Concerning Ocasio-Cortez and Palestine

To Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the DSA National Electoral Committee, and DSA’s New York City chapter,

The occupation of Palestine is in many ways a complex issue. However, some things are black-and-white.

Always side with the oppressed.

Always oppose settler colonialism.

Never split hairs or play devil’s advocate for apartheid.

This is why at the 2017 National Convention, Democratic Socialists of America voted overwhelmingly in favor of supporting Palestinian liberation and the Boycott, Divestment, Sanction movement (BDS). DSA is a big-tent socialist organization filled with countless leftist tendencies historically at odds with one another on many fronts. But on this one issue, we have largely spoken in a single, unified voice: we support justice for Palestine and an end the Israeli occupation.

On the campaign trail leading up to the 2018 New York primaries, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez received endorsements from both DSA National and DSA’s New York City chapter. Herself a DSA member and professed socialist, Ocasio-Cortez was a likely candidate for DSA support and the organization threw its weight behind her, marshaling an army of canvassers and experienced organizers to help win her the nomination. She quickly emerged, in appearance at least, as the type of ally Palestine needs inside the global superpower most complicit in its ongoing oppression. She condemned the slaughter of unarmed Palestinian protesters by Israeli snipers, rightfully calling it a “massacre.” She criticized her opponent for supporting the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. In a broader context, her platform calls for an economy of peace and an end to perpetual U.S. warfare in the Middle East and beyond.

However, she has never outright expressed her commitment to Palestinian liberation, BDS, or the end of Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine. Furthermore, in mid-July she sat down for an interview with PBS’s Margaret Hoover and left many of her supporters disappointed and concerned about her commitment to the issue.

In DSA we strive to assume good intent and give comrades benefit of the doubt. However, a number of Ocasio-Cortez’s statements in the PBS interview raise serious red flags. As members of the organization which has endorsed and continues to campaign for her, we offer good-faith criticism, seek clarification on several outstanding points from the PBS interview, and make specific requests for moving forward.

In the interview, Hoover queried Ocasio-Cortez on her position concerning the Israeli occupation, citing Ocasio-Cortez’s previous statements condemning the “massacre” of Palestinians. Ocasio-Cortez’s response was troubling to say the least:

“Well, I believe absolutely in Israel’s right to exist. I am a proponent of a two-state solution. And for me, it’s not — this is not a referendum, I think, on the state of Israel. For me, the lens through which I saw this incident, as an activist, as an organizer…”

Further on, Ocasio-Cortez expressed a commitment to sit down with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, saying, “I’m willing to learn and evolve on this issue.”

The first problem with this should be apparent. As a matter of principle, socialists side with the oppressed in our commitment to ending systems of oppression and exploitation in all forms. Accordingly, Ocasio-Cortez’s first impulse should not be to affirm the rights of a settler-colonial state to exist, but rather to affirm the right of the colonized to self-determination.

Furthermore, given the settler-colonialism intrinsic to its Zionist nature, anyone committed to justice should offer a referendum on the state of Israel. It is agents of the state shooting unarmed protesters and dropping bombs on Gaza. It is agents of the state clearing Arab land to make room for Jewish settlements. It is with both U.S. and Israeli state resources that they are doing it. The political and economic subjugation of Arab-Palestinians is an integral part of Israeli statehood and a premise of citizenship. To refuse a referendum on the colonizer obscures the crux of the problem, namely the Zionist nature of the state of Israel.

One can condemn the colonial nature of the Israeli state without calling for the expulsion of its Jewish citizens or becoming politically irrelevant. An unwavering commitment to a two-state solution is no longer one of them. After decades of Israel subjugating Palestinians and fracturing their territory into ever-smaller splinters, it’s hard to imagine how such an approach could secure the right of return for Arab-Palestinian refugees, Palestinian access to holy sites, or anything resembling Palestinian self-determination. This is why so many activists for Palestinian liberation have changed their tune on the two-state solution.

Further, Ocasio-Cortez’s commitment to sit down with leaders from both sides seems noble in its intent but is concerning in its ramifications. Israel has no trouble securing an audience in U.S. government. Indeed, Congress can hardly avoid being subjected to intense lobbying on Israel’s behalf. Especially hailing from New York City, Ocasio-Cortez would have to go out of her way to not hear from Israeli interests.

Not so in regards to Palestinian interests. There is no AIPAC for Palestine stalking the halls of power in Washington. When the establishment isn’t actively hostile, it’s thoroughly indifferent to the plight of Palestinians. If the situation between Israel and Palestine is intractable, it is not because Israel has not been heard; it is because Israel has long had the absolute, unwavering, and unconditional backing of the United States. What is needed isn’t to give Israel yet another sympathetic ear in U.S politics; it’s to erode U.S. support for the occupation.

