“A bit too obsessed with Israel.”
Julia Salazar is campaigning for the New York State Senate as a hyper-progressive, Jewish-anti-Zionist, socialist immigrant. But the Miami-born Democrat was known until only a few years ago as a pro-life, Israel-loving, right-wing Christian.
Salazar is the Democratic Socialists of America’s next big hope. After Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary trouncing of a decades-long Democratic House incumbent, twenty-seven-year-old Salazar looked prime to keep the DSA’s anti-establishment momentum going.
“A working-class Colombian immigrant” is how she was described in an energetic profile in The Intercept.
Salazar sits on the organizing board of the DSA’s “socialist-feminist” working group and used to work as an organizer at “Jews for Racial & Economic Justice” before deciding to take on Martin Dilan, a longtime Democratic incumbent.
Taking Dilan’s state senate seat could be a coup for progressive Democrats — perhaps even bigger than the Ocasio-Cortez victory — because of New York’s uniquely polarized demographic. While the state is home to one of the country’s most left-leaning hubs — the New York City metro area — it’s also balanced by an extremely conservative population upstate.
Historically, many Democrats in the Albany Senate have opted to compromise with Republicans rather than push a progressive agenda. As a result, policies like single-payer-healthcare and small-business-reform have never made it to the desk of New York’s reliably Democrat governors.
With only a couple of senator seats flipped, this could change.
On the week of Ocasio-Cortez’s upset victory, Salazar was already being featured in a glowing New York Magazine profile. In it, Salazar talked-up her own longtime commitment to the DSA: Unlike Ocasio-Cortez, Salazar was a socialist before it was cool.
“Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined when she was seeking DSA’s endorsement,” said Salazar. “She’s absolutely a Democratic Socialist, but she wasn’t organizing with DSA before.”
The NYMag profile comments on the full-throatedness of Salazar’s commitment to the DSA:
“…a better a analogy [to the DSA] might be the Christian right, because it offers an entire culture. Instead of reading the Bible, they read Jacobin and Marx. Instead of protesting abortion, they undertake constant actions for tenants’ rights, single-payer health care, and immigrants’ rights.“
Funnily enough, before she was reading Marx and “Jacobin,” Salazar was quoting the Christian Bible and protesting abortion herself.
In a detailed exposé published in Tablet Magazine Thursday, Armin Rosen told the origin story of Salazar’s current political identity, as sifted from old articles, social media posts, and interviews with people who knew her from her college days.
Christian activism: As a student at Columbia University, she was a prominent advocate and speaker for “Columbia Right to Life,” a student anti-abortion group. She attacked the university’s health services for funding abortions, and demanded the same sort of financial support for women who decided to keep their pregnancies.
While active in the Jewish Hillel in 2012, Salazar shared New Testament verses and the occasional pastoral platitude to social media.
— Hen Mazzig (@HenMazzig) October 2, 2015
In the same year, she attended an annual student leadership training sponsored by Christians United for Israel in San Antonio, Texas, during which she appeared for an interview with Glenn Beck on his digital network “The Blaze.”
She told Beck that she believes many professors at Columbia “are using the classroom as their podium to spread lies about the State of Israel.”
A friend who knew Salazar during her days working with Christians United for Israel said that she “wasn’t shy about her religious faith dropping the occasional ‘praise Jesus’ into casual conversation,” wrote Rosen.
In private messages obtained by Tablet, Salazar described herself as a “fervently” Christian descendant of Israelis.
This began to change after she attended a mission to Israel funded by CUFI in the Summer of 2012, from which she eventually broke off to see the West Bank on her own. Not long after her return, according to Rosen, she began identifying as a “left-wing anti-Israel Jew,” and shifted her activist focus toward the Palestinian agenda.
In a sharp turn, she became a fervent opponent of the Jewish state. She became an editor for a blog affiliated with the anti-Zionist advocacy group “the Jewish Voice for Peace,” and frequently wrote for Mondoweiss, a bitingly anti-Israel outlet.
In one piece for Monoweiss from 2016, Salazar stood with leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement in condemning Israel for genocide.
Like Ocasio-Cortez, Salazar’s current campaign proudly boasts the support of Linda Sarsour, the co-founder of the Women’s March and a strident critic of Israel.
“Like most American Jews, I was raised with the delusion that Israel was a safe haven for me,” she cleared her throat in a Mondoweiss post in 2014.
In a social media argument with pro-Israel Christians she rebutted by pondering, “Is it anti-Semitic for a non-Jewish student to publicly impose opinion of whose voice is permitted in our Jewish communities?”
For Salazar, her Jewishness was a conversation stopper. “Please leave my Jewish community alone,” she tweeted at a non-Jewish Tablet contributor in 2014. “You don’t speak for us.”
But according to Salazar’s brother Alex, that identity is pure fiction. “There was nobody in our immediate family who was Jewish my father was not Jewish,” he told Tablet. “We were not raised Jewish.”
As for her actual birthplace, Salazar has consistently presented herself as an immigrant.
“My family immigrated to the US from Colombia when I was a baby,” she told Jacobin Magazine.
Her campaign website platform uses the familiar preamble to discuss her immigration policy: “As a proud immigrant myself, I…”
— Stephen Miller (@redsteeze) August 24, 2018
But, as Tablet pointed out, she was born in Miami. Her mother, the daughter of Italian immigrants, grew up in New Jersey. Her father petitioned for naturalization a decade before she was born.
Though she refused Tablet’s requests to respond, on Thursday Salazar acknowledged her birthplace when she spoke to JTA, describing her upbringing in a “secular and mixed family, Catholic and Jewish,” with much of her family still living in Colombia.