Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made a series of comments on Israel and Palestine that have caused controversy since her surprise upset in the Democratic primary for a seat in New York’s 14th Congressional District.
The comments have led Joe Lieberman, an Independent, to take the unusual stance of advocating that Joseph Crowley, the 10-term incumbent who failed to beat Ocasio-Cortez, 28, in the primary should formally take her on in the general (a quirk in New York election laws means he already will appear on the ballot but on the Working Families Party line. He has urged Democrats to vote for Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic Socialist, even as she accused him on Twitter of running a third-party campaign against her, which he denied.)
Here’s what you need to know on Ocasio-Cortez, Israel and Palestine:
1. Ocasio-Cortez Has Confused Some With Her Position on a Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Critics have accused Ocasio-Cortez of taking different stands on the question of whether there should be a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She took “a neutral stand” on the question when appearing on a Democracy Now! program.
However, that hedging came after a tweet labeling the May deaths of Palestinian people on the Gaza border as a “massacre.”
It also came on the heels of controversy over comments on Israel that Ocasio-Cortez made on PBS’s Firing Line show. In that 2018 show, Ocasio-Cortez was very clear: She supports a two-state solution. You can watch that video here. The key part comes at about 18 minutes in. The show noted that Ocasio-Cortez, “the rising star of the progressive left, is here to discuss her ideas and the future of democratic-socialism.”
“I believe absolutely in Israel’s right to exist. I am a proponent of a two-state solution,” Ocasio-Cortez said on the show. “This is not a referendum I think on the State of Israel.”
As for the deaths that she called a massacre, Ocasio-Cortez wrote that she saw the incident as an activist and organizer would and “to me it would be completely unacceptable if that happened on our shores.”
She added, “What people are starting to see at least in the occupation of Palestine is just an increasing crisis of humanitarian condition. Just for me that’s where I come from on this issue.”
Asked what she meant by occupation, she said, “What I meant is the settlements that are increasing in some of these areas and places where Palestinians are experiencing difficulty and access to their housing and homes. I am not the expert on geopolitics on this issue. For me, I am a firm believer in finding a two-state solution on this issue… I just look at things through a human rights lens. I may not use the right words.”
2. Ocasio-Cortez Has Said Middle Eastern Politics Was Not at Her ‘Kitchen Table’
Hit with criticism for her remarks in some corners, Ocasio-Cortez has expressed that she needs to learn more about Middle Eastern politics and the Israeli-Palestinian debate. “I come from the South Bronx, I come from a Puerto Rican background. And Middle Eastern politics is not exactly at my kitchen table every night,” she said, according to Haaretz.
Haaretz reports that Ocasio-Cortez has also said she needs to learn and evolve on the issue and wants to speak with activists before clarifying her stand on it. “This is a conversation I’m sitting down with lots of activists in this movement on, and I’m looking forward to engaging in this conversation,” she said on Democracy Now!
Ocasio-Cortez made other controversial comments in the Firing Line show, such as when she predicted that capitalism might not always exist in the world. “Capitalism has not always existed in the world and it will not always exist in the world,” said Ocasio-Cortez during the program. “When this country started … we did not operate on a capitalist economy.”
2. Her Massacre Tweet Called on Her Peers to ‘Have the Moral Courage to Call it Such’
What did Ocasio-Cortez write exactly in her controversial tweet? “This is a massacre,” she wrote, sharing an Al-Jazeera story on the deaths in Gaza. “I hope my peers have the moral courage to call it such. No state or entity is absolved of mass shootings of protesters. There is no justification. Palestinian people deserve basic human dignity, as anyone else. Democrats can’t be silent about this anymore,” she wrote.
The Times of Israel has reported that 53 of those killed during what it called the riots belonged to what the news site called “terror groups,” such as Hamas.
“This proves what so many have tried to ignore: Hamas is behind these riots, and the branding of the riots as ‘peaceful protests’ could not be further from the truth,” said Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, according to Times of Israel.
Al-Jazeera has presented a different take, reporting in July 2018, “For more than two months, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been protesting along the fence with Israel, demanding their right to return to the homes and land their families were expelled from 70 years ago.”
The site continued, “Since the protests began on March 30, Israeli forces have killed at least 135 Palestinians in the besieged coastal enclave and wounded more than 15,000 people.”
4. Joe Lieberman, an Independent, Has Urged People to Vote Against Ocasio-Cortez
U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, who is now an independent and is known for being fiercely pro-Israel, took the unusual step of urging people not to vote for Ocasio-Cortez, even though her district is strongly Democratic. Lieberman made that argument in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.
He called her positions “more Socialist than Democratic” and said her election would “make it harder for Congress to stop fighting and start fixing problems.”
He brought up the Israel question in his criticism, although he also criticized Ocasio-Cortez on other issues, such as taxes. “Ms. Ocasio-Cortez didn’t speak much about foreign policy during the primary, but when she did, it was from the DSA policy book—meaning support for socialist governments, even if they are dictatorial and corrupt (Venezuela), opposition to American leadership in the world, even to alleviate humanitarian disasters (Syria), and reflexive criticism of one of America’s great democratic allies (Israel),” he wrote.
Despite Joe Lieberman’s support, Crowley wrote on Twitter, “Alexandria, the race is over and Democrats need to come together. I’ve made my support for you clear and the fact that I’m not running. We’ve scheduled phone calls and your team has not followed through. I’d like to connect but I’m not willing to air grievances on Twitter.”
Ocasio-Cortez had written, “@repjoecrowley stated on live TV that he would absolutely support my candidacy. Instead, he’s stood me up for all 3 scheduled concession calls. Now, he’s mounting a 3rd party challenge against me and the Democratic Party- and against the will of @NYWFP.”
5. The Simon Wiesenthal Center & Others Have Criticized Ocasio-Cortez on the Issue
After her Firing Line appearance, the Simon Wiesenthal Center tweeted out criticism. “Road to hell paved with good intentions and scant knowledge. Happy to provide info to Alexandra who knows zero about 3,500 yr relationship of Jewish people to Land of Israel,” the tweet says.
Ocasio-Cortez’s stances also place some pro-Israel Democrats, like Chuck Schumer, in tough positions.