Finally we turn to Ocasio-Cortez’s assertion that in criticizing Israel’s massacre of Palestinian protesters, she was speaking as an activist, not the politician she has not become. Again, the red flags should be obvious. Ocasio-Cortez swept to victory in the primaries by offering an alternative to establishment politicians. That she is a political outsider, a member of the community, a real person (so to speak) is undoubtedly an enormous part of her appeal. To change her tone and shift her values now that she has been nominated undermines her appeal and smacks of selling out. We rallied for someone to challenge business-as-usual, not conform to it.

Many leftists find that electoral politics require too much compromise and pressure to become a cog in the capitalist machine. However, national electoral politics is one of the few ways to gain influence on foreign policy. Leftists in this arena must therefore be uncompromising and insistent on our anti-war, anti-imperialist principles. In Congress, Ocasio-Cortez will be in a unique position to effect how the U.S. interacts with the rest of the world and conducts foreign policy in the Middle East. As a representative she will have a duty to serve her constituents, but as a socialist in the heart of empire she has a responsibility to fight for justice in any capacity her position provides. If she had wanted to avoid the issue of Palestine, she should not have run for federal office; one can fight at least as effectively for their constituents as a City Councilmember. But as Corey Robin explains, “Sooner or later, every national politician in the US has to confront the issue of Palestine. You can’t duck it.” And when Ocasio-Cortez faces this issue she will have to support either settler-colonialism or justice for Palestine. There is no third way as long as Israel exists as a Zionist ethno-state.

As members of the Democratic Socialists of America, we ask the following of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DSA’s National Electoral Committee, and the New York City chapter of DSA.

We respectfully ask Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to publicly and unambiguously clarify her stance on Palestine and to commit to the following:

  1. unequivocally support Palestinian liberation
  2. unequivocally condemn Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands
  3. unequivocally support the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality
  4. unequivocally support the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties
  5. unequivocally condemn the Israeli sniper massacre of Palestinian protesters and Israeli bombardments of Gaza
  6. unequivocally call for the U.S. embassy to be moved back to Tel Aviv
  7. unequivocally endorse the Boycott, Divestment, Sanction movement.

We ask that DSA’s National Electoral Committee to adhere to DSA National’s resolution in support of justice for Palestine and only endorse candidates who themselves support Palestinian liberation. If Ocasio-Cortez declines to clarify her position and make a firm commitment to support Palestinian liberation in accordance with DSA and socialist principles, we ask the DSA NEC to rescind its endorsement of her.

Finally, we ask the New York City chapter of DSA to hold themselves and Ocasio-Cortez accountable to live up to our values as an organization and as leftists. We ask that they prioritize developing an understanding of the settler-colonial context of the Israel/Palestine conflict, of broader U.S. imperialism in the Middle East, and of the duty of socialists to oppose these forms of oppression and exploitation.

We believe that Ocasio-Cortez’ statements in the PBS interview were blunders arising from a lack of preparation on this particular issue. We accept in good faith her assertion that she isn’t an expert on the geopolitics of the Middle East. Moving forward, this must change. As an organization, as socialists, and as citizens of humanity we must hold ourselves accountable and always fight on the side of justice.

Signed,

[CLICK HERE TO SIGN]

