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Ocasio-Cortez withdraws from Rabin memorial event after backlash

Democratic congresswoman pulls participation from Americans For Peace Now commemoration for assassinated Israeli premier, after pro-Palestinian activists call move ‘disgusting’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Democratic US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York speaks at a campaign rally for then-Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, March 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)
Democratic US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York speaks at a campaign rally for then-Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, March 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Friday withdrew her participation from an event commemorating former prime minster Yitzhak Rabin on the 25th anniversary of his assassination.

The decision, which came after backlash from pro-Palestinian activists, was confirmed to The Times of Israel by a spokeswoman for the congresswoman, a rising star in the progressive wing of the Democratic party.

The about-face came a day after Americans for Peace Now announced that Ocasio-Cortez would be joining the October 20 virtual event emceed by Mandy Patankin, the star of the Showtime series Homeland, and a vocal critic of the current Israeli government’s policies in the West Bank.

The initial announcement on Thursday indicated Ocasio-Cortez’s willingness to engage with some of the more left-leaning elements of the pro-Israel world in Washington, which had not been the case since she was elected to represent New York’s 14th Congressional District last year.

Bill Clinton looks on as Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands during the signing of the Oslo Accords, September 13, 1993. (photo credit: courtesy GPO)

But the Americans For Peace Now post was quickly ridiculed by pro-Palestinian activists, who called the congresswoman’s decision “disgusting” and showed “total contempt for Palestinian lives” by honoring Rabin.

A reporter pointed out on Twitter earlier Friday that, while Rabin is lionized as a peacemaker in the US for his participation in the Oslo Accords with Palestinian Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat in the mid-1990s, “Palestinians remember him for his brutal rule suppressing Palestinian protest during the First Intifada, as someone who reportedly ordered the breaking of Palestinian bones.”

Ocasio-Cortez said in response to the post, “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.”

On Friday evening, following talks with organizers from Americans for Peace Now, the congresswoman’s office confirmed her withdrawal from the event altogether.

The spokeswoman for Ocasio-Cortez’s office declined to elaborate on the decision.

A source with knowledge of the talks said the Congresswoman’s office did not realize the event would be framed around commemorating Rabin, as opposed to an opportunity to offer Ocasio-Cortez’s polices for the region.

Americans for Peace Now declined to comment on the record on Friday.

However, another source familiar with the matter said last-ditch efforts were still being made by prominent Jewish activists in the Democratic party to maintain the Congresswoman’s participation in the event.

By Saturday evening, those attempts apparently failed as APN released a statement confirming Ocasio-Cortez’s withdrawal. “Her participation would have added to the event. We are certain that the event will be a success and invite the public to register and attend,” the group said.

A spokesperson for APN’s Israeli sister organization, Peace Now, called on the congresswoman to take a closer look at the two groups’ social media accounts. “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 after 5 decades of conflict?” he wrote.

In June, Ocasio-Cortez was among four progressive House Democrats who wrote to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling on the US to cut assistance to Israel should it proceed with since-shelved plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

Ocasio-Cortez is one of a number of freshman lawmakers who have questioned traditional Democratic support for Israel.

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