MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan to Ocasio-Cortez: Israel Commits ‘War Crimes,’ Opposing a Ceasefire Is Racist

MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan to Ocasio-Cortez: Israel Commits ‘War Crimes,’ Opposing a Ceasefire Is Racist

MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan on Sunday interviewed “squad” member Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) — and it went exactly as as one might expect for a conversation between a former Al Jazeera employee and a marxist millennial politician to go. Hasan repeatedly yielded the floor for his guest to pontificate about Israel’s “war crimes,” and suggested that Congressional opposition to a ceasefire in Gaza was due to racism.

Hasan spent the interview playing devil’s advocate, instead allowing Ocasio-Cortez to serve as a proxy for his own views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This dynamic resulted in a cycle, in which Hasan would lob some declawed version of an anti-Hamas argument at the Congresswoman, allow her several minutes to respond uninterrupted, and then pivot to another subject without asking a follow-up question.

After permitting the Congresswoman to spend two minutes and 50 seconds advocating for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, Hasan teed her up to accuse Israel of “war crimes” against Palestinian civilians:

His next question featured an absurd strawman relating to the debunked claim by Hamas that a Gazan hospital had been destroyed by an Israeli airstrike:

A point of fact: in accusing Israel of destroying a hospital, Miss Ocasio-Cortez had indeed taken Hamas’s position. All of the available data suggest that the blast was the result of a misfired Hamas rocket, and that it didn’t even destroy a hospital, but rather caused an explosion in a parking lot next to the facility. Hasan deliberately this context out of his question, in order to make Senator Schumer’s claim sound absurd.

Then came the obligatory Mehdi Hasan-branded race baiting question: were members of Congress opposing a ceasefire refusing to acknowledge the “humanity” of Palestinians because “they don’t look like us?”

Of course, Hasan is one of many so-called journalists who has yet to fully accept the findings of both American and Israeli intelligence that the destruction of that hospital in Gaza last week was the result of a misfired Hamas rocket.

MSNBC’s The Mehdi Hasan Show
8:10 p.m. — 8:23 p.m. Eastern

MEHDI HASAN: Now, let’s go to Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who recently met with family members of hostages being held by Hamas and has been calling for a ceasefire. Congresswoman, thanks for coming on the show. Is it fair for me to summarize your position, and the position of your fellow progressives, that you are calling for Hamas to release the hostages and for Israel the U.S. to agree to a ceasefire?

CONGRESSWOMAN ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Correct, correct, that’s absolutely correct.

HASAN: And what would you say to the Israelis who say they suffered horrific terrorist attack, over 1400 people killed, many in gruesome ways — children killed, abducted. And so they say they are fighting a war self-defense: a war that any other country, including the U.S., would fight if they were in the same position. What is your reaction to that line of argument?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think one of the things that’s important to recognize about this situation is the asymmetry of what is going on, as well as the collective punishment of what is happening to the Palestinian people at this moment. Hamas has absolutely engaged in horrific attacks. and every single day there are more details that are released about what occurred on October 7th that shocks the human consciousness, and shocks our conscience, our collective conscience. However, we do know as well that war crimes do not constitute, and are not an appropriate response for other war crimes. Hamas’s hostage-taking, their hostage-taking of children, of the disabled, elderly, civilians, are a war crime. But when we are talking about the blockading of water, food, electricity, to a population of 2.2 million Palestinians, when we are talking about dropping what we are seeing from Human Rights Watch — reports and confirmation, from organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights watch — the dropping and deployment of white phosphorus, which also a war crime. It is an unacceptable to think that 1700 Palestinian children alone, that their deaths will somehow make up for or justify the violence of what we saw on October 7th. You know, here in Congress, every single year we pass a defense budget. And every single year we hear about the precision, the sophistication, the technological capacities to meet targets with such precise strikes. And yet what we are seeing unfold in Gaza is an indiscriminate bombing campaign. We are seeing the dropping of white phosphorus, an indiscriminate weapon, we are seeing civilian centers being bombed, we are seeing churches. We are seeing thousands upon thousands of people being killed by these strikes. And it occurs to me, and I think a question that we all must ask ourselves, is what price of innocent life is acceptable in terms of targeting Hams? And are we even receiving — we are receiving daily counts every day about the number of innocent people that are dying. We are not seeing reports on how effective this has actually been in terms of dismantling Hamas. I think it’s very important for us to raise that point. And I think it’s also important for us to understand that this is part of a larger intergenerational cycle of violence.

