Yitzhak Rabin was famous for saying that people make peace with their enemies – not with their friends.
Israelis were reminded of this maxim on Saturday by Rabin’s granddaughter, Noa Rothman, who tweeted her grandfather’s saying in response to a decision by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the popular, progressive New York congresswoman, to withdraw from an event in memory of the late prime minister.
The October 20th event was being organized by Americans for Peace Now in memory of Rabin who was assassinated in 1995 by a Jewish extremist for his efforts to achieve peace with the Palestinians.
Ocasio-Cortez – or AOC as she is known – had initially confirmed her participation alongside Rothman and “Homeland” actor Mandy Patinkin.
But she then came under fire from a number of pro-Palestinian groups which described Rabin, a career IDF officer before entering politics, as a war criminal, for reportedly expelling Arabs from their homes in the War of Independence in 1948, and for calling for brutal measures to repress the First Intifada, a violent Palestinian uprising in the late 1980s.
“His legacy is one of violence and dispossession for Palestinians,” Adalah Justice Project, a pro-Palestinian advocacy group, said on Twitter in announcing that AOC had withdrawn from the event. “Thank you AOC for listening to the lived experience of the Palestinian people.”
In an open letter to Ocasio-Cortez, the Zioness Movement, a coalition of progressive Jewish Zionist activists, wrote “We are deeply troubled that you have decided to pull out of an event honoring the life and legacy of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who paid the ultimate price for his commitment to peace and justice, assassinated by a right-wing extremist for trying to advance the cause of Palestinian statehood.”
AOC told Alex Kane, a writer with Jewish Currents magazine, that she reconsidered the invitation to appear at the event after “my involvement was presented to my team differently from how it’s now being promoted.”
AOC’s withdrawal sparked criticism across the political spectrum. Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J-Street, wrote on Twitter that “as an admirer of Rabin’s and a long-time Peace Now supporter, I am hurt and troubled by [her] decision to withdraw her participation and urge her to reconsider. Rabin’s transition from warrior to peacemaker epitomizes the kind of transition on w/c history can turn. His memory is not just a blessing, it’s an inspiration. As we work to preserve democracy in 2020, his murder reminds us where right-wing extremism and incitement lead.”
Brian Reeves, director of development and external relations for Peace Now Israel, urged Ocasio-Cortez to reconsider. “Are you really going to boycott us and all our work with Palestinians to support human rights and an end to the conflict, just because Rabin wasn’t a flawless idle [sic] after 5 decades of conflict?”
The reason we should even care about AOC’s cancellation is what it says about her and the Palestinian activists who opposed her participation in a Rabin memorial.
As Einat Wilf, a former MK and co-author of “The War of Return” wrote, what AOC did was prove once again that no matter what Israel does, it will never be enough for the people who oppose the existence of the Jewish state.
“A myth reigns that assassination of Rabin in 1995 killed peace. It sounds good. It is completely wrong,” Wilf wrote. “Palestinians rejected far better offers made after. The AOC debacle proves yet again that Israel can never do enough because ‘no Israel’ is the goal.”
Sadly, that is the feeling from the AOC affair. If she knew anything about history, she would know Rabin as a man of peace who paid with his life in the fight to advance it. He was shot just after participating in a peace rally and the blood-soaked words of the “Song for Peace” which he had in his pocket at the time, are a testament to that legacy.
It is true that he fought as a soldier to defend his country against great odds but recognized, as his granddaughter Rothman wrote, that peace has to be made with enemies.
AOC’s failure to understand this is a stain on her and the progressive movement that supports her. Her decision does not advance justice or peace. It prevents it.