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Ocasio-Cortez Disappoints on Firing Line

Ocasio-Cortez Disappoints on Firing Line

After Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went on PBS' Firing Line, a portion of her interview regarding her views on Israel went viral. She drew criticism from both the left for being acquiescent and the right for being too anti-Israel. Start at 18:43 for the segment:

When I saw AOC's statement on the mass execution of Gazan protesters, I was excited by the new voice she might bring to Congress if she won. It seems, though, that AOC either isn't confident enough to articulate how she truly feels about Gaza or has already faced some backlash because of her support for Palestinians. It's deeply saddening, but entirely characteristic of the problem in American politics.

I'll go over the transcript of AOC's interview and then try and offer my own thoughts on how she ought to have answered the questions.

Host: What is your position on Israel?
AOC: Well, I believe absolutely in Israel's right to exist. I am a proponent of a two-state solution. And for me, this is not a referendum on the state of Israel. For me, the lens through which I saw this incident as an activist, as an organizer, if 60 people were killed i  Ferguson, Missouri, if 60 people were killed in the south Bronx, unarmed, if 60 people were killed in Puerto Rico. I just look at that incident more [than just] an incident. And to me, it would just be completely unacceptable if that happened on our shores.
Host: Of course, the dynamic there in terms of geopolitics, and the war in the middle east, is very different than people expressing their first amendment right to protest.
AOC: Well... yes. But I also think that, what people are starting to see at least in the occupation of Palestine is just an increasing crisis of humanitarian condition. And that to me is just where I tend to come from on this issue.

At this point, there is a discreet break in the interview...

Host: You used the term, "the occupation of Palestine." What did you mean by that?
AOC: Oh, um... I think what I meant is the settlements that are increasing in some of these areas and places where Palestinians are experiencing difficulty in access to housing and their homes.
Host: Do you think you can expand on that?
AOC: Yeah, I mean, I am not the expert on geopolitics on this issue. You know, for me, I'm a firm believer in finding a two-state solution in this issue, and I'm happy to sit down with leaders on both of these — for me, I just look at things through a human rights lens. I may not use the right words, I know this is a very intense issue.

After this, the host talks about how AOC will be able to develop her foreign policy positions once she's a member of Congress.

First, I'd like to address the phrase "Israel's right to exist." This is mainly a propaganda term that is devoid of any real, definitive meaning. Its users intend to say: "I generally agree with Israeli supremacy over Palestinians. Now let me into the conversation."

Nowhere else in the world do we talk about a state's right to exist. People who exist have a right to self-determination, and through their state, a right to sovereignty from any foreign power that controls them.

If we consider this, then, which might be the only way to rationally discuss the "right to exist" shtick, context matters. If you're asked about the Israel-Palestine issue, and feel the need to declare a state's right to exist, it should be Palestine's. Nobody is effectively infringing on Israeli sovereignty, but Israel is intensely and oppressively infringing on Palestinian sovereignty. Just ask the Gaza blockade and the intrusive checkpoints and settlements whose state exists and whose doesn't.

Imagine, if asked about the Saudi war in Yemen, you declared, "Saudi citizens have a right not to starve." You'd be right, but Saudi citizens aren't the ones starving. Someone who said this would simply be treated as insane.

Similarly, Israel's existence isn't in question, Palestine's is. Even Hamas, the most radically anti-Israel organization on the planet, has accepted Israel's existence. On the other hand, Israel has never accepted Palestine's.

Then there's AOC's point on the 60 protesters killed a few months ago at the height of the Great Return March demonstrations. We would certainly object to the police killing tens and injuring thousands of demonstrators here, so why don't we object over there? Even if they were armed, with stones or guns, but they were American, we would call them patriots. (Like those killed in the Boston massacre or the rebels who organized the resistance against Britain).

And the reason we would accept these as legitimate forms of resistance is because of what AOC calls "an increasing crisis of human condition." She's exactly right on this. The aggressive siege and occupation on Gaza certainly legitimizes the type of resistance at the border, whether it's slinging a rock that lands 200 meters away from the fence or running a flag in the face of the soldiers. The alarming interlocked crises of massive unemployment, contaminated water, and overpopulation in Gaza has already began threatening life itself.

After this, there's a tactful break in the interview, right before AOC talks about how she doesn't know much about the issue. Throughout the show, I found a few instances of Firing Line cutting clips, probably to make the show shorter and more coherent, but I do think AOC may have said something the program didn't want to show us during the time that was cut. This is clear because AOC seems flustered when she's asked about her use of "occupation of Palestine" even though in the edited footage the host questions it just ten seconds after she uses the phrase.

AOC goes on and mentions "places where Palestinians are experiencing difficulty in access to housing." While this is certainly true, and AOC frames her domestic policy in large part to opposing gentrification, access to housing is hardly a concern for Palestinians when Israel regularly demolishes their homes and schools in the not-so-sovereign-West Bank (and often puts settlements on top of it) like the Bedouin town of Khan al-Ahmar.

Finally, she invoked the "two-state solution," which has been tried since 1947 with disastrous implications. Anyone who has ever seen a map of the West Bank and the ever-shrinking Gaza strip understands that the two-state solution is extremely desperate even if both sides operated in good faith. The one-state solution is the only path forward.

I do wish there was a clear political leader on issues like foreign policy in Congress, and I really did have hope for AOC. She's young and new, but how many chances and how much time do we have to give? I do think it would be rash to discount her entirely, for one important reason.

Toward the end of the Israel questions, AOC made a truly candid statement that didn't absolve her from her other words but also left me faithful. She said, "I think what's important to communicate is that I'm willing to listen. And that I'm willing to learn and evolve on this issue."

I suggest that AOC, and everyone who wants to learn and evolve on this issue, reads Norm Finkelstein and Max Blumenthal

For most politicians, this is an open call that really means, "I will slavishly obey whoever gives the most money toward my reelection campaign." But for AOC, who doesn't take corporate donations and was really elected by volunteers, there's a chance that she can evolve. I just hope it's in the right direction.

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