News from September 28 to October 4

AOC, Netanyahu at the UN, and honorable mentions

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AOC cancels her planned appearance at a Yitzhak Rabin memorial:

What happened? Just before Yom Kippur, Alex Kane, a writer for Jewish Currents, posted a tweet criticizing Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s planned appearance at an Americans for Peace Now memorial for the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Kane pointed out that while many Americans remember Rabin for his peacemaking, many Palestinians remember him for violent military policies during the First Intifada. In response to the tweet, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez said that she would “[take] a look” at her decision to participate. She later withdrew from the event. (Keith Ellison, the first Muslim Congressman, will participate in the memorial)

Who was Yitzhak Rabin? Rabin was a commander during the 1948 Independence War, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff during the Six-Day War, and Israel’s Prime Minister from 1974 to 1977 and again from 1992 to 1995. Rabin indeed enacted very harsh policies in his role as a senior IDF officer and defense official; he is infamous for having reportedly ordered soldiers to punish Palestinian militants by breaking their bones (For more information on this scandal, read this article). At the same time, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for “[abandoning] the use of force in favor of negotiations to achieve peace with the Palestinians.” He negotiated and signed the Oslo Accords in which Israel recognized the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as a negotiating partner and created the Palestinian Authority to administer the West Bank. However, the momentum building for the peace process came to an abrupt halt when Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by a far-right extremist who opposed the Oslo Accords. After he was killed, former head of the PLO Yasser Arafat secretly met with Rabin’s wife and told her that “We lost a brave man who made the peace of the brave with us. He was our partner.” 

How have people reacted to Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez’s cancellation? Here are a few notable quotes:

Americans for Peace Now’s President, Hadar Susskind, said, “We are sorry to hear that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez will no longer be speaking at our Oct. 20th Yitzhak Rabin memorial. Her participation would have added to the event.”

J-Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said, “As an admirer of Rabin’s and a long-time Peace Now supporter, I am hurt and troubled by [her] decision to withdraw her participation and urge her to reconsider. Rabin’s transition from warrior to peacemaker epitomizes the kind of transition on w/c history can turn. His memory is not just a blessing, it’s an inspiration. As we work to preserve democracy in 2020, his murder reminds us where right-wing extremism and incitement lead...There are many important lessons that @aoc could have imparted by speaking. To choose not to speak teaches the wrong lesson. It empowers those who shut down rather than engage in dialogue. On October 20, let's honor Rabin’s memory and vow to complete his unfinished work.”

Adalah Justice Project, a Palestinian advocacy group, tweeted, “It's official. @AOC has withdrawn her participation from an event memorializing Yitzhak Rabin. His legacy is one of violence and dispossession for Palestinians. Thank you AOC for listening to the lived experience of the Palestinian people.”

A Biden campaign official said, “She could have rejected the invitation for any number of reasons. But if she agrees and then pulls out, she’s creating problems for her own party.”

Further reading: I highly recommend these articles! The first explains a better approach to the situation and the second details Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez’s relationship (or lack thereof) with Jewish groups.

Netanyahu exposes Hezbollah missile factory during UN General Assembly speech:

What happened? In a televised address to the United Nations General assembly on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu displayed images and the GPS coordinates of a facility he claimed was a Hezbollah precision-guided missile factory in Beirut, Lebanon. Citing the recent blast in Beirut’s port, Netanyahu appealed to the residents of Lebanon to investigate the facility because it lies next to a gas station and civilian housing. He suggested that an explosion at the site could be catastrophic.

Source: JNS

Did the Lebanese people investigate the site? After Netanyahu’s speech, Hezbollah distanced itself from the site, saying it was a civilian-run facility. Still, it organized a controlled tour of the building for journalists, who reported that they did not see any weapons or missiles at the site. However, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) later released a compilation of media clips from Hezbollah’s tour which shows how the terror group could use the facility’s equipment to convert short-range unguided missiles into precision-guided weapons. Specifically, it identified a cutting machine used to create missile parts, a bending machine to shape engine casings, and a rolling machine that forms warheads. The IDF also identified the manager of the site, Muhammad Kamil Fuad Rimal, as a Hezbollah operative. 

Why did Netanyahu reveal the factory last week at the UN? Netanyahu has always enjoyed using the annual General Assembly meeting to make big proclamations. In 2018, he used the UN platform to reveal a previously undisclosed Iranian nuclear facility in Tehran, and in 2012, he famously called for the international community to enforce a red line against Iran’s nuclear program. Netanyahu loves the UN because it is a global platform and he can use it for strategic diplomacy.

The timing of the announcement is significant. Still reeling from the August 2020 Beirut port explosion, Lebanon has attempted and failed to form a new government. According to French Presiden Emmanuel Macron, Hezbollah is responsible for preventing the formation of a new government because it insists on holding the finance portfolio. Hezbollah was already in a precarious position in Lebanon because international actors have blamed it for the port explosion. Israel’s attempt to expose the missile factory added more charges onto an already defensive Hezbollah. In Israel’s view, the more marginalized Hezbollah is within Lebanon, the better–especially while Lebanon is forming a new government. 

Anything else? On a more positive note, Israel and Lebanon formally agreed to enter negotiations mediated by the United States over its maritime border. It’s good to see that the two nations are working together on something!

You can find the full text of Netanyahu’s UN speech here.

Further reading:

Honorable mentions: 

Jewish student seriously injured in attack outside synagogue in Hamburg, Germany” by Marcy Oster (JTA)

Bibi Shapiro, the 6-year-old whose ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ went viral, sang at Central Synagogue’s Yom Kippur services” by Philissa Cramer (JTA) (This refers to the same clip that I shared last week!)

NY mayor announces shutdown plan for 9 neighborhoods, including Jewish areas” (AFP) (I included a story about Mayor De Blasio’s threat last week)

White supremacists: Trump tested positive for COVID-19 because he’s too close to Jews” by Molly Boigon (Forward)

NYU settles with Education Department; will revise discrimination policy following antisemitic activity on campus” by Melissa Weiss (Jewish Insider)

5 Sukkah Mobiles to travel throughout the state of Wisconsin during the upcoming holiday of Sukkot” by Adriana Mendez (WTMJ-TV Milwaukee)

Are the Proud Boys anti-Semitic? Your primer on the far-right group Trump told to ‘stand back and stand by’” by Ben Sales (JTA)

Lab tests suggest Israeli-made face mask eliminates over 99% of coronavirus” by Zachary Keyser (JPost)

Gov. Newsom vetoes California ethnic-studies bill requiring high school anti-Israel curriculum” bu Jackson Richman (JNS)

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