Dear Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez,
You don’t know me, but I know you. It is almost impossible NOT to know who you are these days, but as an American politics junkie, I heard your name months before you were sworn in as one of the youngest members of Congress in American history.
I’ll admit: at first, I was thrilled to hear about you. A 29-years-old in congress? Representing young people’s values and fighting for young people’s interests? Even though I’m not a U.S. citizen, knowing that there is someone, roughly my age, who brings a fresh perspective and is concerned about border-crossing issues that are affecting the lives of every person in the world, from leading climate action to fighting sexual violence, was reassuring.
And it was not that I’d thought you would be one of those political leaders who say “amen” to everything Israel says or does. I knew you would have criticism about Israeli policy in the west bank and in Gaza – just as I, and plenty of other Israelis, have. But I did not expect you to become such a strong critic of Israel.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a mess. It is flooded with bad blood, mutual distrust, conflicting interests and values and, it needs to be said, extremists who actively work to make things worse and cynical politicians who only try to keep their sit. When violence erupts, things get ugly – and even thou that Israel does everything in its capability to minimize civilian casualties (and I’m saying that as an Israel Defense Intelligence veteran, personally familiar with those efforts), war, as Clausewitz rightly claimed, is the realm of uncertainty. Tragedies happen.
Therefore, any attempt to perceive and present the conflict as a simple, black-and-white issue of good versus evil is doomed to fail. Take a look at John Oliver’s monologue during the last Gaza escalation: he claimed that given the extreme power imbalance between Israel and Hamas, the full responsibility for the escalation lays on Israel. While I’ll be the first to admit that Israel is the strong side in that conflict, I’d also claim that does not mean we are solely responsible for the situation. A more complex perception would focus not solely on capabilities, but on intentions: whilst Israel is doing anything possible to avoid civilian casualties, Hamas is firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian population. Not so simple, right, Mr. Oliver?
This leads me to your proposed amendment to the NDAA, requiring halting the sale of guided munitions to Israel. I’m sure you had a noble cause – to prevent civilian casualties. I share that cause, but I also know that your amendment is counterproductive to that cause: it’s not as if without guided munitions peace will suddenly be achieved. Instead, Israel would have to use less-accurate munitions, more non-combatant Palestinians would be hurt, Hamas would respond more aggressively – and the cycle of violence would expand, not shrink.
A constructive progressive approach to the conflict would look for measures to improve the economic situation in Gaza, weaken Hamas, and empower the Palestinian Authority. It needs to ensure Israelis, all-too-disappointed with failed peace attempts, that they got America’s back when taking bold initiatives. The “Economy for Security” plan, proposed by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, is a great example of such an initiative – but it would not be executed without American support.
But I want to put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict aside for just a moment and return to the border-crossing issues I’ve mentioned earlier. You and I, as well as many young people all over the world, understand that in a globalized world, “civilian” issues, from climate to Covid, affect our everyday lives just as much as – and in some cases, much more than – local conflicts. Progressive Israelis and Americans share interests when it comes to fighting global pandemics, stopping climate change, protecting democratic institutions, and sturggling for gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights. Avoiding cooperation on those issues, and solely focusing on “traditional” foreign policy issues like the conflict, is not just unreasonable but irresponsible – while Israelis and Palestinians are hurting and dying in the conflict, many more are hurting and dying due to extreme weather, domestic violence, and mental health struggles.
Cooperation of liberal activists – Israeli and American alike – is the goal of the Israeli-Democratic Alliance, the nonprofit I’m leading. We believe in a complex, critical, comprehensive discussion about the conflict, but we also believe in building bridges between progressive activists, committed to liberal values and liberal agendas. I hope that, not in a long time, you’ll be a part of such a bridge.
Rotem A. Oreg