The recent refusal by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to attend an event by Americans for Peace Now – the US wing of the Israeli peace movement – to commemorate the murder of Yitzhak Rabin exposes a hypocrisy at the heart of the far-left’s approach to the Middle East. They claim to be supportive of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. They claim that their opposition isn’t to Israel’s existence, but to the right-wing government of Netanyahu and to policies such as settlement expansion which they rightly say pose a barrier to peace. If that were the case, there would surely be no issue commemorating the life of Rabin.
After all, Rabin gave his life in pursuit of peace. He was assassinated by a far-right extremist, after speaking at a rally for peace in Tel Aviv, precisely because of his courageous commitment to peace with the Palestinians. If one cannot commemorate his sacrifice and learn from his legacy, which Israelis would pass the threshold for approval from the Twitter mob?
It is a fact, perhaps inconvenient for some, but a fact all the same, that peace between Israelis and Palestinians will only ever come about through Israeli participation. There are some in the international community who still cling to the belief that Israel can be bludgeoned into submission by international condemnation. This has long been outdated, but the recent signing of the Abraham Accords well and truly exposes it to be a complete fantasy.
To build peace requires brave leaders in both Israel and Palestine who are prepared to make the difficult compromises necessary to make peace with their enemies. If Rabin, the hero of the Israeli peace camp, is not considered sufficiently progressive then it is difficult not to conclude that for some on the far-left, there is nobody in Israel for whom they could support in the search for peace. AOC’s decision has unwittingly revealed that there are sections of the left who don’t seek to stand in solidarity with their comrades on the left in Israel and Palestine who pursue peace, but instead only care about demonising Israel.
Leaders and peacemakers are seldom without controversy, and Rabin is no exception, but focussing only on his war record does a complete disservice to his legacy. Rabin was passionate in his support of peace; that passion stemmed from the fact that he’d seen the cost of war and violence up close (the very thing, ironically, those who opposed to AOC’s participation in this event so objected to). As he made clear in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Rabin never denied his past; he explicitly linked it to the fragile peace he was trying to build.
In his beautiful, nuanced, acceptance speech, he argued that “every country must protect and preserve the key element in its national ethos: the lives of its citizens. To defend those lives, we call upon our citizens to enlist in the army. And to defend the lives of our citizens serving in the army, we invest huge sums in planes, and tanks, in armoured plating and concrete fortifications. Yet despite it all, we fail to protect the lives of our citizens and soldiers.”
He went on to conclude that “there is only one radical means of sanctifying human lives. Not armoured plating, or tanks, or planes, or concrete fortifications. The one radical solution is peace.”
Indeed, as Michael Koplow from the centre-left Israeli Policy Forum tweeted, “There is no such thing as a peacemaker without war, which is inherently nasty and blood-soaked. There is no such thing as peace without complexity and compromise.”
Enormously disappointing decision by @AOC to withdraw from @PeaceNowUS Rabin event. There is no such thing as a peacemaker without war, which is inherently nasty and blood-soaked. There is no such thing as peace without complexity and compromise. This sends a terrible message.
— (((Michael Koplow))) (@mkoplow) September 25, 2020
Those on the hard-left often speak about supporting peace and justice in the Middle East. I do not doubt their commitment to the Palestinian people, a commitment I wholeheartedly share. What does concern me – and is, tragically, typified by AOC’s actions – is that their commitment, when you scratch beneath the surface, seems to prioritise performative attacks on Israel over supporting any actual effort to create peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Even Yasser Arafat – himself a leader hardly without controversy – gave praise to Rabin and Shimon Peres for “all their tireless efforts they exerted with us to reach this joint agreement. I tell them, let us nurture this peace of the brave for the sake of our grandchildren, of our people, and of the region as a whole.”
Generations of Palestinian leaders have accepted that a two-state solution is the only way they can achieve their legitimate desire for self-determination and the associated dignity, peace and justice that comes with it.
Tragically, parts of the Western left seek not to stand with those Palestinian progressives who support recognition of Israel and the pursuit of a negotiated peace, and instead align themselves with the violent and regressive forces in the region such as Hamas and Iran who seek not peace but the destruction of Israel. This does tremendous harm to both Israelis and Palestinians.
Not only is this approach damaging for the Middle East, it is actively harmful to community relations at home. I have seen this first-hand in the UK. For five years, Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters transformed a once proudly anti-racist party into a sewer of antisemitism. Corbyn has spent his political career standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people, he professes to be a “lifelong anti-racist”, but what did he actually achieve? No contribution to peace in the Middle East and the mainstreaming of antisemitism from the fringes to the heart of British politics.
There is a lesson for the American left. I do not believe AOC is Jeremy Corbyn, but my fear is this same toxic approach to Middle Eastern politics, which prioritises bashing Israel over building peace, left unchecked, could unfold in a similar way to what happened on the British left. It does untold damage to the Jewish community, the left, and absolutely nothing to help either Palestinians or Israelis.