HASAN: So you mentioned war crimes. And Human Rights Watch did, this — this week said that Hamas should be investigated for committing war crimes in southern Israel, as you said. But also Israel is also being accused of war crimes by both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Just to be clear, your view is that both sides have been, are committing war crimes? Because 95% of your colleagues in Congress won’t even call for a ceasefire, let alone accuse Israel of war crimes.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I don’t see how anyone can look at reputable international organizations, confirming the carrying a deployment of white phosphorus, by the Israeli government, the Israeli military, and say that there’s no question here. In fact, Josh Paul, the State Department official that resigned publicly this week, pointed specifically to this issue. That the Leahy Laws, the United States Leahy Laws require the United States to assess if a government is committing war crimes or engaged in gross violations of human rights. And that must be considered in a weapons transfer or military aid assistance. And from an individual whose role directly involved the assessment and the deployment of these weapons in consideration of Leahy, he himself is saying that U.S. law is, in his view, being violated. And that must be an absolute consideration. Because when we are talking about the role of democracy, and fighting for democracy, the whole case for democracy lies upon and rests upon civil society, rule of law and the protection of human and civil rights. And we must make our case more so in wartime than almost any other time, to make the distinguishment of what makes this different.

HASAN: So Congresswoman, your critics would say that it’s all well and good calling for a ceasefire, but doesn’t deal with the problem of Hamas, doesn’t protect Israeli civilians from future Hamas attacks. And I wonder for, example, what is your response to Senator Schumer, Majority Leader Schumer, who suggested in remarks that punchbowl published on Friday, that those of you progressives in the House who are calling for a ceasefire, or suggesting Israel is attacking hospitals, are basically taking, he said, quote, Hamas’s position.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: You know, I have great respect for Senator Schumer, and we enjoy a very strong working relationship. This is an area of however, of disagreement. I would say that, if we want to see the how this is going, we can just look back at the many different cycles of violence and response. I do not believe that it is, it’s absolutely not a defense of Hamas in order to criticize this current approach, this indiscriminate, violent approach. 1700 children are dead. And when I think about the political aims of violence, the material aims of violence often involve the destruction of human life and much of the horror that we’ve seen. But many of the political aims of violence is to further radicalize and entrench both parties into further violence. And when we see people radicalized to dehumanize the Palestinian population as a result of Hamas, this is part of the goal of that political violence, and when we see the dehumanization of Israeli families, as a result of this, this is part of the political aim. And we have to be able to get ourselves to break the cycle, because Hamas and terrorism —

HASAN: But you would accept — Congresswoman, you would accept that a ceasefire, though would leave Hamas in place? You would accept that that’s a cost of saving civilian lives in Gaza?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think, in the immediate sense, we have to have a pause in what is going. And as you mentioned, only 14 trucks have made it through and humanitarian aid. We are talking about a full blockade of water for a population of 2.2 million people, 1.1 million people in northern Gaza. And we’re supposed to think that 14 trucks is going to somehow, in any way, in any way address what is happening in terms of the starvation, the, famine the thirst that is happening? I mean, we are now at a state where there is risk of cholera and other types of waterborne disease. I mean, what, 14 trucks of? What bottled water?

HASAN: On that note about about what’s happening to them, I can’t help but notice that almost —  you mentioned dehumanization — all almost all of at the least 18 House Democrats who called for a ceasefire in Gaza, are people of color. How much of the Congressional indifference to Palestinian life in Gaza, the refusal in D.C. to acknowledge sometimes the humanity and the innocence, not to mention the suffering of all ordinary Gazans, how much of that is driven by the fact that they’re Arabs, or they’re mostly all Muslims, or they don’t look like us, do you think?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I mean, I will say that I have long found the ignoring and sidelining of Palestinians in U.S. House of Representatives, the humanity of Palestinian populations in the five years that I’ve been in Congress, quite shocking. This is not something that is new to many of us. I have engaged alongside many of my colleagues, from Betty McCollum’s bill on the detention, the conditioning of aid and making sure that it’s not going to the detention of children, to just raising the routine human rights issues. We’ve been trying to raise the alarm bells around this for years. And there has been virtually no acknowledgment in the United States House of Representatives about the extreme plight and continued human rights violations of the Palestinian people, for years. I think I found it alarming, I found it shocking. I found it shocking when, in 2019, or 2020, in our first term ff the House of Representatives, when a Prime Minister Netanyahu banned two United States sitting members of Congress from coming to Israel — Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar — banned two members of the United States Congress from entering the country. That my own colleagues did not seem to say or do much of anything, that should be an affront to our entire government and country.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: So, you mentioned your colleagues in the Congress, before we run out of time, I’ve got to ask you about the House itself. You have no Speaker right now, the Republicans defenestrated Kevin Mccarthy, couldn’t agree on Steve Scalise or Jim Jordan. Now, Byron Donalds, Congressman from Florida, wants to be speaker? What you make of him?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: He’s only served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives. The last thing that he did in the Oversight Committee was attempt to submit falsified evidence to an impeachment hearing. I think it helps to know where all the bathrooms are before the run for the U.S. House of Representatives, personally, and I think it helps to have some real experience in one of the most complex legislative bodies in the world before you try to run it.

