Media Analysis

‘Fundamental disrespect for Israel’ — AOC’s Rabin reversal roils supporters

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s withdrawal last Friday from an October memorial to Yitzhak Rabin is an act of irreverence for an Israeli leader I don’t think we’ve seen before at her political level; and the drama has roiled the pro-Israel community. A number of advocates weighed in, before Yom Kippur, with apoplexy/concern. Here are some of those responses.

Even the Biden campaign spoke up, an aide telling the JTA that AOC’s decision was “problematic” for the Democratic Party:

“She could have rejected the invitation for any number of reasons… But if she agrees and then pulls out, she’s creating problems for her own party.”

Americans for Peace Now, which is sponsoring the Oct. 20 memorial at which AOC was to appear alongside Rabin’s granddaughter and Mandy Patinkin, issued a short statement of regret that the star congresswoman from New York will not appear.

The American Jewish Committee is affronted:

He died for peace. Any member of Congress should be honored to be associated with his memory.

The American Jewish Congress sees rage on the left:

We must listen & engage – stop the rage! We must not #cancel Yitzhak Rabin.

Jonathan Greenblatt of ADL says it’s “wrong” of AOC to withdraw, and suggests she has done damage to the peace process:

Yitzhak Rabin was a heroic Israeli leader, a Nobel Laureate who gave his life for peace. Backing out of this event, hosted by dovish @PeaceNowUS no less, is sad, wrong and truly a missed opportunity for @AOC to show support for peace & reconciliation.

Democratic Majority for Israel calls AOC’s decision “offensive” and disrespectful to Israel. And out of step with Congress of course.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s decision to renege on her agreement to speak at a memorial to Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin, who was slain trying to make peace, is wholly wrong and deeply regrettable. It is also offensive to those who support a two-state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict and, sadly, gives aid and comfort to the enemies of peace. Fortunately, her fundamental disrespect for Israel and for peacemakers is not shared by the vast majority of Democrats in Congress or at the grassroots.

Matt Duss responds: “As this AIPAC front group does its usual thing of bashing progressives and dividing Democrats, it’s good to remember that AIPAC worked to undermine Rabin’s peace efforts, just as they oppose efforts to end the occupation now.”

Ali Abunimah concludes, “the Israel lobby is losing its influence among liberals and leftists.”

Yousef Munayyer also points to the shift in authority we are witnessing. “The freak out in response to the AOC decision on the Rabin event is less about Rabin and more a freak out over losing control of a narrative that erases Palestinians.”

Back to the Israel lobby, Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum says that every leader has shades of gray:

I am hard pressed to think of any leader on either the Israeli or Palestinian sides that does not have a complicated legacy of one sort or another. If you think that Rabin should be canceled or shunned and that no part of his legacy is worthy of praise, congrats on your extremism

Avishay Ben Sasson-Gordis, PhD candidate at Harvard, makes the same point, saying Nelson Mandela had a “complicated pre-90s legacy”–surely a reference to Mandela’s support for violent resistance.

Khaled Elgindy points out that Palestinians are demonized on that basis, not Israelis:

The difference is that the dark pasts of Israeli leaders (Begin, Shamir, Sharon, Rabin, etc) rarely if ever get any attention in US politics while those of Palestinian leaders are rarely not discussed.”

Biden surrogate Dan Shapiro faults AOC for giving in “to pressure” and not discussing Rabin’s “complexity.”

Honoring Rabin, an Israeli patriot killed for trying to make peace, in no way detracts from a commitment to Palestinians’ rights….

A mistake [by AOC] to give in to pressure, a missed opportunity to speak constructively to both sides of this conflict, honoring a peacemaker while acknowledging complexity.

There have been more vituperative responses.

A rightwing lobbyist is delighting in the fracture of the center/left: “You shouldn’t have invited @AOC in first pace. This is the price you pay for coddling up to the Squad in the vain attempt for social media publicity.”

Bari Weiss has retweeted the comment that “on line anti-Semites” prevailed upon AOC to withdraw. The “Zioness” movement, a pro-Israel advocacy shop, also accuses AOC of anti-semitism for not understanding the Jewish commitment to Zionism.

Many Jews have reached out to try to express our commitment to Zionism as inalienable human right, but you seem unwilling to hear/appreciate our humanity… This makes us genuinely feel that your commitment to progressive values, equity and equalty for all excludes the Jewish people…Israel’s existence is a fact––a fact which will not change––and refusing to engage with Jews, a literal necessity if peace is ever to be achieved, is not only anti-Palestinian, it is also antisemitic.

Batya Ungar-Sargon of the “Forward” seeks to maintain Rabin’s heroic stature, by blasting the left for its support for a panel about resistance featuring Leila Khaled. That event was canceled by Zoom because of Khaled’s participation in airline hijackings in 1969 and 1970.

A movement that idolizes Leila Khaled and cancels Yitzhak Rabin is no place for any American with a conscience.

