By Ron Kampeas/(JTA) – Conservative pundit Ben Shapiro challenged Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the tyro socialist Democrat from the Bronx, to a debate on Aug. 8 – and things quickly devolved into off-topic discussions of sexual harassment and Orthodox Judaism. Shapiro offered $10,000 to a charity of Ocasio-Cortez’s choice or to her campaign if she took him up on his offer. He claimed the congressional candidate had accused Republicans of being afraid to debate, and here he was ready to debate.
Shapiro’s challenge spurred a lot of “fight, fight, fight” from conservative Twitter, compiled here on the conservative website Twitchy.
If there were a debate, you could probably count on Shapiro, a prominent Israel defender, to challenge Ocasio-Cortez on her harsh criticism of Israel. She described the day in May when Israeli troops killed more than 60 Palestinians, mostly Hamasniks, some of whom were attempting to breach the fence with the Gaza Strip as a “massacre.”
Ocasio-Cortez did not have to reply: No one expects a candidate to debate non-candidates, and her from-the-left appeal is based much more on getting out the vote than it is on persuading undecided independents or hostile conservatives. But reply she did on Aug. 9, and in the process advanced a jarring simile: Shapiro’s very polite debate challenge, she said, was akin to catcalling. “Just like catcalling, I don’t owe a response to unsolicited requests from men with bad intentions,” she tweeted.
That prompted a new round of conservative outrage, accusing Ocasio-Cortez of playing the gender card. “Crying sexism in order to avoid a debate of ideas is not a feminism I want any part of,” said Erielle Davidson, a contributor to The Federalist and TownHall. John Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary, seized on Ocasio-Cortez’s claim that Shapiro’s challenge by tweeting, “What bad intentions? A serious discussion that raises money for charity? This is just embarrassing.”
Shapiro advanced his Orthodox Judaism as a defense against intimations that he was harassing her: “Discussion and debate are not ‘bad intentions.’ Slandering someone as a sexist catcaller without reason or evidence does demonstrate cowardice and bad intent, however. But sure, go with ‘the Orthodox Jew who has never catcalled a woman in his life is ACKSHUALLY a sexist catcaller for asking for a discussion or debate.’ I’m sure your media sycophants will eat it up,” he tweeted.
Fellow conservative pundit Daniella Greenbaum defended Shapiro. “Frankly, this comparison is offensive. @benshapiro is a happily married man. Catcalling involves hitting on someone. He’s invited you to…. a debate. This isn’t complicated,” she tweeted.
Carol Costello, an anchor on CNN’s Headline News Network, had enough. Quoting Shapiro’s “but I’m Orthodox” tweet thread, she admonished, “Sigh. Seriously Ben this is a silly stunt.”