United States Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has withdrawn from an event commemorating former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, her office told Al Jazeera on Friday, after facing a barrage of criticism.
In a brief email, a spokesperson for the representative from New York said she would not be participating in the October 20 commemoration organised by Americans for Peace Now, a US-based group.
Her office did not elaborate on the reason behind the reversal, but pointed to a tweet Ocasio-Cortez wrote earlier on Friday in which she said, “this event and my involvement was presented to my team differently from how it’s now being promoted.”
The spokesperson did not provide further details.
Hey there – this event and my involvement was presented to my team differently from how it’s now being promoted.
Thanks for pointing it out. Taking a look into this now.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) September 25, 2020
The decision came after Palestinians and Palestinian advocacy groups criticised Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive Democratic congresswoman who also goes by AOC, for planning to honour the former Israeli leader, who was assassinated 25 years ago.
Rabin, who served as Israel’s prime minister from 1974-1977 and from 1992 until his assassination in 1995, is upheld by liberal Israelis as a peacemaker and remembered for signing the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
On November 4, 1995, he was shot at a peace rally by Yigal Amir, who was motivated by his opposition to the negotiations.
However, Palestinians remember Rabin for harshly cracking down on the First Intifada uprising that began in the late 1980s against the Israeli occupation.
Serving as defence minister at the time, Rabin is believed to have instructed Israeli soldiers to “break the bones” of Palestinian demonstrators involved in the uprising. He was known to Palestinians as the “bone crusher“.
The Adalah Justice Project, a Palestinian advocacy group in the US, first tweeted Friday that Ocasio-Cortez had pulled out of the Rabin commemoration.
“His legacy is one of violence and dispossession for Palestinians. Thank you AOC for listening to the lived experience of the Palestinian people,” the group wrote on Twitter.
US freelance journalist Alex Kane, who first raised questions about Ocasio-Cortez’s participation in the event, said Friday that her withdrawal would not have happened five years ago. “Here we have a wildly influential Congresswoman listening to Palestinians and the broader Palestinian rights movement,” Kane said.
Noura Erakat, a Palestinian human rights lawyer, had also criticised Ocasio-Cortez earlier on Friday, saying she “should not be speaking at an event that rehabilitates the legacy of Rabin and the ‘peace process’”.
Regardless of content, @AOC should not be speaking at an event that rehabilitates the legacy of Rabin and the “peace process,“ which was aimed at establishing an autonomy arrangement of permanent subjugation and never the prospects of (even) a truncated Palestinian state. https://t.co/VxtjDYrW0z
— Noura Erakat (@4noura) September 25, 2020
On Thursday, Americans for Peace Now promoted next month’s virtual commemoration by naming Ocasio-Cortez as one of three speakers set to participate.
“Rabin’s legacy inspires us all,” the group wrote on Twitter. “Hear [Ocasio-Cortez] reflect on fulfilling the courageous Israeli leader’s mission for peace and justice today in the US and Israel.”
Dan Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Israel, said before the reversal that he hoped Ocasio-Cortez “will not back down” from joining the event. “Honoring Rabin, an Israeli patriot killed for trying to make peace, in no way detracts from a commitment to Palestinians’ rights,” he tweeted.
But Diana Buttu, a Palestinian lawyer and analyst who served as a legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team, said Rabin’s legacy has been “whitewashed”.
“Amount of whitewashing Rabin’s crimes is incredible. While he was purportedly ‘seeking peace’ he continued to build Israeli settlements and when a settler massacred Palestinians in Hebron in 1994 instead of removing settlers he fortified them,” she tweeted.
Amount of whitewashing Rabin’s crimes is incredible. While he was purportedly “seeking peace” he continued to build Israeli settlements and when a settler massacred Palestinians in Hebron in 1994 instead of removing settlers he fortified them. He had choices: he chose apartheid.
— Diana Buttu (@dianabuttu) September 25, 2020