Eliot Engel and the vanishing pro-Israel Jewish Liberal

Postmodern progressivism refuses to accommodate the kind of support for Israel that was once practically taken as a given.Opinion.

Eric Ruskin ,

Congressmen Elliot Engel & Jerrold Nadler
Congressmen Elliot Engel & Jerrold Nadler
Photo Credit: Sasson Tiram

Is it possible to be an American Jew who proudly and emphatically supports the State of Israel while embracing the values of the left? The takeover of the Democratic Party by the ideologues of intersectionality and other far-left philosophies is making this proposition increasingly untenable.

Recent developments have rendered public representatives of the liberal but pro-Israel approach a nearly endangered political species. This trend, which shows every sign of gathering momentum, will have implications not only for American politics but for the American Jewish community itself.


One would have to be in serious denial to think that Bowman will be a friend of Israel in Congress. To the contrary, he will likely align with the “Squad” on Israel.


The recent nationwide unrest and nearly wholesale adoption by Democrats of the radical ideology fueling it have made it apparent to all but the most fervent denialists that postmodern progressivism refuses to accommodate the kind of support for Israel that was once practically taken as a given.

Few politicians have exemplified the combination of liberalism and support for Israel the way congressman Eliot Engel (D) has during his more than 30 years on Capitol Hill, most recently representing New York’s 16th district.

It now appears that his career came to a sudden end with the closing of the polls in his party’s recent primary. As of this writing, although mail-in ballots are still being counted, it seems extremely unlikely that Engel will overcome the lead of his far-left challenger, Jamaal Bowman.

If Bowman's wins, he and the far-left forces backing him will have succeeded in taking out one of the most influential pro-Israel Jewish politicians in the Democratic Party, who currently serves as Chairman of the important House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Engel’s looming defeat is problematic enough on its own for those who believe that the synthesis he represents is still viable, but more is at stake since his party’s base has been all but captured by the likes of the Black Lives Matter movement.

By primary day there seemed to be a sense on what remains of the pro-Israel Jewish left that this vote was of paramount importance to the political survival of not only Engel, but the approach he represents. Yet the reported $1.5 million that poured into Engel’s campaign from the Democratic Majority for Israel PAC does not appear to have been enough to save either one.

While Engel represents the Democratic Party’s past, his likely successor, who will almost certainly head to Congress after the general election given the district’s political makeup, is indicative of its future.

Bowman, a black 44-year-old former middle school principal, was recruited by the Justice Democrats, the far-left PAC that supported campaigns of the notoriously anti-Israel members of Congress known as the “Squad” including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.

Like Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib, Bowman is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, which in 2017 passed a resolution supporting BDS. The occasion was marked by applause, waving the Palestinian Arab flag, and chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”

Bowman’s campaign was modeled on that of Ocasio-Cortez, who along with Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and the New York Times editorial board, publicly endorsed him. The controversial group IfNotNow, which engages in provocative campaigns against Israel, voiced its support. Another far left group, the Working Families Party, lent its backing too.

To be sure, the primary did not center on Israel, and Bowman undoubtedly benefitted from Engel’s unforced errors. And yet an open letter by Bowman during the campaign referred to the nationwide protests that have been stoked by the far-left as an “uprising.” This was a curious choice given that the term is the English equivalent of the Arabic word intifada and the letter was a response to a Jewish public figure expressing concerns about Bowman’s stance on Israel.

In any event, one would have to be in serious denial to think that Bowman will be a friend of Israel in Congress. To the contrary, he will likely align with the “Squad” on Israel and other major issues, and he has given signals to that effect by indicating he’d consider cutting aid to the Jewish State, a possibility for which Ocasio-Cortez has begun to muster support.

Indeed, a perusal of his post-primary Twitter feed reveals retweets of political figures offering up anti-Israel propaganda, including one from Sanders describing Israel’s “annexation of occupied territory” and supporting Ocasio-Cortez’s threat to cut aid.

A Bowman retweet of Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen’s post regurgitates far-left talking points about Israel being responsible for a lack of peace by shamelessly describing Netanyahu’s “illegal scheme to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank, killing a two-state solution and peace prospects.”

Incidentally, Bowman supports defunding police, a radical policy that presents a particular threat to the safety and security of a New York Jewish community already besieged by anti-Semitic harassment and violence, which has been exacerbated by the policies, incompetence and hostility of Mayor de Blasio.

Engel is not the only important Jewish member of Congress who will not be headed back to Washington. Representative Nita Lowey of the nearby 17th congressional district, who represents a similar combination of pro-Israel positions and liberal politics, is retiring. Elected the same year as Engel, she rose to a position of power to become Chairwoman of the House Committee on Appropriations.

For American Jewish liberals who claim to care about Israel, the direction where their political home is headed could not be clearer. Ocasio-Cortez herself is said to be considering a challenge to Senator Chuck Schumer (D), an even more important Jewish political figure very much in the mold of Engel and Lowey.

Astoundingly, liberal Jewish publications that pass for the Jewish mainstream, like many Jews themselves, seem to have their heads in the sand about the significance of all this. Hung up on personalities, they miss the point that this about something far larger.

Even if by some fluke Engel were to win, the reality of where this is headed stares all of us in the face. American Jewry is at a turning point and the vanishing of the pro-Israel Jewish liberal is but one of its signs.

Eric Ruskin is an attorney and a member of the Board of Directors of the Israel Independence Fund.




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