Red lipstick, Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE,” and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio–Cortez (D–N.Y.): these are the components of the most empowering TikTok trend I’ve ever seen. Girls and women of all backgrounds lip sync to a mashup of the award–winning rap song and a speech made by AOC in response to an incident with Rep. Ted Yoho (R–Fla.), who verbally accosted her on the steps of the Capitol. With the signature AOC bold red lip, she, and the TikTokers who followed, valiantly stated: “I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter—and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men."
I want to love AOC so badly. She’s a fearless feminist icon, an emblem of equality, a powerful woman who inspires others to be simultaneously aggressive and composed. But I cannot get behind her for one reason: As an American Jew, I feel like she doesn’t have my back. Fellow members of “The Squad,” AOC, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, only push the antisemitic agenda further.
As progressive women of color under 50, the members of “The Squad” have gained popularity and unprecedented admiration in the last few years, particularly among Millenials and Gen–Zers. Their forward–thinking policies are attractive, focusing on equity and justice across all aspects of American democracy. Unfortunately for Jews like myself, this idolization generally causes their antisemitism to be swept under the rug and overlooked by those unaffected.
I want to note that this is about American Jews, not Israel and its government. Criticizing the actions of the Israeli government is a democratic right, and something that I frequently partake in myself. What I take issue with is the spreading of antisemitic content and the refusal to openly speak out about and condemn antisemitic hate crimes here in the United States. The lens of Israel is often used to perpetuate certain antisemitic tropes and conspiracies, and American Jews still get blamed for what goes on in the Middle East.
Antisemitism has become its own entity, often manifesting itself as subtleties in language and rhetoric that are not always realized by the speaker. Of course, someone who claims they hate Jews is, without a doubt, an antisemite. But in regards to the actions of AOC, Tlaib, and Omar, I cannot prove their intentions. All I know for sure is that the way they go about interacting with the Jewish community makes me feel marginalized, attacked, and misunderstood.
I think that left–wing activists need to sit down and pick apart the anti–Israel sentiment that often drives antisemitism in order to truly separate criticisms of Israel from Jews in America. A little analysis and discussion of ways to combat antisemitism and prejudiced rhetoric between Jews and non–Jews can’t hurt. All we have to do is be open–minded and respectful.
Each member of "The Squad" engages with antisemitism in different ways. Omar tends to perpetuate antisemitic conspiracies through her tweets. She has accused Israel of “[hypnotizing] the world” to hide its “evil doings,” while a common Jewish stereotype is that we control and brainwash the media.
Omar has also played into the money–hungry trope on numerous occasions, first by tweeting that American political leaders' support for Israel is "all about the Benjamins baby," and more recently by only referencing her opponent’s Jewish donors when criticizing him for being controlled by money. I don't see these words as critiques of the Israeli government or political opponents. They feel like jabs at myself and my community as a whole.
Tlaib accuses American Jews of dual loyalty, and retweeted a statement that wrongly accused Israel for the death of a Palestinian child who had actually drowned. Though she later removed it, she never formally apologized.
More recently, in response to Biden's Jewish nominee for Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Tlaib tweeted: "So long as he doesn't suppress my First Amendment right to speak out against Netanyahu's racist and inhumane policies. The Palestinian people deserve equality and justice." There was absolutely no mention of Israel in his being nominated. How did she make this connection? Is it because he is Jewish? American Jews should not have to answer for the Israeli government.
While AOC does not explicitly share the same antisemitic tropes, I don't feel like she represents the Jewish community well, as she only meets with groups that fit her opinions on Israel. Without listening to all Jewish voices, she keeps her viewpoint narrow and biased. I admire how outspoken AOC is regarding the issues she and I are passionate about: climate change, feminism, racial equality. But she has yet to stand up for me, and her silence speaks volumes.
The Jewish community is sometimes described as a football, tossed between left and right to score points, but neither side actually speaks properly on my behalf. AOC has in fact met with Jewish activist groups; but only groups such as IfNotNow, which does not take a stance on Zionism, and Neturei Karta, which is actively anti–Zionist.
Conversely, Trump thinks he’s defending Jews when he (disgustingly) tells “The Squad” to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime–infested places from which they came,” while blatantly ignoring the fact that this exact sentiment has been cast upon Jews throughout our history. I am forced to straddle a line somewhere in the middle: The left uses a “vague notion of social justice” to condemn my beliefs and self–advocacy, while my community has been violently and fatally attacked by the right from Pittsburgh to Poway.
I don’t believe that activism is really a “thing” on the far right, and trying to mend its deep–seated antisemitism, racism, and general hatred honestly feels like a lost cause. But for leftists, who preach and fight for equality every day, refusing to condemn antisemitism goes against the very basis of their progressive platform.
I want non–Jews to include Jews in their activism. I want the Congresswomen of “The Squad” to not only hear me, but to listen to me. To respect me. To understand that I can be a valuable resource to them, and vice versa. Far right brutality threatens us all, and we can help one another combat it. I want them to separate their criticisms of the Israeli government from the hate crimes that occur in places where I am meant to feel safe.
As a Jew, I want to feel supported by the leaders of my country in a way that I can dictate myself, and I feel that including Jews in activism is the first step in bringing us together.