Ocasio-Cortez defends accusing Israel of genocide in floor speech

Originally Published: 24 MAR 24 13:31 ET
Updated: 24 MAR 24 13:38 ET

(CNN) — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Sunday defended accusing Israel of genocide against the Palestinian people and advocating for cuts to US military aid until humanitarian relief flows freely in Gaza. Her decision to use the term genocide, as she did during a floor speech on Friday in the House chamber, was “taken with extraordinary gravity,” she said.

While she has openly condemned the violence in Gaza amid Israel’s war against Hamas, Ocasio-Cortez has typically been cautious about labeling Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as genocide — a distinction in line with her tendency to use more conciliatory rhetoric on Israel than some of her ideological allies. But the escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza has “crossed the threshold of intent,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”

“As we speak, in this moment, 1.1 million innocents in Gaza are at famine’s door,” Ocasio-Cortez said in her speech Friday. “A famine that is being intentionally precipitated through the blocking of food and global humanitarian assistance by leaders in the Israeli government.”

“If you want to know what an unfolding genocide looks like,” the New York Democrat added, “open your eyes.”

More than 32,000 people in the coastal enclave have been killed since the Israel-Hamas war began, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.

All 2.2 million people in Gaza do not have enough food to eat, with half of the population on the brink of starvation and famine projected to arrive in the north “anytime between mid-March and May 2024,” according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification.

“What we are seeing here, I think, with a forced famine is beyond our ability to deny or explain away,” Ocasio-Cortez told Tapper. “There is no targeting of Hamas in precipitating a mass famine of a million people, half of whom are children.”

Her comments come as the Biden administration is hardening its stance ahead of key meetings this week between US and Israeli officials.

Vice President Kamala Harris said Sunday that the US would not rule out consequences for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government if he moves forward with a military offensive in Rafah, where more than a million people are crammed into a sprawling tent city, describing such a decision as a “mistake.”

“We have been clear in multiple conversations and in every way that any major military operation in Rafah would be a huge mistake. Let me tell you something, I have studied the maps. There’s nowhere for those folks to go,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Harris’ remarks come as national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant are set to meet at the White House on Monday. They are expected to focus on continued efforts to get the remaining hostages held by Hamas released and the urgent need for more humanitarian aid to reach civilians in Gaza.

Based on recent negotiations, Israel agreed to a US “bridging proposal” on the number of Palestinian prisoners to be released for every hostage held by Hamas, and the delegations are now waiting for a response from Hamas, CNN analyst Barak Ravid said Saturday on X, citing an unnamed senior Israeli official.

A diplomatic source briefed on the matter confirmed to CNN the accuracy of the information but said outstanding issues remain, including the entry of aid and “Israeli military repositioning” in Gaza.

The meeting between Sullivan and Gallant, a White House official told CNN, is different from the previously reported visit between Israeli officials and US officials also set for this week, at which the two countries are likely to discuss alternatives to a ground offensive of Rafah.

Ocasio-Cortez told Tapper on Sunday that she disagrees with the Israeli government restricting the flow of food and aid until Hamas frees the hostages and lays down arms.

“We are talking about famine,” she said. “The actions of Hamas should not be tied to whether a 3-year-old can eat. The actions of Hamas do not justify forcing thousands, hundreds of thousands of people to eat grass as their bodies consume themselves. We and the Israeli government have the right to go after Hamas. But we are talking about population of millions of innocent Palestinians. We’re talking about collective punishment, which is in unjustifiable,” she said.

CNN’s Becky Anderson contributed to this report.

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