Spheres of Influence - Support for Israel Reaches American National Conversation as Progressives Challenge Congress on Arms Sale
From my article for Spheres of Influence
As Israel’s brutal siege of Gaza continued to roar over Eid last week, immediate international efforts to bring an end to the violence were rejected by the Biden administration as an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire was finally achieved on May 20th.
On May 17th, despite the release of a White House statement that claimed Biden “encouraged Israel to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians,” the US blocked a proposed statement being considered by the United Nations Security Council that would have condemned the violence in Gaza and called for a cease-fire between warring parties. The next day, the Biden administration greenlit a $735 million arms sale to Israel that had previously been proposed on May 5th prior to the escalation of violence in East Jerusalem.
In light of this current siege of Gaza, the fourth by the Israel Defence Force (IDF) in twenty years, it appears American financial support for Israel is finally beginning to slowly feature in the national political conversation. This comes despite the efforts of both mainstream media and social media companies to skew reporting on the 212 deaths caused by the IDF’s airstrikes, including 61 children and 36 women.
Establishment Politicians’ Continued Support
As the IDF bombing of Gaza began on May 10th, White House spokesperson Ned Price released a statement in which he condemned the rockets fired by Hamas into Israel and urged “de-escalation on all sides.” He was challenged by reporters to comment on the killing of civilians in Gaza and on the legality of the IDF’s targets, but those questions were met with swift, clumsy replies, with statements such as “we don’t have independent confirmation of facts on the ground yet, so I’m very hesitant to get into reports that are just emerging.”
On the same day, former Democratic Presidential nominee Andrew Yang, who is currently in the running for mayor of New York, received unexpected backlash for his stance on the violence. “I’m standing with the people of Israel who are coming under bombardment attacks, and condemn the Hamas terrorists,” he tweeted. “The people of NYC will always stand with our brothers and sisters in Israel who face down terrorism and persevere.” Yang’s tweet was immediately met by criticism from progressive activists and politicians.
Yang’s comments contrasted with other Democratic nominees in the mayoral race in New York, such as Kathryn Garcia and Scott Stringer, the only Jewish candidate who declared support for Israel whilst acknowledging the violence that Palestinian civilians were being subjected to.
While every mayor of New York since 1948 has been a vocal supporter of Israel, it appears what was once an obviously politically correct stance for a mayoral candidate is now under scrutiny in the American political discourse. And now, the Progressive wing of the Democratic party appears to be ready to bring these shifts in the discourse to Congress. This comes in stark contrast to the position of Democrat Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who stated, “it is in the US national security interest to support security in Israel… as always, Israel has a right to defend herself.”
Progressive Backlash in the Halls of Congress
Palestinian Congresswoman Representative Rashida Tlaib’s emotional May 14th address on the House floor was the first statement by a US politician that called for a federal response centering the lives of the Palestinian civilians being lost to an American-financed military power.
Tlaib’s call to action to address the US’ complicity in the violence in Gaza was then acted upon by a group of progressive House Democrats led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who on May 18th introduced a resolution to the House floor to block the aforementioned $735 million weapons sale. Former Democratic Presidential nominee Senator Bernie Sanders doubled down on Ocasio-Cortez’s efforts, introducing a second piece of legislation also aiming to block the US-sponsored sale of weapons to the IDF. “At a moment when US-made bombs are devastating Gaza, and killing women and children, we cannot simply let another huge arms sale go through without even a Congressional debate,” he tweeted on Thursday, May 19th.
Given the arms sales’ initial drafting on May 5th, weeks prior to the escalation of the violence in East Jerusalem and subsequently Gaza, some may view the Progressive Democrats’ actions as too little, too late. However, it is a testament to the intense coverage of the events in the Palestinian Territories by activists and alternative media, both over the last month and in recent years, in forcing a change in the global discourse despite censorship. The resulting shift in opinion of Israel’s illegal occupation among parts of the Democratic electorate has emboldened these Progressive politicians to question the US’ financial support of the IDF and introduce these pieces of legislation.
It is understood that these resolutions are likely to be rejected at both chambers of Congress given establishment Democrat and Republican politicians’ continued support of the right-wing Likud-led Israeli government. On April 22nd, more than 300 US legislators signed a letter urging continued unconditional support for Israel. The funding, they claimed, is “a vital and cost-effective expenditure which advances important US national security interests” and that conditioning it would be “irresponsible,” stressing that both past Republican and Democratic presidents “have [always] understood the strategic importance of providing Israel with security assistance.”
While it may not pass, the Senate vote on the resolutions forces the hand of many Democratic politicians to declare their stance on this increasingly divisive issue which was once a given afterthought for American foreign policy, potentially further deepening the divide between Progressive and establishment Democrats, a recurring theme in Joe Biden’s presidency so far.
The Power of Palestinian Resolve
As the dust of the IDF’s brutal siege settles and Gaza’s denizens can begin the grueling process of rebuilding, the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah has succeeded in their protest. They’ve brought the illegality of their neighbours’ evictions and the broader question of Israel’s illegal military occupation of the Palestinian territories into the spotlight of the international arena and, more impressively, national American discourse.
Where negative public opinion on the IDF’s routine bombardment of Gaza in the past two decades would quickly dissipate following the declaration of a piecemeal ceasefire, today it is being discussed in the bureaucratic halls of the world’s economic and military superpower that continues to finance and sanction the illegal occupation of the Palestinian Territories - the result of the consistent grassroots international pressure created by Palestinian activists and journalists reporting from the ground.