Groups

DSA Boricua Socialist Caucus

Seattle Anti-War Caucus

Boston DSA Internationalism Working Group

Libertarian Socialist Caucus

NYC Libertarian Socialist Caucus

NYC Refoundation Caucus

Members

Ira Pollock, Seattle DSA

Ava Keating, Seattle and South King County DSA

Hannah Bailey, Queens NYC DSA

Daniel Kittridge

Noelle Sun, Seattle DSA

Dan Seel, Capital District DSA

Spencer Cox, Seattle/South King County DSA, Steering Committee of DSLC

Gaomin Deng, Seattle DSA

Caleb De Jong, Queens DSA

Nick Johnson, NYC-Queens DSA

Jonathan Bailey, NYC DSA

Shel R, Pioneer Valley DSA, Jewish Solidarity

Miles K, Seattle DSA

Juno Suarez, Portland DSA, Secretary

Andrew L, Seattle DSA

Jackson Byrd

William Hibbitts, Southern Maine DSA

Cassandra Henderson, San Diego DSA

Nicky Steidel, Central NJ DSA

John Perrotti, BDSA

Alexander Mancevice, Boston DSA

Casey Primel, Boston DSA

Trevor Hill, NYU YDSA

Lucas Carpenter, Seattle DSA

Linda Jansen, Seattle DSA

Doug Neilson, Seattle DSA

Kyle Scott, Los Angeles DSA

Dan Gilman, Seattle DSA

Christian Medico, Seattle DSA

Joaquin Garcia, Central NJ DSA

Fernando Medina Corey, Seattle DSA

Olivia Katbi Smith, Portland DSA, Co-Chair

Connor Smith, Portland DSA

Charles Xu, DSA-LA

Sam Forman, DSA Los Angeles

Nikhil M, NYC DSA

Roy Zuniga, Seattle DSA

Mary Watkins, Portland, Oregon DSA

Jennifer C, Seattle DSA

Lucas S., Seattle DSA

Patrick Gibson, NYC DSA

Ghassan Ammar, Portland DSA

Bryan McKay, DSA-LA

Cha Cha Spinrad, Portland DSA

Steven Wilkins, Seattle DSA

Jesse Offenhartz, Seattle DSA

Soren Impey, Portland DSA

Keaton Slansky, Seattle DSA

Jeffrey Atkinson, Seattle DSA

Katy S, Quiet Corner DSA

Emily von W Gilbert, Portland DSA

Peishi Cheng, DSA Los Angeles

Roman C, DSA Log Angeles

Ruby O’Connor, Portland DSA

Guy Oron, Seattle DSA

Charlie L, Seattle DSA

Anders Bergman, Portland DSA

Carla Blakey Ahuja, Seattle DSA

Mark Johnson, Seattle DSA

Jarib R, Boston DSA

Postyn Smith, Seattle/South King County DSA

Eric Limer, NYC/Queens DSA

Adam Cardo, Metro Atlanta DSA, Chair

Chris Holden, Boston DSA

Roshan K, Boston DSA

Eliza, Boston DSA, Steering Committee

Josh R., Boston DSA

Mike L, Boston DSA

Brian Barone, Boston DSA

KMA, Boston DSA

Simran Fitzgerald, Boston DSA

Josh S., Pioneer Valley DSA

Rosie Busiakiewicz, Boston, PEWG, Co-Chair

Takeshi Takahashi, Seattle DSA

Andrew Plumb

Jesse W., Boston DSA

Austin Hess, NYC DSA

Kelly C, Boston DSA

Hamza Hameed, Lawrence DSA

Ben Packer, NYC (CBK) DSA

Ben Chatterton, Portland DSA

Ryan “Hammer” Pollock, Austin DSA

Emma Boardman-Larson, Austin DSA

Ashkan Jahangiri, Austin DSA

Thomas Sheehy, Austin DSA

Alex Crowley, Queens NYC DSA

Liam Reilly

Nafis H, Boston DSA

Eric Schneider, At-Large DSA

Zach, Metro DC DSA

Brock Beauclair, North Texas DSA

Sean Harris, Huron Valley DSA

Courtney A. Szigetvari, Austin DSA

Angel M. Castillo, DSA Los Angeles

Kellen Dane, DSA Los Angeles

Patrick Putnam, DSA-LA

James Simmons, LSC

Joshua Smith, DSA-LA

Brandon Liebhaber, Los Angeles DSA

David Paesani, DSA-LA

Lamis J. Deek

Janet Strain

Peter Feld, NYC DSA

Jamal, Chicago DSA

Omar Abbas

Derek Gideon, Centre County DSA

Brandon Jonely, Portland DSA

Ryan L., Houston DSA

Mike G., Austin DSA

Mark Normandin, Southern Maine DSA

Maria Silvestri, NBK DSA

Tim H, NYC DSA, Veterans Working Group

Mat Wranovics, Philly DSA

Liz Hirsch, DSA Los Angeles

Sam Raker, Austin, Texas DSA

Craig Spivack, North New Jersey DSA

Lia Siewert, Austin DSA

Chris L., Olympia, WA DSA

Colin Barrett, NYC Chapter, South Brooklyn DSA, Libertarian Socialist Caucus

David A., Providence DSA

Derek Heinbach, NOVA DSA

Alexander Malangoni, Metro DC DSA

Justin Morgan, Denver DSA

Thomas Goforth, Portland DSA

Kristen Beatty, North New Jersey DSA

Monica Olvera, Austin DSA

Steven Del Corso, North New Jersey DSA

Joe Wilson, NBK DSA

Ryan Steele, North Jersey DSA

Mark Linn, Birmingham DSA

Francesco R., Metro DC DSA

Coral Howe, Southern Maine DSA

Paige Kreisman, Benton County, OR DSA

Matthew Osborn-Grosso, Eugene DSA

Noah Bartholomae, Benton County, DSA

John L. Moore

Lynn Wang, YDSA USC

Julian Parayno-Stoll, Santa Cruz DSA

Phillip Kerr, Queens DSA

Peter Moody, Central NJ DSA

Melanie Vasa, North New Jersey DSA

Kerri sudthisa, Seattle DSA

Sophia C., NJ DSA

Casey Kamarchik, Naples DSA Organizing Committee

William Callahan, North Jersey DSA

Ava Butler, Benton County DSA

Like what you read? Give Open Letter a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.