AOC Reconsiders Participation at Rabin Memorial After BDS Backlash

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U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez waits to enter a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, August 24, 2020.
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez waits to enter a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, August 24, 2020.Credit: Tom Brenner/Reuters

NEW YORK – Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Friday she was reconsidering her scheduled participation at a memorial event for late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, after backlash from activists associated with the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

The virtual event, organized by Americans for Peace Now, is planned for October 20, commemorating 25 years since Rabin's assassination by Israeli far-right activist Yigal Amir at a Tel Aviv rally. Ocasio-Cortez, according to organizers, would speak on “fulfilling the courageous Israeli leader’s mission for peace and justice today in the U.S. and Israel.” 

But quickly after advertisements for the event were posted on social media, criticism poured in from activists calling Ocasio-Cortez out for showing “total contempt for Palestinian lives.”

Ali Abunimah, a leading BDS activist and co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, a website covering Palestinian issues, said the congresswoman's attendance was “just disgusting” and called Rabin an “unrepentant war criminal.”

“Please don't do this AOC," one man wrote on Twitter. "Yitzhak Rabin was a terrorist and Israel has never even honored the Oslo Accords,” which Rabin brokered and signed alongside Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 1993.

According to journalist Alex Kane, “In the United States, Rabin is viewed as a liberal peacemaker but Palestinians remember him for his brutal rule suppressing Palestinian protest during the First Intifada, as someone who reportedly ordered the breaking of Palestinian bones.”

Another commentator called on Palestinian-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who is close to Ocasio-Cortez, to “please talk some sense” into her. Together with Rep. Ilhan Omar, the three were meant to visit Israel and the West Bank last year, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had decided to bar Tlaib and Omar's entry after succumbing Trump administration pressure, a move that Ocasio-Cortez called "discriminatory."

Ocasio-Cortez responded to the online criticism by saying the event and her involvement in it "was presented to my team differently from how it’s now being promoted," adding she is "taking a look into this now."

Israel's former consul general in New York, Dany Dayan, said in a tweet "The uproar is not about the intention to honor the memory of Yitzhak Rabin. It is about the implicit recognition of Israel’s existence."

Other speakers expected at the memorial event, to be hosted by actor Mandy Patinkin, include Rabin's granddaughter Noa Rothman and Israeli singer David Broza. “We would have peace today had he been with us all this time,” Patinkin said in a video promoting the virtual event. 

Americans for Peace Now, a sister organization of Israeli left-wing group Peace Now, says its mission is to “educate and persuade the American public and its leadership to support and adopt policies that will lead to comprehensive, durable, Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab peace, based on a two-state solution.”

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has been a vocal critic of the Israeli government and its policies concerning Palestinians throughout her first term in Congress. Last year, she told New York radio station Hot 97: “Criticizing the occupation doesn't make you anti-Israel, frankly. It doesn't mean that you are against the existence of a nation. It means that you believe in human rights, and it's about making sure that Palestinian human rights are equal to Israeli human rights, and there are a lot of troubling things happening there.”

In June, Ocasio-Cortez co-authored a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling for a cut in U.S. financial aid to Israel should Netanyahu's government follow through with its plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

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