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Youngest House Democratic recruits speak out for Israel

The pro-Israel trio wrote a letter to Biden: 'We stand behind your forceful condemnation of Hamas and your unwavering commitment to defending our ally Israel'

Courtesy

From left: Joe Vogel, Isaiah Martin and Zak Malamed

Three of the youngest Democrats now running for Congress are teaming up to voice their support for Israel and express their appreciation for President Joe Biden as he faces left-wing backlash over his staunch commitment to Israel in its escalating war with Hamas.

In a joint letter to Biden circulated on Tuesday, the three House candidates thanked the president for his leadership amid the ongoing conflict, endorsing his efforts to secure additional security funding for Israel, push for humanitarian aid to Gaza and promote a two-state solution, among other things.

“At this time, we believe the United States must maintain moral clarity,” wrote Isaiah Martin of Texas, Joe Vogel of Maryland and Zak Malamed of New York, who are in their mid-to-late 20s. “We stand behind your forceful condemnation of Hamas and your unwavering commitment to defending our ally Israel.”

The letter comes as recent polling has shown a stark generational divide over Israel, with Gen Z and millennial Democrats expressing greater skepticism of Israel’s counteroffensive in Gaza even amid an overall spike in Democratic support for the Jewish state in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack. 

But in a joint interview with Jewish Insider on Wednesday morning, the three Democrats — two Gen Zers and one millennial —  pushed back on that narrative, insisting that such generational sentiments have not reflected their own personal engagement with primary voters this cycle.

“I’ve met with a bunch of students and folks who live here, and they were very upset that it seemed like younger voices were not speaking up,” said Martin, a 25-year-old Houston Democrat who is hoping to succeed Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX).

Even as he has drawn particularly fierce online criticism over his positions on Israel, Martin said it was “very clear that we needed to make sure we can stand up and say something on record to show that, in the face of what might be social media pressure, inside of our districts people have been extremely supportive.”

“A lot of folks who are looking at our generation are really concerned about what they’re seeing from the loudest young voices,” said Vogel, 26, a Jewish Democrat and Maryland state legislator running to replace Rep. David Trone (D-MD). “We felt very strongly that we had to send a clear message to our constituencies, to our generation and to the entire country that the current and future leaders of our generation are going to continue standing with Israel and are going to continue standing with the president.”

For his part, Malamed, a 29-year-old Jewish Democrat who is seeking to unseat embattled Rep. George Santos (R-NY) in one of the most heavily Jewish congressional districts in the country, claimed he would likely have faced blowback from voters if he had not issued a statement addressing the conflict.

“There wasn’t pressure to not release a statement,” he told JI. “There was pressure, in this district, to release a statement, to lead on this issue in the way that we have. I think it’s important to note that this stems from the desires and interests of those in our districts.”

The new letter underscores how the war between Israel and Hamas is emerging as a driving issue in multiple congressional races across the country. Last month, Eileen Filler-Corn, the former speaker of Virginia’s House, launched a House campaign centered on her Jewish faith and support for Israel in the aftermath of Hamas’ assault. Meanwhile, several left-wing Squad members are now facing credible primary challenges over their positions on the war.

“This wasn’t a defining issue of my campaign, even in one of the most Jewish congressional districts, before the conflict was ignited,” Malamed said in the interview with JI. “Now it unquestionably is not just a defining issue — it is a top issue. A race that was previously going to be defined along the lines of where we stood on gun safety, abortion rights and health-care access now is one that will be defined on where we have stood on this issue — because it’s front and center on people’s minds.”

Vogel said the conflict has “become more and more of an issue” in his race, amid what he described as a growing intra-party divide over Middle East policy. “The impact of this locally has also been the surge in antisemitism we’re seeing in my own community here,” he added. “I can’t tell you the number of instances that I’ve dealt with in the last three weeks, even in my own apartment building where we had swastikas drawn in the lobby.”

While the predominant concern in Martin’s primary is what he characterized as “the direction of where the country is going when it comes to threats against democracy,” he said the issue is related to Biden’s approach to Israel. 

“I do think that people in the district are very receptive and are caring about understanding where their candidate stands on the position the president has taken on this issue,” he told JI. “I’m proud of the position that we’ve taken, and I’m not going to be wavering off that because that’s exactly what the people want to see.”

Their statement, which also condemned antisemitism and Islamophobia, has faced some backlash from the left on social media. But Martin and his fellow signatories dismissed the criticism as shallow and out of step with broad voter sentiment. 

“People are responding with a one-sentence tweet calling us ‘Zionazis’ or saying that we’re endorsing genocide — which is not only so far from the truth, it’s offensive,” Vogel said. “It also shows how we’re choosing to delve into the nuance and choosing to have these dialogues, and in return we’re getting these three-word responses from folks who don’t actually want to engage on the issue.”

The online detractors “just want to be inflammatory in this moment,” claimed Malamed, arguing that “inflammatory rhetoric is not going to be what resolves the conflict.”

“I could care less than two pennies about what New York DSA has to say about this,” added Martin, referring to the Democratic Socialists of America, which has faced widespread backlash for endorsing a pro-Hamas rally in Times Square last month. “I know that the people of this district are very supportive of a very complex discussion on this issue.”

Their sentiments were affirmed on Wednesday by Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY), a 35-year-old pro-Israel Democrat who has frequently sparred with the left as the conflict in Gaza has continued to escalate. 

“The notion that young people are monolithically anti-Israel is a fiction,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, praising the “millennials and members of Gen Z” who “want nothing to do with the DSA and who understand that there’s nothing remotely progressive about justifying or glorifying the barbarism and terrorism of Hamas.”

In the interview with JI, Vogel framed their approach as part of an ongoing battle for the “soul” of the Democratic Party. 

“We have a strong team here and we’re going to continue working hard in this fight,” he said. “And I think that, ultimately, we will be successful in this battle for the soul of our party and make sure that the Democratic Party continues standing with Israel.”

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