President Biden has come under fire for his handling of the revived Israeli-Palestinian conflict from all sides. As violence erupted, his government appeared caught off guard and unprepared.
Right-wing critics, such as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, blasted Biden of not standing “unequivocally” with Israel in the face of terrorist missile assaults, which mirrors the close relationship President Donald Trump maintained with the country.
Meanwhile, a chasm is forming within the Democratic Party, with members on the left upset by Biden’s hesitation to be both more openly critical of Israel’s policies and actions, as well as more cognizant of the US involvement in getting the conflict to this point.
When President Joe Biden told reporters last week that Israel, which is embroiled in a horrific attack on Palestinians in Gaza, had the right to “defend itself,” members of his own party blasted him.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stated on Twitter that Biden was perpetuating the “false idea that Palestinians instigated this cycle of violence” and siding with the occupation.
By only stepping in to name Hamas’ actions – which are condemnable – & refusing to acknowledge the rights of Palestinians, Biden reinforces the false idea that Palestinians instigated this cycle of violence.
This is not neutral language. It takes a side – the side of occupation.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 12, 2021
Her comments condemned the violence from the Palestinian group Hamas, but she went farther than Democratic leaders in blaming Israel for the region’s tragic cycle of violence.
A number of notable Muslim-American advocacy groups skipped Biden’s virtual Eid conference on Sunday, claiming that the administration was “complicit” in Palestinian suffering.
Biden, for his part, has made a series of remarks supporting peaceful resolutions while continuing to uphold Israel’s right to self-defense, while equivocating on the wrongs of violence on both sides.
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The United States once again insulated Israel from any significant condemnation at the United Nations Security Council by rejecting a declaration calling for a ceasefire.
On both Israeli and American media on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that his government was not prepared to suspend military operations, despite rising international condemnation of its perceived abuses.
Today the President spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, reaffirmed his strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza, and condemned these indiscriminate attacks against Israel. pic.twitter.com/baHWh1b6Q2
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) May 15, 2021
According to Gaza health officials, a predawn Israeli bombardment on the beleaguered enclave on Sunday killed 42 people, including 10 children.
Since hostilities erupted last week, Israel has killed at least 192 people in Gaza, including 58 children.
According to the Israeli Defense Forces, Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza have shot over 3,000 rockets into Israeli territory – roughly three-quarters of the number shot during the 2014 Gaza war, in a fraction of the time.
Although Israel’s powerful defense systems have foiled the majority of these strikes, at least ten people have died as a result of rocket assaults. Violence has also expanded to the West Bank and to cities within Israel’s boundaries since 1948.
Hedges is the former Middle East bureau chief of the New York Times, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and a columnist at Scheerpost. He is the author of several books, including “America: The Farewell Tour,” “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” and “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.”
He contends that Israel is not exercising “the right to defend itself” in the occupied Palestinian territories. It is carrying out mass murder, aided and abetted by the U.S.
Hedeges claims that virtually all of the terms and phrases used by Democrats, Republicans, and media pundits to characterize the turmoil within Israel and the worst Israeli assault on Palestinians since the 2014 Gaza onslaught, which lasted 51 days and killed over 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children, are a lie.
To Hedges, Israel is not exercising its “right to defend itself” by using its military machine against an occupied people that lacks mechanized forces, an air force, navy, missiles, heavy artillery, and command-and-control, not to mention a US pledge to deliver $38 billion in defense funding to Israel over the next decade.
He says it is a war crime.
Hedges worked as a journalist in the Middle East for seven years, four of which he was the Middle East Bureau Chief for The New York Times, and speaks Arabic.
He lived weeks at a time in Gaza, which he calls the world’s biggest open-air prison, where over two million Palestinians face famine, struggle to get clean water, and face daily Israeli aggression.
Hedges was in Gaza when it was bombarded with Israeli artillery and air attacks.
Hedges described seeing mothers and fathers weeping and embracing the wounded remains of their sons and children.
He described food shortages caused by the Israeli embargo, suffocating overcrowding, unclean water, a lack of health care, near-constant power outages caused by Israeli targeting of power facilities, debilitating poverty, chronic unemployment, terror, and despair, all that he experienced first hand.
Hedges is outraged by the falsehoods coming from Jerusalem and Washington. The indiscriminate use of sophisticated, industrial weaponry by Israel to kill thousands of innocent people, injuring thousands more, and the evictions of tens of thousands of families is not a war; it is state-sponsored terror.
While he opposes the actions of Palestinians indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel, as well as being oppose suicide bombings, as he sees them also as war crimes, he is acutely aware of a huge disparity between the industrial violence carried out by Israel against innocent Palestinians and the minimal acts of violence capable of being waged by groups such as Hamas.
Hedges sentiments regarding Israel aggression is echoed by the antiwar Progressive aspect of the Democrat party.
To antiwar progressives, who have become a more prominent force in Democratic debates over foreign policy, the distinction is a rhetorical roadblock that avoids emphasizing the Palestinian experience.
“No one is arguing that Israel, or any government, does not have the right to self-defense or to protect its people,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote in a New York Times op-ed on Friday. “So why are these words repeated year after year, war after war? And why is the question almost never asked: ‘What are the rights of the Palestinian people?’”
Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders reflect a growing segment of the Democratic Party and Independents that no longer sees unquestioning backing for Israel’s right-wing government as a fundamental component of US foreign policy.
“In the Middle East, where we provide nearly $4 billion a year in aid to Israel, we can no longer be apologists for the right-wing Netanyahu government and its undemocratic and racist behavior,” Sanders wrote.
25 House Democrats, including Ocasio-Cortez, called on Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this week to protest Israel’s planned deportation of over 2,000 Palestinians from East Jerusalem.
“I don’t think that Netanyahu or US politicians realize how acutely focused the world is on what’s happening in Gaza right now, and how much damage is being done to Israel’s standing,” former Obama national security official Tommy Vietor tweeted on Saturday, adding, “the politics are moving beneath our feet.”
I don't think that Netanyahu or US politicians realize how acutely focused the world is on what's happening in Gaza right now, and how much damage is being done to Israel's standing. These rallies, blunt statements from @AOC and others – the politics are moving beneath our feet. https://t.co/lRNZXvYrfv
— Tommy Vietor (@TVietor08) May 15, 2021
This highlights the grave differences that Biden hears from the antiwar left.
Human rights groups were furious in February when the Biden administration authorized a weapons sale to Egypt only days after President Abdel Fattah el-government Sisi’s imprisoned relatives of an Egyptian American activist as part of a widespread intimidation campaign against critics of el-harsh Sisi’s rule.
Two months later, the Biden administration released defense expenditure projections totaling $715 billion, snubbing progressive aspirations for a smaller Pentagon budget.
Even on Iran, where Democrats had been practically uniform in their opposition to Donald Trump’s hardline approach, Biden has enraged progressives by moving slowly in discussions with the country over a return to the 2015 nuclear agreement, and by refusing to grant upfront sanctions relief.
The pushback from the antiwar left within the US Congress threatens to demolish the shaky consensus Biden has maintained among Democrats since entering office, with his party holding to a tenuous grip on power.
The Gaza conflict may be Biden’s first significant test of how Democrats can govern a split caucus, but it won’t be the last.