Washington supports Israel, but lasting consensus may be elusive | ET REALITY


Hamas’ stunning surprise attack on Israel has done what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu never could: rally America’s rebellious politicians behind their nation again. Something like. Mostly. For now.

After years in which support for Israel had become an increasingly partisan issue in Washington, Democratic and Republican leaders in recent days have generally responded with broad condemnation of Hamas and expressions of solidarity following the massacre of hundreds of Israeli civilians.

But that superficial unity had already begun to fray on Monday as Israel retaliated with airstrikes on Gaza, cutting off food and water to the enclave and preparing for what could become a ground invasion that could further endanger Palestinian civilians. Some members of the left wing of the Democratic Party criticized Israel for “apartheid” policies that oppress Palestinians and called for an end to American aid.

For now, those sentiments have been restricted to the fringes of the House Democratic caucus and have drawn swift rebukes from more centrist members of the party. The reality, however, is that sympathy and support for Israel will be tested the longer the fighting continues and the more firepower Israeli forces employ, according to lawmakers and political strategists. The challenge for President Biden and his allies is to translate the current outrage against Hamas into a sustained consensus for Israel.

The sensitivity of this was made clear by the mixed signals sent by the Biden administration itself. The State Department’s Bureau of Palestinian Affairs posted a message on State Antony J. Blinken posted a message on Sunday encouraging Turkey’s “advocacy for a ceasefire.” Both posts were later removed following protests from Israel supporters who said it was too early to urge Israel to withdraw.

Otherwise, both Biden and Blinken have firmly stated that Israel has the right to defend itself. The administration has begun sending military equipment to Israel to replenish its supplies and moving American warships and planes to the region to deter Iran or other enemies of Israel from escalating the fighting.

In a written statement on Monday, Biden implicitly compared the Hamas attack to the 9/11 attacks on the United States. “We remember the pain of being attacked by terrorists at home, and Americans across the country stand united against these evil acts that have once again taken innocent American lives,” she said. “It’s a barbarity. And we will continue to show the world that the American people are unwavering in their determination to oppose terrorism in all its forms.”

With more than 900 Israelis dead and around 150 taken hostage, including women and children, administration officials agreed that Netanyahu had no choice but to respond with overwhelming force. Any country in the world would retaliate if its territory was invaded by land, sea and air and its citizens massacred in concert or dragged from their homes to be shot or taken captive.

For Biden and the United States, the fact that at least 11 Americans have been killed and an unknown number possibly taken hostage makes it an American crisis as well. On Monday, Hamas threatened to execute a civilian hostage every time an airstrike hits Gaza “on their homes without warning,” raising the stakes for Washington.

“I want you to know that in the United States Congress” right now “there is unity, bipartisan unity in support of what we need to do, whether it be militarily, whether it be diplomatically, whether it be financially to help our friends, the Israelis.” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, former Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives. he said at a forum organized by a Jewish group in San Francisco on Sunday.

Rep. Ro Khanna, another California Democrat, said Monday that the bipartisan support was real. “This is personal for many of my colleagues,” he said. “We know Israelis who have been killed and we know Americans who have stayed in the homes of Israelis who were taken hostage. We are angry for the innocent Americans who were murdered. “There will be overwhelming support for Israel to defend itself against this act of terrorism, much like the world was united behind the United States after 9/11.”

But that doesn’t mean support is unlimited. The administration and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle broadly supported retaliation against Hamas itself, but to the extent that the response punishes the civilian population of Gaza, already an impoverished coastal enclave blockaded by Israel and Egypt, it could undermine support in time.

As of Monday, the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza reported that 687 Palestinians had been killed, including 140 children. Israel’s Defense Minister ordered a “complete siege” of the Gaza Strip, cutting off electricity, food, water and fuel to its two million residents, and said his country was at war with “human animals” .

Palestinian advocates lamented the largely uniform pro-Israel response in Washington. “There are few things that require less political courage in Washington than condemning the Palestinians, sending bombs to Israel, and then turning away from addressing the root causes of oppression that drive political violence that threatens the lives of Palestinians and Israelis alike.” said Yousef Munayyer. head of the Palestine/Israel Program at the Arab Center Washington DC

“People who truly care about peace and justice for all realize this,” he added. “Unfortunately, there is a lack of them in this city.”

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a flashpoint in Washington for years, but since the days of President Barack Obama’s administration, the once traditional bipartisan consensus has evolved into a much more partisan divide.

Republicans have made support for Israel an inviolable litmus test issue. While in office, President Donald J. Trump leaned heavily toward Netanyahu’s government, recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, while cutting aid to the Palestinians and forcing a shutdown his office in Washington. Democrats, for their part, are increasingly divided: Some remain solidly behind Israel, while others have been more critical of settlements, occupation and plans to annex territory.

Biden is a case study. For decades as a senator, he positioned himself as a staunch supporter of Israel, but his relationship with Netanyahu has been quite frosty at times. Among other things, they have disagreed over the prime minister’s efforts to limit the power of the courts in his country and U.S. efforts to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran.

Last month, Biden met Netanyahu for the first time since the prime minister returned to office in December, and even then on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, not at the White House. But the two seemed eager to put aside their differences, and the president indicated that he would host the prime minister at the White House at the end of the year.

The president has offered nothing but unwavering support to Israelis since Saturday’s explosion of violence. In his statement Monday, he said that “the American people stand shoulder to shoulder with the Israelis” and that the two nations are “inseparable partners” in the fight against terrorism.

Voices of dissent among Democrats came from representatives like Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian American from Michigan, and Cori Bush, a liberal from Missouri. Ms. Tlaib wrote on Instagram. that “I regret the Palestinian and Israeli lives lost” and added that the path to a just future “must include lifting the blockade, ending the occupation and dismantling the apartheid system that creates the suffocating and dehumanizing conditions that can lead to the resistance”.

Mrs. Bush also mourned the loss of life on both sides and said in a statement published in X that he would “strongly condemn attacks against civilians.” But he called for “ending the US government’s support for Israeli military occupation and apartheid.”

Other Democratic representatives, however, were offended. “I have zero tolerance for their uninformed responses,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Jewish Democrat from New Jersey, said in an interview. He called those comments disgusting.

While he acknowledged that the duration and intensity of the Israeli response could have an effect, he added that the scale and scope of the Hamas attack made the calculus different from other explosions between Israelis and Palestinians. “It’s about Americans,” he said. “This puts it in a completely different light. “I don’t think there is much sympathy for those weak detractors who are not focused on protecting our most important ally in the region and dealing with terrorists.”

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