In Welcome Shift, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez Heeds Palestinians' Call
Date: 
October 5, 2020

General Yigal Allon asked Ben-Gurion what to do with the Arabs. Ben-Gurion waved his hand: Deport them. Hours later, Yitzhak Rabin, the operations officer, issued a written order to the Yiftach brigade: “The inhabitants of Lydda must be expelled quickly, without regard to age.”

-Lydda, 1948 by Avi Shavit

Lydda was just one of over 400 cities, villages and towns all over Palestine to be depopulated by the ethno-nationalist Zionist project. The architects of the 1948-49 ethnic cleansing campaigns famously went on to govern the newly-created state of Israel. One of them was Yitzhak Rabin, who served as prime minister of Israel on two occasions (1974-77, 1992-95).

On September 24, journalist Alex Kane tweeted that progressive Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would be attending the 25-year memorial service for Yitzhak Rabin organized by the liberal Zionist organization, Americans for Peace Now. On the same thread, he wrote: “Palestinians remember him for his brutal role suppressing Palestinian protest during the First Intifada, as someone who reportedly ordered the breaking of Palestinian bones.”

Palestinians everywhere, including a sizeable number in the United States, persuaded Rep. Ocasio-Cortez to reconsider her decision. Their concerns had little to do with Rabin’s role as a purported peace-maker, but rather with his long history of brutality against Palestinians.

As Palestinian analysts Noura Erakat and Amjad Iraqi were quick to point out, although widely regarded as a “man of peace,” Rabin oversaw continued settlement expansion and home demolitions in the West Bank. These were in accordance with his view expressed before the Knesset, that his vision for Palestinian statehood was “an entity which is less than a state.”

Following a twitterstorm of condemnation, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that the event had been presented to her team “differently.” She withdrew from the event just one day after announcing her participation. She has yet to release a statement that explicitly says why, but it is safe to speculate that her decision was prompted by the Palestinian-led pushback that she received from her progressive base.

In 2018, the Congresswoman dismissed questions about Israel/Palestine by claiming that she is “not [an] expert on geopolitics on this issue.” It is unclear whether she was simply ignorant of the conflict or was deliberately avoiding taking a position. However, in March 2019, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez was able to use AIPAC’s opposition to her and two other fellow Congresswomen, Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, to raise campaign funds and energize her base.

“Some members of Congress have even gone so far as to claim that ‘questioning support for the US-Israel relationship is unacceptable.’ But that’s not how our legislative process is supposed to work,” Rep. Ocasio-Cortez stated in a fundraising email to supporters.

Despite not being as vocally pro-Palestine as Democratic Representatives Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Betty McCollum, Pramila Jaypal or others, she endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2020 presidential elections. Before winning elected office, Ocasio-Cortez also worked as an organizer on the Senator’s 2016 campaign. Sanders is perhaps the highest-profile American opponent of the Netanyahu regime.

Her initial acceptance to attend a commemoration for Rabin shows that, despite having been one of the most recognizable public officials in the United States for the past two years, she has not clarified her position on human rights in Palestine. Nevertheless, her withdrawal from the event is promising: it indicates an unprecedented shift in the American public sphere where Palestinian voices have, until now, been largely excluded. This is true of the traditional pro-Israel narratives that have long been prevalent, but also of those of so-called liberal Zionists, represented by organizations such as Americans for Peace Now and J Street.

Liberal Zionists will often proclaim that they are simultaneously pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian, and that there is no contradiction between these two positions. But in actual fact, liberal Zionists are angered that they no longer constitute the sole voice that that sets the parameters on conversations about Israel/Palestine. For decades, Palestinian have been sidelined or punished for speaking out. This will no longer be the case. Progressive Americans care about Palestinian rights and are beginning to hold elected officials accountable if they attempt to support the Israeli security state or its narrative in anyway.

About The Author: 

Nooran Alhamdan is an MA Candidate of Arab Studies at Georgetown University. She is currently a graduate research fellow at the Middle East Institute's Palestine Program.

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