It was a very good Democratic primary day for New York progressives: Jamaal Bowman, the middle school principal who challenged longtime Rep. Eliot Engel in the 16th District, declared victory; in the 15th district, the likely winner is Ritchie Torres; Mondaire Jones is leading in the 17th to succeed Nita Lowey — like Engel, a Jewish pro-Israel stalwart. Although the candidates are not in lockstep on the issues, their apparent victories have dramatic implications for the New York area’s Jewish community.
While Torres had the backing of mainstream pro-Israel PACs, and Jones vowed to continue Lowey’s pro-Israel legacy, Bowman has said that he supports conditioning U.S. aid to Israel. Many Democrats have been critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the aid package is mostly considered sacrosanct. This week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose 14th District straddles Queens and the Bronx, joined three other House Democrats in calling on the United States to cut assistance to Israel should it annex parts of the West Bank.
New York is undergoing what one reporter called “a generational political shift,” drawing on progressive energy and shifting attitudes toward race, sexuality and gender. (All three congressional candidates are black; Torres and Jones are gay.) These insurgents aren’t necessarily ready to abandon Israel. But it will take a renewed effort to press her cause, from grassroots organizing to political fundraising. Coalition-building is more important than ever. As Eliot Engel found out, the messages that worked in the past cannot be taken for granted.