Elissa Slotkin, the Democratic congresswoman seeking Michigan’s open Senate seat this year, is coasting to her party’s nomination in what will be a hugely important state for the presidential election on down the ticket. It will also be an interesting test of post-October 7 politics in America.
Slotkin, who is Jewish, has been distancing herself from Biden over his Israel policy. She also voted against censuring Rashida Tlaib for amplifying calls to wipe Israel off the map, though Slotkin did bring herself to criticize Tlaib, profile in courage that she is.
Slotkin has, in fact, been panicking in the months since Hamas’s attacks on Israel, and it bodes poorly for the future of her party. The former CIA analyst has lost her nerve right at the most important moment of her congressional career, when she could have been perfectly positioned to counter the conspiratorial anti-Semitism that has come to dominate progressive spaces.
Instead, she has bought into talking points about Israel favored by Bernie Sanders, such as the idea that this war is Benjamin Netanyahu’s war and that he is responsible for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. She let it be known to the Washington Post that she worried Biden would cost her the Senate election. She said the killing of three U.S. soldiers in Jordan by an Iranian proxy meant a “pause” in Gaza was more important than ever, accepting a framing of the conflict that sees Israel’s defensive war—the prosecution of which Slotkin has already criticized as “not in line with American interests”—as endangering American troops.
Over the weekend, Slotkin criticized a provocative headline in a Wall Street Journal opinion column about anti-Semitism in Dearborn. But using the headline to dismiss the entire article feels cheap when the substance of the piece documented an alarming trend that deserves attention. Multiple rallies extolling the Hamas attacks of October 7 in their immediate aftermath are very different from private comments made at a religious service. That is not to defend an anti-Semitic sermon in comparison but to note that there is a very public quality to the anti-Semitism crisis in America that is crowding Jews out of communal spaces. Slotkin describes herself as “the only Jewish member of [Michigan’s] congressional delegation.” Surely with that self-publicized distinction come obligations.
Nine cities or towns in Michigan have passed so-called “ceasefire” resolutions, intended to tie Israel’s hands so Hamas can repeat its slaughter. School districts such as Ann Arbor have gone to great lengths to make their Jewish students unwelcome. Slotkin is running for statewide office; where is her outrage on behalf of the Jews whose vote she is asking for and whom she already claims to represent? Putting your faith front and center so you can criticize Bibi Netanyahu is a cynical and selective deployment of a background that could be put to use following the lead of the non-Jewish politicians—John Fetterman comes to mind—who have unashamedly stood with the Jewish community in its hour of need.
It is not a betrayal of Slotkin’s Arab and Muslim constituents to stand up for her Jewish constituents. But declaring her place as her state’s prominent Jewish representative and then using that to constantly undermine Biden’s support for Israel during wartime is beneath the kind of public servant she claims to be. After October 7, the Jewish community needs its congressional representatives to show some spine. Watching Slotkin fold like this is not encouraging.