More reflective responses. Ambassador Itamar Rabinovich, on an Israel lobby thinktank’s podcast about Rabin (before the cancellation), says Rabin would be alarmed by what’s happening to Israel’s image in the U.S.:

The relationship to the American Jewish community… to him was key. He would have sensed that Israel is losing large parts of the American public and the American Jewish community and that would have worried him. I think he would have sought a deal.

Both Jewish Voice for Peace and Institute for Middle East Understanding say the Rabin moment is a teaching opportunity, to learn about Zionist history.

IMEU’s “Quick Facts on Yitzhak Rabin” includes this disturbing bottom line on the Rabin’s brutal response to the First Intifada:

Between December 1987 and 1993… more than 1,000 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces, including 237 children. Many tens of thousands more were injured. Rabin was prime minister and/or defense minister most of this time. According to an estimate by the Swedish branch of Save the Children, as many as 29,900 children required medical treatment for injuries caused by beatings from Israeli soldiers during the first two years of the Intifada alone, nearly a third of them aged ten or under. Save the Children also estimated that between 6,500-8,500 Palestinian minors were wounded by Israeli gunfire in the first two years of the Intifada.

And IMEU reports this ugly exchange during the the Nakba in 1948:

In his memoirs, which were censored by Israel but leaked to The New York Times in 1979, Rabin recalled a conversation he had with David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, regarding the fate of the Palestinians of Lydd and Ramla, writing: “We walked outside, Ben-Gurion accompanying us. [Commander Yigal] Allon repeated his question, ‘What is to be done with the Palestinian population?’ Ben-Gurion waved his hand in a gesture which said ‘Drive them out!’… I agreed that it was essential to drive the inhabitants out.”

Beth Avedon Miller of JVP Action calls on Americans to listen to the Palestinian narrative, and implicitly links this opening to discussions of Woodrow Wilson and Columbus and Robert E. Lee.

Across the world, movements are demanding we more closely examine the legacies of lionized political leaders and be more honest about their actions. So let’s talk about Yitzhak Rabin and the impact his policies had on Palestinians….

Palestinians have continually shared out their stories of the pain, violence, and displacement caused by Rabin’s policies and the rest of us need to listen.

A few other speakers. Hadas Thier at Jacobin says the “heavy-handed response” to the withdrawal “from an event of negligible distinction” reflects a shift in power.

That AOC took her cues from Palestinians instead of pro-Israel voices is a testament to the importance of having elected officials who are accountable to progressive movements.”

Remi Brulin raises the fact that The New York Times has still not published a word about last year’s revelation that many respected Israeli government officials authorized a terrorist operation in Lebanon in the 1980s that killed hundreds of civilians. (And Brulin ties in the fact that Zoom canceled Leila Khaled for participation in terrorist hijackings that killed no one).

Rabin biography, Warrior for Peace.

Our publisher Scott Roth tweeted his bookshelf, above, and also cited the paradigm shift:

Liberal Zionists were happy when Palestinians had no voice in this country. And now they are horrified at the prospect of having to deal with a counter narrative in an arena where there was always a Zionist monopoly.

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Let’s cut to the chase!

It is abundantly clear that “Israel’s” worldwide image, including the U.S., is in accelerating decline and for good reason. It is now obvious that the expansionist, apartheid, borderless so-called “Jewish State” is blatantly racist, a brutal/illegal occupier and ethnic cleanser of the indigenous Palestinians and a serial violator of hard won international humanitarian law. It’s only going to get worse, much worse for Zionists.

Rabin was no Nelson Mandela! At best he was akin to de Klerk. To suggest as much is disgusting and offensive! It shows exactly how little Zionists and their supporters know of even their own history! Lest we forgot, Rabin was PM of Israel from 1974-77, a time during which Israel was actively supporting the South African Apartheid regime during some of its darkest, most oppressive, and violent years! During this same time both regimes… Read more »

What is significant in the criticisms of AOC is the attempt to create some kind of equivalency between the Palestinians and the Israelis when there is none. Israel began as, and still is a settler colonialism project created our of the white supremacy of European thinking and bringing its racism with it. Those people did not come with humility and respect for the local people, the Palestinians. Quite the opposite. From the very early days… Read more »

No, he wasn’t akin to de Klerk. People sometimes ask me where is the Palestinian Mandela. Answer: In exile, in an Israeli prison, or dead. The real question is, Where is the Israeli de Klerk?
Where is an Israeli leader who is ready, willing, and able to do what is necessary to actually make peace? Nowhere. Anyone like that wouldn’t have a ghost of a chance of being elected.

Maybe we should ask Netanyahu what he thinks of Rabin. In this 2019 editorial Roger Cohen reviews the movie “Incitement”, about Rabin’s assassination, and says Footage shows Netanyahu speaking at a big rally on Oct. 5, 1995, a month before the assassination. As he speaks, chants rise from the crowd: “Rabin is a traitor,” “In blood and fire we will get rid of Rabin.” Posters were raised of Rabin in Nazi SS uniform. David Levy, a… Read more »