By Jacob T. Marder
Ed. note: This column is a response to Sophia Rodney’s op-ed “I’m a Student and I’m Afraid of Where My Party’s Headed.”
Like Sophia Rodney, I am proud to be an American Jew. I am a Democrat. And I am proud to stand with my Israeli and Palestinian peers for self-determination, peace and health. But unlike Rodney, I do not allow Israel to be the deciding factor when it comes to determining where I fall on the political spectrum.
Rodney cites two issues of concern. One is President Joe Biden’s stated intention to return the United States to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal. In fact, between 2015, when the deal was agreed to, and 2018, when former President Donald Trump unilaterally walked away from it, Iran had complied with its requirements. This judgment was rendered not only by the respected International Atomic Energy Agency, which had responsibility for monitoring the JCPOA, but also the U.S. State Department. The deal was never intended to address Iran’s ballistic missile program and its malign activities in the region, rather to remove the nuclear threat that poses the greatest existential threat to Israel.
Since the U.S. walked away, Iran, feeling it was not obligated by the deal if the U.S. was not bound by it, has moved closer to nuclear breakout. President Joe Biden wants to return to the deal to roll back Iran’s nuclear program. He also wants to strengthen the deal and expand its scope to include those problems not addressed back in 2015. That would be good for Israel, and good for the United States and our other allies in the Middle East.
Rodney also cites worries about “The Squad,” a group of Democratic congresswomen — including Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — who advocate for climate justice, health care and human rights. These legislators, especially Ocasio-Cortez, are often characterized as being “extreme,” a description that only serves to normalize the excesses of the far right. In reality, Ocasio-Cortez and others have been at the forefront of fighting white supremacy in the U.S. and battling human rights violations abroad.
Meanwhile, there is a dangerous extreme in people like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who recently claimed “Jewish space lasers” caused forest fires, and in far-right claims about “globalists” and “the Rothschilds.” Those on the far right incite violence backed by white supremacist groups, making Jews of so many intersections afraid for their lives. How can they be compared to someone like Rep. Cori Bush, who is standing up for racial justice everywhere? The only thing the left incites is calls for justice, equality and human rights.
Like Rodney and many people in our community, I care about Israel and its fate. But political participation, whether voting in elections or donating to campaigns, should not be determined on a single-issue basis. Worrying about my student debt, the future of education, white supremacy and fascism keeps me up at night. Why would I only think about Israel policy, when my life is dependent on the party in power in the U.S.? Sure, it’s fair to have disagreement on Israeli foreign policy, but should that be the sole factor in choosing a political party?
Our country just experienced four tumultuous years, topped off by an insurrection. I believe that the president we have now is dedicated to getting the pandemic under control using science, rebuilding our shattered economy, and healing the wounds of a deeply polarized society, so unlike Rodney, I am not worried about my party. And given that both parties support a Jewish state and neither one has cut back aid to Israel — but only one party unequivocally denounces far-right white supremacy — the choice for me is clear.
Jacob Marder, a student at Temple University, is an intern with Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania, frequently advocating for education policy, climate justice and racial justice.