Not surprisingly, mainstream American politicians were unequivocal in condemning Palestinians for the rocket attacks that went back and forth between Israel and Gaza over the weekend. Below are several statements from Democratic pols and liberal Israel support groups showing that there is no room in the mainstream US discourse for criticizing Israeli violence or speaking about Israel’s 13-year-long blockade on Gaza or its slaughter of Palestinian demonstrators at the fence over the last year, let alone its refusal to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.
What is remarkable is that Bernie Sanders bucks the trend, saying US policy must be “evenhanded” and implicitly citing Israeli violations of human rights in Gaza, including that people are imprisoned in the strip. Notably, Sanders said he had been “criticized” repeatedly for taking this position, when answering a question at a town hall in Iowa Saturday:
I have been criticized over and over again, and I said this four years ago, and I repeat it to you right now: In terms of the Middle East, we need an evenhanded policy. Alright? I am a strong supporter of Israel’s right to exist in peace and security. OK. I lived in Israel when I was a young man. But we need a policy which brings the Palestinians and the Israelis together. You’ve got a situation in Gaza right now where the unemployment rate for young people is 60 or 70 percent. People cannot leave the area. Does anyone think that that is going to result in long term peace– it is not. So the function of the United States is to play an evenhanded role in bringing the Israelis and the Palestinians together. It is difficult, it is complicated, I am no fan of Netanyahu, who is a rightwing leader, and the Palestinians have their problem with leadership, but our job is to do everything we can to try to bring a lasting peace to that very, very troubled region. And as president that’s exactly what I will try to do.
Sanders surely has an understanding that the Democratic base is sympathetic to Palestinians. Not that his statement seems calculated. The only game in town on the Democratic side, or U.S. politics– apart from Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar– is support for Israel and condemnation of Palestinians.
This one-sided statement from Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader, epitomizes the imbalance. The only innocents are on one side. And Hoyer says Congress is with him:
Hamas must immediately stop launching rockets into Israel. The targeting of innocent communities is never acceptable, as is the exploitation of protected sites like schools and mosques by Hamas and its affiliates for the purpose of launching attacks. Israel has every right to defend itself against these rocket attacks from Gaza. They were a gross and blatant violation of international law, and the Israeli actions to neutralize rocket launchers and prevent further attacks are entirely justified. The United States Congress, in a bipartisan fashion, stands strongly in support of our ally Israel and its right to protect its citizens from terror.
Senator Cory Booker strikes the same biased note (from CBS News):
We support Israel’s right to defend itself– full stop. You have a terrorist organization that actually suppresses its own people, conducts acts of violence and human rights violations against people who live in– in Gaza. So Israel has a right to defend itself and it should do that. But for the people that live in Gaza, this is not about them, it’s about the terrorist organization that is attracting such violence, that is using children, hospitals and schools as shields for their insidious aims, which is the destruction of the state of Israel… That terrorist organization is like a cancer undermining the security of both Gazans as well as Israelis… I think we need to continue to work for peace in that region and work towards a two state solution.
Booker said that support is bipartisan. Asked if he agrees with Trump on Gaza:
Some of the president’s words are problematic to me. There’s no empathy for the struggles of Palestinians in that region… But one thing people should know, from before Donald Trump, from before I was a senator, I stand with the right of Israel to exist and to defend itself.
This statement by five Jewish House members, including three chairpersons (Brad Schneider; Eliot Engel; Nita Lowey, Ted Deutch, and Josh Gottheimer) is also stunningly one-sided. It doesn’t even mention Palestinian deaths and presents Israel as moderate.
“We strongly condemn the outrageous, indiscriminate rocket attacks from terror groups in Gaza into Israel, which have claimed the lives of four Israelis, wounded many more, and put at risk hundreds of thousands of others.
“In response to the continued, indefensible attacks by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terror groups, Israel has a right and responsibility to defend itself and its citizens militarily from further violence. Israel must be able to sustainably protect its people as it continues to pursue a ceasefire.
