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Opinion | A.O.C.’s Mistake in Pulling Out of a Rabin Memorial

Robert Mackey of The Intercept tweeted this week: “I give up. It’s pointless to report on anything other than the president of the United States having a personal social media feed that reveals he’s a lunatic.”

I am going to try to report on other matters but first I must say that Donald Trump consumes the bandwidth of 330 million Americans with the language of an 8-year-old. (Apologies to all 8-year-olds.) No oxygen left in the room. No way to keep track of his verbiage careening through superlatives — Phenomenal! Fantastic! Outstanding! Tremendous! — as he attempts to describe his “record the likes of which nobody’s ever seen before.”

The relentless gush of gibberish and indecency from the Orange “Regeneron” Man is so giddying that the temptation to engage in absolutely pointless refutation of it becomes irresistible. Americans turn into gerbils on Trump’s wheel.

The president’s sinister genius is a form of hypnosis. That oily voice clogs the synapses. Four more years of this and Orwell’s doublethink will be the norm. The American Ministry of Truth, run by Mike Pompeo, will deal in lies and the American Ministry of Love, directed by Stephen Miller, in torture.

With that warning, I will break from Trump’s spell to note an anniversary, that of the assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. On Nov. 4, it will be a quarter-century since Rabin was killed by a fanatical Jew who could not accept Rabin’s readiness for territorial compromise with the Palestinians in the name of peace.

Yigal Amir, the assassin, was a religious-nationalist who viewed all the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River as the Jews’ God-given real estate. History has proved the assassination effective. Amir’s views are ascendant in Israel, the quest for peace in tatters.

Rabin was a warrior who fought ruthlessly to safeguard Israel before realizing that war could not achieve this. He learned and changed. Late in life, with immense political courage, he embarked, through the Oslo Accords, on a quest to end the cycle of wars, recognizing the Palestine Liberation Organization as the “representative of the Palestinian people,” shaking hands with Yasir Arafat as his partner in the search for a peace. He gave his life for the idea of ending Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed.

On Sept. 15, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez accepted an invitation from Americans for Peace Now, a peace advocacy organization, to participate in a virtual event on Oct. 20 memorializing Rabin. Announcing her participation nine days later, on Sept. 24, the organization said in a tweet she would “reflect on fulfilling the courageous Israeli leader’s mission for peace.” For a progressive Democrat who has fought with courage to bring greater balance to the Israel-skewed American approach to the conflict, it seemed a natural fit.

The next day, however, Ocasio-Cortez withdrew. She slunk away with scarcely a word after Alex Kane, a journalist for Jewish Currents, noted in a tweet that Palestinians remember Rabin for “his brutal rule suppressing Palestinian protest during the first intifada” and criticism from Palestinians began pouring in over Twitter.

I called Ocasio-Cortez’s office. The explanation I was given went like this: There was a miscommunication about the event; the congresswoman thought it would be a discussion of how to move peace forward, not a celebration of Rabin’s life; endorsing Rabin’s legacy would not advance peace; she did not mean to indict Rabin’s legacy but nor did she want to honor it given how he represents different things to different people; in the same way she would be unlikely to participate in a celebration of Jefferson and Washington given their complicated legacy as slave owners.

Pulling out was a mistake by Ocasio-Cortez and using a process argument to justify it is craven. “My involvement was presented to my team differently from how it’s now being promoted,” she tweeted on Sept. 25.

In fact, the invitation from Hadar Susskind, the president for Americans for Peace Now, said: “While some of the speakers will be sharing their memories of Prime Minister Rabin, or focusing their remarks on Israel-Palestine, I am also looking for speakers to speak to the broader themes of the event. These include the willingness to take risks for peace and the need for leaders to grow and change and be willing to do so in the pursuit of justice.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s decision was typical of the effects of an age of absolutist moral judgments, where Twitter bombardments allow for no nuanced positions and people cave or are canceled. If “the pursuit of justice” and taking “risks for peace” are not rich themes for her, I have to wonder. What stopped her, I believe, was not some misunderstanding about whether she would explore broad themes or focus on Rabin, but rather critics saying Rabin was a war criminal and murderer and nobody should be involved in honoring him.

Yitzhak Rabin in the 1990s. He was assassinated in 1995 by a Jew who couldn’t abide his efforts to achieve peace with Palestinians.Credit…Gisbert Paech/Ullstein Bild, via Getty Images

The congresswoman might have shown political courage. She might have spoken at the event of how Rabin’s brutality in putting down the first intifada led to his reflection on the ultimate futility of such methods and his embrace of peace. She might have mused on the painfulness and necessity of compromise in any healthy society.

She might have suggested that every human being contains Whitman’s “multitudes.” She might have said Rabin was not perfect but was heroic in his about-face from sword to plowshare.

She might have spoken of how two mortal enemies, Rabin and Arafat, came to respect each other. She might have given voice to the plight of the Palestinians and reminded people that in 1993, in a letter to Rabin, the P.L.O. recognized “the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.” She might have asked: And what did the Palestinians get over the years for that from the nationalist Benjamin Netanyahu, who likened Rabin to Chamberlain? And how has the Palestinians’ own leadership so failed them?

Instead, she made an absolutist judgment of her own. “It was a really bad sign of where the progressive Democratic head is,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, the liberal Jewish group, told me. “I cannot understand this. The excuse given is not worthy of who she is.”

When dialogue ceases, and perhaps the most courageous politician of her generation cannot recognize the courage of Rabin, further space opens up for demagogues and their barked certainties. That brings me back to where I started this column. But I won’t say anything more about the lunatic.

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