Two weeks ago, Representative Ilhan Omar’s (D-MN) tweets about Israel sparked a wildfire across the internet. Critics denounced her as anti-Semitic, while supporters of Palestinian human rights praised her for speaking out against the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a deeply influential lobby group that seeks to secure and enhance the US-Israel alliance. With the recent controversy, it’s time for Omar’s fellow congresswoman, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), to put her words of support for Palestinians into action and publicly endorse the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) international campaign. With her support, she’d stand by Representative Omar and show the U.S. political left that Palestine needs to be on their progressive agenda.
Why are Palestinians calling for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions? Since 1967, Israel has carried out a military occupation of Palestine. In the West Bank, Israeli soldiers restrict freedom of movement, forcing Palestinians to pass through checkpoints and building a wall that separates Palestinians from their families. Bit by bit, the Israeli government steals Palestinian land inside the West Bank, demolishes homes and builds illegal Jewish-only settlements. Israel then subsidizes this segregated housing to Jewish Israelis as an incentive to encroach on Palestinian-owned land and displace Native people. Inside the West Bank, there are separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians, creating a structured apartheid system. In the Gaza Strip, the humanitarian crisis turns bleaker still.
Since 2007, Israel has imposed a military blockade on Gaza. The siege has blocked millions of Gazans’ access to clean water, electricity, economic prosperity and quality education. Palestinians living in Gaza are subject to routine Israeli bombings of their hospitals, homes and schools. Because of the siege, the United Nations declared that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020. The siege on Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank are made possible by American military aid to Israel, which totals $38 billion over 10 years.
The BDS campaign rejects this American-funded oppression. The campaign calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions on all companies and institutions that profit from the violation of Palestinian human rights. BDS issues three demands: for Israel to end its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands by dismantling the wall, to recognize the fundamental rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality and to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, in compliance with international law. BDS is a way to hold Israel accountable for its actions, and it has adopted strategies that have worked previously — boycotts of apartheid South Africa and Montgomery buses. For centuries, boycotts, divestment and sanctions have played crucial roles in social justice movements. Across the world, international allies have championed the BDS campaign.
Fighting for freedom, justice and equality sound pretty American, right? But in the United States, only two U.S. representatives out of 435 have endorsed the BDS campaign: Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.
Palestine is becoming integral to the progressive agenda, so you’d think that another well-known democratic socialist would support the movement. Yet so far, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez has kept uncharacteristically quiet about this justice issue. Her silence threatens to solidify a common misconception, that Palestine is solely a ‘Muslim issue,’ as Tlaib and Omar, the only supporters of BDS in Congress, are both Muslim. Without Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement, the American public will continue to see BDS and Palestinian human rights as solely problems that affect Muslims and won’t understand how BDS and Palestinian freedom intersect with US-based liberation movements, like Black Lives Matter, Indigenous people’s rights to water and struggles against the border wall. Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement would invite her progressive supporters to understand how Palestinian freedom, equality and justice already fit into their value systems. It would reach millions of young voters who don’t yet participate in the BDS campaign and who are unaware of the oppression of Palestinians, funded by our Americans’ taxes, which give Israel $10 million in military aid every single day.
Representative Ocasio-Cortez has a strong base with young voters that are passionate about justice and equity and her endorsement would raise awareness about BDS. If she endorsed the movement, she would stand in solidarity with the two congresswomen who have put their careers on the line because they have dared to care about Palestinian human rights. Her endorsement, coming days after Omar’s criticism of Israel that has come under fire, would awaken American consciousness of Palestinian oppression — the oppression that we are responsible for because we fund it. Progressives in America must understand the essential need for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement would radically reshape American politics and the American left.