Julia Salazar was born into what she describes as a “very conservative political family” in Miami, Florida, on December 31, 1990. Her father, Luis, was a native Colombian of Jewish ancestry. A cargo pilot by trade, Luis became an American citizen before his daughter was born. His wife, Christine Salazar, was born in Italy and grew up in New Jersey. Luis and Christine had both of their children, Julia and her older brother Alex, baptized as Catholics. The couple eventually divorced in 1998. When Luis died of prostate cancer in 2009, he left behind a house and a substantial trust fund that was to be divided evenly between his two children.
Later in 2009, Julia Salazar, then a registered Republican, enrolled at Columbia University. There, she became the leader of Columbia Right to Life (an anti-abortion group), and president of the campus chapter of Christians United For Israel (CUFI).
In March 2011, Florida Police Detective Charles Weinblatt arrested Salazar for fraudulently attempting, via multiple phone calls to UBS Bank, to access the account of Salazar family friend Kai Hernandez, who also accused Miss Salazar of having stolen more than $12,000 in cash and merchandise. Ultimately, no charges were brought against Salazar vis-a-vis the UBS case because, as Weinblatt explained, “the state attorney’s office felt that there was not a likelihood of conviction based on a voice ID.”
Salazar left CUFI in the summer of 2012, shortly after visiting the West Bank and becoming disturbed by the substandard living conditions of its Palestinian residents. She says that in 2013 she converted to Reform Judaism.
From this point forward, Salazar’s views on Israel became increasingly, though not entirely, negative. During 2013-14, she co-founded the Columbia University chapter of J Street; became a campus fellow with the World Zionist Organization; became a fellow with Bridging the Gap, a group that promotes kinship between Jewish students from different cultural backgrounds; joined the If Not Now movement, which pushes American Jewish institutions to “end their support for the [Israeli] occupation”; and contributed articles (under the pseudonym Julia Carmel) to the anti-Israel publication Mondoweiss. In an August 2016 piece for Mondoweiss, Salazar supported the Black Lives Matter movement’s claim that Israel was guilty of committing genocide against the Palestinians.
From early 2016 through May 2017, Salazar was a Grace Paley Organizing Fellow with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. During this same period, she co-edited Unruly, the “intersectional blog” of Jewish Voice for Peace.
Salazar says she “became a Marxist” during her time at Columbia, which she left without graduating. She is now a committed member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and she once served on the organizing committee of its socialist-feminist working group. “A democratic socialist recognizes the capitalist system as being inherently oppressive,” says Salazar, “and is actively working to dismantle it and to empower the working class and the marginalized in our society.”
In 2018, Salazar entered the Democratic Party primary race to challenge Martin Malavé Dilan, the sixteen-year incumbent New York State Senator representing the 18th District (in Brooklyn). Salazar’s campaign received endorsements from such notables as Cynthia Nixon, Zephyr Teachout, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, former Congressional Hispanic Caucus leader Nydia Velazquez, and Nina Turner of Bernie Sanders’s Our Revolution.
Early in her campaign, Salazar repeatedly told interviewers that she was born in Colombia to a “working class” family that “immigrated to the U.S. … when I was a baby.” But in fact, she was born in Florida to a family that, by her brother’s telling, was “certainly middle class, or upper middle class.” On September 11, 2018, New York Magazine reported that “the Salazars have for generations been a prosperous family in Colombia that has played a prominent role in civic and political life.” Among her direct-line ancestors in that country were military captains, doctors, businessmen, and highly influential political figures who held such titles as Mayor, Congressman, Senator, and Minister of Finance.
Salazar’s 2018 campaign platform advocated such priorities as: a “healthcare system that covers every New Yorker, including undocumented immigrants”; “dramatically expanded voting rights including same-day registration, automatic voter registration, early voting, open primaries, greater language support, and an end to felony disenfranchisement”; an “end [to] cash bail” for criminal suspects; “a final end to broken-windows policing”; “the appointment of a special prosecutor … to investigate cases related to the deaths of unarmed civilians caused by police officers in New York”; more tax dollars for “underfunded” public schools; “free tuition for all at CUNY and SUNY [colleges]”; taxpayer funding for “the living expenses of [public college] students whose families can’t afford to support them”; the transformation of New York into “a sanctuary state” that would “end cooperation” with federal Immigration & Customs Enforcement agents; “passage of the DREAM Act,” legislation that would allow illegal-alien students to obtain college tuition discounts, conditional permanent residency, and a path-to-citizenship; the passage of legislation to grant driver’s licenses and voting rights to “undocumented immigrants”; and “comprehensive, free access to abortion and contraception for ALL women” (emphasis in original).
Asserting also that “climate change disproportionately harms poor and working-class people,” Salazar’s campaign called for making New York’s economy “100%” reliant on “renewable” energy sources by 2035, and for making “corporate polluters pay … a revenue-generating carbon tax.”
On September 11, 2018, Salazar publicly accused David Keyes, who had been a spokesman for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu since 2016, of having sexually assaulted her in 2013.
On September 13, 2018, Salazar won the Democratic primary race for the New York State Senate, defeating Martin Dilan by a margin of 58% to 42%. She then ran unopposed in the general election two months later and thus won a seat in the State Senate.
Salazar was among the numerous New York State Senate Democrats who strongly supported the so-called Reproductive Health Act (RHA), which was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo in January 2019. This bill not only allowed abortions to be performed on unborn babies at any point in a pregnancy — right up until the mother’s due date — but also permitted non-doctors to perform the procedure. Previously in New York State, abortions after the 24th week of gestation had been permitted only in cases where the mother’s life was in danger because of the pregnancy. But the RHA now added a broad “health” exception for late-term abortions — including for reasons like economic, social and emotional factors. It also redefined a “person” as “a human being who has been born and is alive”; it characterized abortion as a “fundamental right”; and it repealed protections for babies who initially survive an abortion procedure.
Further Reading: “This week in Julia Salazar,” NY Magazine (9-11-18); “Who Is Julia Salazar?” Tablet (8-23-18); “Want to Be the Next Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?” NY Times (9-5-18); “What New York’s New Abortion Law Does and Doesn’t Do” (America Magazine, 1-30-2019).