(JTA) — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez withdrew from an event memorializing Yitzhak Rabin after criticism by pro-Palestinian activists.
The popular progressive New York congresswoman had been scheduled to take part in the event honoring the late Israeli prime minister, who was assassinated by a Jewish extremist in 1995 for his efforts to achieve peace with the Palestinians. The organizer, Americans for Peace Now, said the event would be an opportunity for her and others to “reflect on fulfilling the courageous Israeli leader’s mission for peace and justice today in the U.S. and Israel.”
But she appeared to withdraw after a number of pro-Palestinian groups and figures had lacerated Ocasio-Cortez for agreeing to attend. They described Rabin, who was an officer in the 1948 Independence War, as a war criminal for his order to expel Arabs from their hometowns in that war, and for calling for brutal measures to repress the First Intifada, or violent Palestinian uprising, when he was defense minister from 1987-1990.
“His legacy is one of violence and dispossession for Palestinians,” Adalah Justice Project, a pro-Palestinian advocacy group, said on Twitter in announcing that Ocasio-Cortez had pulled out of the event. “Thank you AOC for listening to the lived experience of the Palestinian people.”
On Friday, Ocasio-Cortez told Alex Kane, a writer with Jewish Currents who had questioned her participation, that she was reconsidering the invitation to appear at the event. “Hey there — this event and my involvement was presented to my team differently from how it’s now being promoted,” she told Kane on Twitter. “Thanks for pointing it out. Taking a look into this now.”
Kane later quoted a source as saying that that the invitation to Ocasio-Cortez was not framed as a memorial, but as a review of the Oslo peace process launched by Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 1993 — a process the earned both former combatants a Nobel Peace prize. Americans for Peace Now has since Aug. 29 framed the Oct. 20 event as a Rabin memorial. It falls close to the 25th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination as he left a peace rally in Tel Aviv, on Nov. 4, 1995.
Also scheduled to appear at the event are Rabin’s granddaughter, Noa Rothman, and actor Mandy Patinkin, who last month released a video saying “I’ll be hosting a virtual memorial event for Yitzhak Rabin.”
“We are sorry to hear that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez will no longer be speaking at our Oct. 20th Yitzhak Rabin memorial,” Hadar Susskind, Americans for Peace Now’s president, said Saturday in an email to JTA. “Her participation would have added to the event.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s spokeswoman had confirmed her withdrawal on Friday, but there were still questions about whether it would be reversed.
A person associated with the presidential campaign of Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, told JTA that should Ocasio-Cortez withdraw, it would be “problematic.” “She could have rejected the invitation for any number of reasons,” the Biden campaign associate said. “But if she agrees and then pulls out, she’s creating problems for her own party.”
Rabin, elected prime minister in 1992, was the first Israeli prime minister to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians and formed a bond with Yassir Arafat despite the latter’s role in authorizing deadly attacks against hundreds of Israelis. The Nobel Prize committee called the Oslo process they embraced “a historic process through which peace and cooperation can replace war and hate.”
Arafat himself publicly mourned Rabin’s passing and made a rare and risky visit into Israel to relay condolences to Rabin’s widow Leah.