September 19, 2018

Ocasio-Cortez: Come With Me to Israel

Dear Alexandria,
Congratulations on your recent inspiring and well-earned victory in New York’s 14th Congressional District. Your win shows that a positive message, great organizing and engagement with the disconnected can transform politics and help put America back on track.

I write to you as a progressive and a Zionist. There is often much rancor toward Israel among progressives. Too many see the conflict in strictly black-and-white terms. The few public statements you have made about Israel and Palestine, most recently in the wake the recent violence and tragic deaths at the Gaza border, indicate to me a less than nuanced perspective. 

Did you know that many of the early founders of Zionism were 19th-century socialist Jews from Eastern and Central Europe who believed that human dignity was to be found in just and equal access to work, health care and education? Many of Israel’s early builders were committed to a vision of Zionism that was predicated on the shared destiny of Jews and Palestinians living together in the land.

And though Israel’s government is right wing, many people on both sides are fighting for justice for all. As a leader, I have been devoted to the notion of an independent Israel living in peace and coexistence with an independent Palestine. The two-state solution is the only hope for peace.

I have held this position when Israel and the United States were led by presidents in favor of or opposed this view. During times of extremist terror, racist reprisals and periods of hope and reconciliation, I’ve never wavered in my view that the Jewish and Palestinian people have just claims to their shared homeland. A full recognition of each other’s claim is the only path forward for peace.

There is often much rancor toward Israel among progressives. Too many see the conflict in strictly black-and-white terms. 

This conflict too often degenerates into competing claims, zero-sum solutions and hateful, violence-inducing rhetoric that results in the spilling of innocent blood. As a student of history, I’m often disturbed by the ways historical reality gets distorted by hatred. Jewish people have had a 3,000-year connection to the land. One can walk around Jerusalem’s ancient settlements that were inhabited by Jews from the era of King David to the prophet Isaiah; from Alexander the Great to King Herod and Jesus; through the pain of Roman exile and a thriving Diaspora; and finally to the modern era’s 19th-century Zionist movement, which revitalized the Hebrew language, established a state (through U.N. acclamation) and won independence in 1948.

But as a Jew, I am also commanded to encounter “the other,” Arab and Palestinian people who also claim the land as their own. As a Jew, I am obligated to listen, to understand and to remain committed to the idea that knowledge and inquiry and education remain essential if both peoples are to be truly free.

I’m in Israel each year, visiting friends and leading groups to help them understand their unique historical connection to the land and the importance of engaging Israelis and Palestinians who are working tirelessly to forge a lasting peace. We visit the Hand in Hand schools, Israel’s only bilingual public school system, dedicated to coexistence for its thousands of Israeli and Palestinian students; we visit projects at the Gaza border, helping connect Palestinians and Israelis seeking an alleviation of the terrible conditions within Gaza; and we help strengthen organizations dedicated to fair and equal treatment before the law with organizations like the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

Through all these visits and more, we learn that the most promising path forward is engagement, dialogue, and productive relationships that are the foundation for peace between Jews, Muslims and Christians in Israel and Palestine.

I’d encourage you to consider a short trip to Israel and Palestine. I’ll take you and there introduce you to leaders across racial, ethnic, religious, class and generational spectrums who are working each day in a positive and constructive way to build the two-state solution and the chance for peace for Israelis and Palestinians.

In the meantime, congratulations on your impressive victory. And if you want to visit Israel and Palestine, give me a call. I promise a thrilling adventure that will be anything but black and white.


Rabbi Andy Bachman is executive director of the Jewish Community Project of Lower Manhattan.