policy consideration on Capitol Hill following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection, drawing rebuke from Jewish Democrats but praise from the liberal Mideast advocacy group J Street.

Asked on Yahoo News’ Skullduggery Podcast whether US policy toward Israel should change following the Israeli premier’s election eve promise to annex West Bank settlements, the New York lawmaker said that should be contemplated, and compared Netanyahu to US President Donald Trump, suggesting that they both shared the same autocratic tendencies.

“I think so,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I think these are part of conversations we are having in our caucus, but I think what we are really seeing is an ascent of authoritarianism across the world. I think that Netanyahu is a Trump-like figure.”

The interview was aired Monday and taped a day earlier.

She said cutting military or economic aid to Israel was “certainly on the table.”

“I hope to play a facilitating role in this conversation and a supportive role in this conversation,” she added.

The US supplies Israel with $3.8 billion annually in military aid, under a deal signed by former president Barack Obama.

In the days before the election, Netanyahu vowed on television to gradually apply Israeli sovereignty to all settlements — those in the so-called blocs, as well as isolated settlements, which are home to a total of some 400,000 Israelis — and added that he wanted and hoped to do so with US approval.

It was not immediately clear whether this was an empty campaign promise aimed at turning out his right-wing base, or the introduction of a policy he would genuinely pursue.

Netanyahu won re-election last week and is widely expected to form a right-wing coalition with partners who would back such a move.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses supporters as election results are announced in Tel Aviv, April 09, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ocasio-Cortez said there were “many ways” to respond to Netanyahu’s pledge and protect Palestinian rights, including through supporting a bill that would force the US secretary of state to certify that US taxpayer funds were not being used on the Israeli detention of Palestinian children in the West Bank.

The legislation, which was first introduced in November 2017, is called the Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act.

The Jewish Democratic Council of America criticized her for floating the idea of reducing aid to Israel, telling her to speak with Jewish Democratic House members with a leadership position.

“We are pleased Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recognizes she is NOT a leader on Israel in Congress. We recommend she engage with Dem leaders Eliot Engel, Nita Lowey, & Ted Deutch before contemplating the future of US military aid to Israel,” the group said. “US-Israel ties must supersede politics.”

Yet Jeremy Ben-Ami, who heads J Street, credited her with expressing a “nuanced” opinion on American policy toward Israel.

“Nuanced position from in wake of Netanyahu annexation pledge: open up discussion of US-Israel relations,” he tweeted. “J Street view: US can assure Israeli security w/o funding activities that run counter to US values, interests such as annexation, demolitions.”

Ocasio-Cortez has criticized Israeli policy in the past, particularly its control of the West Bank, and has advocated for the creation of a Palestinian state.

“I believe absolutely in Israel’s right to exist,” she has said. “I am a proponent of a two-state solution.”

She also admitted that she was not an expert on the subject when asked about it by PBS in July, before last fall’s general election.

“I am not the expert on geopolitics on this issue,” she said. “I just look at things through a human rights lens and I may not use the right words … Middle Eastern politics is not exactly at my kitchen table every night.”

Ocasio-Cortez is one of a number of freshman lawmakers who have questioned traditional Democratic support for Israel. Analysts have also pointed to Netanyahu’s embrace of Trump as leading to a polarization of backing for Israel in Congress.

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