The liberal Zionist group J Street can justly claim to represent the Democratic Party these days, and its statement is frightening in its one-sidedness. Again, Palestinian victims don’t count. The violence and “terror” are coming from one side. We stand with Israel but our thoughts are with Gaza.
J Street strongly condemns the barrage of hundreds of rockets that have been launched from Gaza at Israel over the past 48 hours by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. We are deeply concerned by this intensive escalation in violence, in which three Israelis and several Palestinian civilians — including an infant and a pregnant woman — have been killed so far, with many more wounded.
We stand with the communities of the Israeli south and with those throughout the country who are now living under the threat of indiscriminate terror. Our thoughts are also with the civilian population of Gaza, who once again are faced with a potentially devastating new round of conflict that will only further exacerbate an already severe humanitarian crisis.
We support Israel’s right to defend itself and its people against rocket attacks and terror…
Freshman congressman Max Rose of NY is considered a progressive. He’s on one side, too.
Hamas firing hundreds of rockets into Israel killing innocent people is a horrifying act of terror. Thousands of families in Israel and Gaza are being held hostage by terrorists more committed to destroying Israel than working towards peace.
Liberal Zionist Jan Schakowsky is one-sided in her statement:
Israel has a right to defend herself. Real peace can only come with a two-state solution.
I condemn the rocket attacks on innocent civilians and stand in support of Israel and peace.
Israel Policy Forum is in the same J Street vein. Israel’s violence is “necessary.” Palestinian violence is “terror.”
Israel Policy Forum unequivocally condemns today’s rocket fire by Hamas and other terror organizations in Gaza. We express our deep concerns for the Israeli citizens who have spent Shabbat under attack and for the ordinary Palestinians who have been affected by the necessary military response…
Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorism against Israel is unacceptable, and we urge the international community to condemn it without reservation.
So that’s the terrain that Bernie Sanders is operating in, and his comments look brave.
It appears that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the voice of the progressive base these days, had nothing to say about Gaza this weekend.
While Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar have been, as always, outspoken and willing to take what comes. Tlaib responded to the unbalanced press coverage of the conflict:
When will the world stop dehumanizing our Palestinian people who just want to be free? Headlines like this & framing it in this way [New York Times coverage headlined, “Gaza Militants Fire 250 Rockets and Israel Responds With Airstrikes”] just feeds into the continued lack of responsibility on Israel who unjustly oppress & target Palestinian children and families.
Ilhan Omar also addresses the justice question:
How many more protesters must be shot, rockets must be fired, and little kids must be killed until the endless cycle of violence ends? The status quo of occupation and humanitarian crisis in Gaza is unsustainable. Only real justice can bring about security and lasting peace.
A little more of the context here. Liberal Zionists are indistinguishable from center-right Zionists here. David Harris of AJC:
What’s happening in Israel right now is all too clear. Terrorist Hamas & Palestinian Islamic Jihad have fired 400+ missiles from Gaza. Why? They‘re not aiming at Gaza’s development, but Israel’s destruction…pure & simple.
Notice that Peace Now sounds belligerent in this question about the new government’s policy in Gaza: “[W]ill it finally take serious action to end this ridiculous chain of disruptive clashes and get rid of Hamas?” Yossi Alpher responds that one of three options for Israel is to “physically eliminate” the Islamists in Gaza.
[A] major Israeli military offensive to reconquer the Gaza Strip and physically eliminate the Islamists there… is undoubtedly feasible. Countless politicians, including Netanyahu, have periodically promised to do precisely this. But then they confront the reality that this scenario would almost certainly involve hundreds of Israeli dead and would leave Israel responsible for the welfare of over two million Gazans under a new occupation.
And of course, Trump is not making this any easier. Several American ambassadors to Europe met with Netanyahu yesterday and along with ambassador to Israel David Friedman issued this statement:
The sole aim of these terrorists is to kill, maim and terrorize citizens of Israel…. No other nation on Earth would tolerate this.
H/t James North. Jewish Insider.