Pro-Israel Hawks Are Running the Democratic Party. Primary Challengers Want to Change That
Plus more on Israel's elections--and a deep dive into how Israel-Palestine jumped to the heart of U.S. politics
Happy Thanksgiving! Here’s some reading to get done when you’re free and relaxing:
Congressman Eliot Engel has long been one of the party’s most influential voices on foreign policy. He has served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee since 1994. In 2012, Engel became the ranking Democratic member of that committee, and this year, after the Democrats took control of the House, Engel became chair.
But Engel’s hawkish Israel views are now getting a second-look from some voters in his district as he faces a serious primary challenge from Jamaal Bowman, a Bronx middle-school principal known for his education activism, and Andom Ghebreghiorgis, a special education teacher from Mt. Vernon.
Both Bowman and Ghebreghiorgis are critical of Engel’s record on Israel, and if one of them knocks Engel off his perch in 2020, that would rock the Democratic Party’s foreign policy establishment, sending a stark message: Having right-wing views on Israel are out of step with a Democratic Party base that is younger, more diverse, and more willing to call out Israel for its violations of international law.
My latest piece in The Intercept examines three New York primary races—Engel vs. Bowman and Ghebreghiorgis, Nadler vs. Boylan and the race to replace Nita Lowey, who is retiring—with implications for the future of Congressional Israel politics.
Fun fact: I have personal connections to all three Congressional districts. I grew up in Yonkers, NY, where Bowman lives and which is a part of NY that Engel represents; I went to middle and high school in Nita Lowey’s district (she’s now retiring, and Mondaire Jones, who I interviewed for the piece, is the progressive candidate in the race); and…I have relatives who live in Jerry Nadler’s district?
One important addendum: In my piece, I pointed out that earlier this year, Engel spoke at a Capitol Hill event sponsored by the Zionist Organization of America, a far-right group helmed by Mort Klein, who has come under fierce criticism for racist comments about black people and Arabs and has risen to influence in the Trump era. I spoke to Klein for the piece, and he told me: “Eliot is arguably the best friend to U.S.-Israel relations, and Israel, among the Democrats.” Since my piece came out, Bowman has been criticizing Engel for allying with Mort Klein. Check out Bowman’s tweets, which reference my reporting:
So, how did we get to a point where insurgent Democrats are using an incumbent’s right-wing positions on Israel against them? I don’t think you would be seeing this a decade ago.
One big reason is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has become toxic in the Democratic Party—the best gift the Palestinian rights movement could ask for. When I interviewed Bowman, he was most comfortable in criticizing Netanyahu. ““Engel … [has] not [been] calling out Netanyahu with some of his policies as they move to the right and have been more destructive in that region. Engel hasn’t really held Netanyahu accountable,” he told me.
But it’s not only Netanyahu. The reasons for why Israel has become a major issue in the Democratic Party, and U.S. politics more broadly, are varied, but I broke it down here in a piece for +972 Magazine, one of Israel’s leading independent English-language publications.
Lastly, Israel’s political chaos has only deepened with no resolution to the question of who will be Israel’s next prime minister, and with Israel’s Attorney General indicting Netanyahu on serious corruption charges. I explained what this all means in my latest for VICE News.