HASAN: Last question for you, just looking forward. Despite Republican dysfunction, they’re still doing very well in the polls, in the presidential polls. Looking forward to November 2024, especially now with this war in Gaza. that seems to be alienating a few key parts of the Democratic base, young voters, progressives, Arab American voters, in states like Michigan, how worried are you about Joe Biden’s reelection prospects, and the chances of a Donald Trump return to power?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think we need to understand that we, one of the lessons that must be learned from Donald Trump’s first election, it is not sufficient, and has never been sufficient, to say, well, the other guys worse. I think it’s an argument that is very understandable. I understand it completely. And it is on its face correct. But where it is offensive, and where I think folks sometimes lack sensitivity in that, is that only some populations are asked to have the rights held hostage. To ask to other humanity held hostage, and say, we don’t really need to prioritize the policy demands of these constituencies because of how much worse the opponent is. I think a Democratic coalition, not just means involving protecting people, from erosion, but it means actually championing and incorporating their policy priorities in our governance. We have a year, and I think it’s important to demonstrate that in the year to come.

HASAN: Congresswoman Alexandra ocasio-cortez, thank you so much for your time tonight, I appreciate it.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Thank you so much.


8:57 p.m. — 9:00 p.m.

MEHDI HASAN: Now, it’s time to hand it over to my good friend, Ayman Mohyeldin. Good evening, Ayman.

AYMAN MOHYELDIN: Hey, good evening, Mehdi, it’s great to see you. I was gonna say, that interview with Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez was, I thought it was very revealing. It’s something, you and I, I know we’ve talked about it in the past. And that has to do with the dehumanization of Palestinians. I thought one of the moments that stood out to me in that interview was when the Congresswoman talked about arriving to Congress. And just hearing the lack of interest, the lack of care, if you will, about the Palestinian issues, something that I’ve always said is at the forefront of the situation in the Middle East. If that is not resolved, other issues don’t get resolved. But it was quite powerful, I would say, to hear her talk about how Palestinian voices, Palestinian lives, are reflected in congress, among other members of Congress and her party.

HASAN: Yeah and she said that, Ayman, in response to my question pointing out that almost, I think all of the 18, almost all of 18 House Democrats who’ve called for a ceasefire people of color. I, wonder I just wonder whether that’s part of the equation. That you have more diversity in Congress and more empathy for people in the Middle East, who maybe don’t look like us, or who we’re not familiar. But look, the media has a role to play in this too. Jesse waters on Fox earlier this week said one of the most anti-Palestinian, even by Fox standards, racist rants I’ve heard. Have a listen.


JESSE WATTERS:   I don’t think we can have Palestinian state at this point. I’ve had it with the Palestinians. I’ve given up on the Palestinians. If I was in Israel, I wouldn’t be talking about a Palestinian state right no. I don’t think Joe Biden should be talking about a Palestinian state right now. And I don’t like how people try to differentiate between the Palestinians and Hamas. To me, I see people with guns. That’s Hamas. The people without the guns are the Palestinians. They believe the same thing. The Palestinians hired Hamas to run their government.


HASAN: Ayman, one falsehood after another. One smear after another. Palestinians are one of the few minority groups left in America, on planet Earth, who you can say whatever you want about.

MOHYELDIN: Yeah absolutely, and again, it’s not just Fox, we’re hearing it from Republican officials, calling Palestinians in Gaza antisemitic, a whole host of other derogatory terms. Thank you very much Mehdi, always a pleasure. Take care, my friend.

What do you think?


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