Anti-Semitic blacks in Congress: Then and now

In the 2002 congressional midterm elections, Israel-supporters were among those who contributed to taking down in Democratic Party primaries two Southern African-American members of the House of Representatives, Cynthia McKinney in Georgia and Earl Hilliard in Alabama.  Both of the defeated members had long records of hostility to Israel and had been attacked for making anti-Semitic remarks.

Since African-American congressmen — Denise Majette in Georgia and Artur Davis in Alabama — replaced the defeated African-American congressmen, there was no change in the size of the Congressional Black Caucus in the House when this happened.  Many black congressmen were pro-Israel at the time.

Cynthia McKinney (photo credit: Russell Tribunal).

Ten years earlier, Mel Reynolds had defeated another black Congressman, Gus Savage, in Illinois in the Democratic primary.  Savage had a similar history to that of the two defeated Southern congressmen.  

The efforts to defeat the incumbent members was an effort not by AIPAC, which does not contribute to campaigns, but by individual activists.

Things have changed since these earlier fights.  Any attempt to primary and defeat Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or Rashida Tlaib will be much more difficult and will be resisted by not only the Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive caucus in the House, but also progressive whites, African-Americans, and Hispanics in the three districts.  For these three new members of the House, both their district constituents and supporters around the country are likely sympathetic to their hostility to Israel and have had no major problem with their at times crude anti-Semitic comments.

Hostility to Israel is now a major reason for the Left to support the three.  The presidential campaign is demonstrating how hostility to Israel is bursting through as a source of differentiation among the contenders, with Bernie Sanders most eager to get his anger toward Israel on the table.

Resistance to Israel, and defense of the troika, would become a badge of honor for the Left.  I sincerely doubt that there are pro-Israel majorities among voters in any of the three districts.  But targeting these women in primaries would provide an opportunity for engagement by the left on the subject of Israel.