US Retains Its Support for Israel, but Fissures Emerge
By Ken Bredemeier May 13, 2021
For decades, a bedrock principle of United States foreign policy has been unwavering American political support for Israel.
But as the latest clashes between Palestinian militants and Israeli forces unfold this week in the most intense fighting since 2014, there are fissures. Some U.S. Democratic lawmakers are voicing complaints about Israeli attacks on Hamas in the Gaza Strip that have killed at least 83 people, while Republicans have maintained steadfast, unified support for the Jewish state, where at least six have been killed by Hamas' missile strikes.
U.S. officials, the White House said, have made more than 25 calls in recent days to Israeli, Palestinian and regional Arab leaders to quell the conflict. The U.S. has dispatched an envoy to Israel to try to broker a cease-fire.
President Joe Biden talked with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the U.S. leader later saying, "My expectation and hope is that this will be closing down sooner than later. Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory."
Biden declined to criticize Israeli actions, but the White House said that in his conversation with Netanyahu, Biden "shared his conviction that Jerusalem, a city of such importance to people of faith from around the world, must be a place of peace."
The fate of Jerusalem, the Israeli capital, is at center stage in the conflict, with Palestinians angered at Jewish settlers attempting to take over Arab homes and neighborhoods, while holding out hope to one day also claim the city as the capital of a Palestinian state.
Key congressional Democrats, who maintain narrow control of both chambers of the U.S. Congress, are continuing to staunchly defend Israel's right to defend itself. The U.S. in recent years has sent nearly $4 billion in military aid to Israel and guaranteed another $8 billion in loans. The U.S. and its allies consider Hamas, a Palestinian nationalist group, a terrorist organization.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, tweeted this week, "The barrage of rocket attacks from Hamas are terrorism and no country should have to tolerate this kind of threat against its population. These brazen acts threaten the safety & security of Israelis & Palestinians."
But congressional Democrats below the leadership ranks have assailed Israeli attacks.
Congressman Mark Pocan of Wisconsin tweeted, "We cannot just condemn rockets fired by Hamas and ignore Israel's state-sanctioned police violence against Palestinians â€” including unlawful evictions, violent attacks on protestors & the murder of Palestinian children. U.S. aid should not be funding this violence."
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, along with two of her Democratic colleagues, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, have focused on Israeli aggression in the conflict rather than blaming both sides for it.
"We stand in solidarity with the Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. Israeli forces are forcing families from their homes during Ramadan and inflicting violence," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted last week, about a neighborhood where a Jewish settler group is seeking to evict Arab families.
James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, told The Washington Post, "In the 40-odd years I've been working on these issues full time, I've never seen this level of support for Palestinian rights and challenging the status quo."
Democratic Congressman Jamaal Bowman of New York, who defeated a reliably pro-Israel lawmaker, condemned Hamas' rocket attacks, but he also attacked Israel's evictions of Palestinians and its retaliatory airstrikes on Gaza, which is run by Hamas.
"Violently evicting families from their homes in which generations have lived is not an act of peace," Bowman said in a statement. "A show of strong force during prayer is not an act of peace. Destroying holy sites is not an act of peace. Hamas rocket attacks are not an act of peace. Israeli government airstrikes are not an act of peace."
Republicans, however, have maintained their steadfast support for Israel. Former President Donald Trump, who moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and helped broker recognition of Israel by several Arab countries, assailed Biden's response to the Israeli-Hamas conflict.
"Biden's weakness and lack of support for Israel is leading to new attacks on our allies," Trump contended.
"The Republican Party stands with Israel, a nation that has every right to defend itself against violence and the barrage of rockets from Hamas," Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement.
Nearly all Senate Republicans urged Biden to "unequivocally" support Israel's right to defend itself, and "immediately" end negotiations with Iran on economic sanctions relief linked to talks on Tehran's nuclear development program. The Republicans said Tehran is "supporting" terrorist activity by Hamas against Israel.
"Over the past couple days, Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, who are funded by Iran, have launched a series of rocket attacks into Israel. They are targeting Israeli civilians and cities, including Israel's capital Jerusalem," 44 Republican senators wrote in a letter to Biden.
"In light of these recent attacks by Hamas against Israel," the lawmakers said, "the United States should take all steps necessary to hold Tehran accountable and under no circumstances, provide sanctions relief to Iran." The senators called the matter "especially important as Iran (has) supported the terrorist activity against the United States' closest ally in the region, Israel."
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