Some Democrats Push Back Against Biden Admin’s Statements On Israel-Palestine Violence

During a call with Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu, President Biden “conveyed his unwavering support for Israel’s security.”

People sit on the rubble of a residential building in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike, on May 13, 2021 in Gaza City, Gaza. | Getty Images
People sit on the rubble of a residential building in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike, on May 13, 2021 in Gaza City, Gaza. | Getty Images

President Joe Biden drew ire after telling reporters Wednesday that his “expectation and hope” is the continuing violence between Israel and occupied Palestine “will be closing down sooner than later” and that “Israel has a right to defend itself.” Progressive Democrats and groups have called the Biden administration out for not condemning Israel’s actions that contributed to the recent violence and dozens of Palestinian deaths, including children.

Since an Israeli raid on a mosque in Jerusalem on Monday, Hamas has fired rockets into Israel, and Israel has attacked the Gaza Strip with airstrikes. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, 83 Palestinians have been killed in airstrikes since Monday. Seven people in Israel have been killed, the Associated Press reports.

The president also spoke Wednesday to Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has ramped up airstrikes in recent days and could stand to gain politically from the crisis, according to multiple analysts and reports. During his conversation with the Israeli PM, Biden did not mention Palestine, but “conveyed his unwavering support for Israel’s security” and “condemned the rocket attacks” that Hamas militants directed at Israel, according to a readout of the call.

Those urging the Biden administration to back Palestine have pointed to the U.S. government’s multi-billion-dollar contributions to the Israeli military as well as Sec. Blinken’s vow in February to make human rights the “center” of U.S. foreign policy. Some theories about the Biden administration’s apparent distance from the issue include its intention to shift foreign policy away from the Middle East.

The administration separately attracted blowback this week after Ned Price, spokesperson for the State Department, did not answer directly when asked if “Palestinians have a right to self-defense.” Price told Said Arikat, a reporter with Al Quds Daily, “Broadly speaking, Said, we believe in the concept of self-defense. We believe it applies to any state.”

On Wednesday, 25 democratic representatives, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN), wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, calling on him to “exert diplomatic pressure” to prevent the displacement of Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: “Blanket statements like [Israel has a right to defend itself] w/ [sic] little context or acknowledgement of what precipitated this cycle of violence — namely, the expulsions of Palestinians and attacks on Al Aqsa — dehumanize Palestinians & imply the US will look the other way at human rights violations. It’s wrong.”

In recent weeks, the Palestinian community has been rallying together to protest the expected forced displacement of Palestinian residents who live in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem to make way for Israeli settlers. Israel’s Supreme Court was slated to hear an appeal from the Palestinians on Monday, but the Justice Ministry postponed the hearing Sunday in the wake of ongoing protests and violence in Jerusalem.

On Monday, Israeli police raided the compound that surrounds al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest places in Islam, firing tear gas and rubber bullets at Palestinians, footage shows. Some Palestinian demonstrators responded by throwing stones.

Humanitarian organization Palestine Red Crescent reported that more than 300 Palestinians were injured during the skirmish Monday, according to the Associated Press. At least 228 were treated for their injuries at hospitals and clinics, and seven were in serious condition. More than 20 Israeli police officers were reportedly hurt and three were hospitalized.

Rep. Omar responded to President Biden’s call with PM Netanyahu, saying: “No mention of Sheikh Jarrah. No mention of the al-Aqsa raid. No mention of the 13 children killed in air strikes. No mention of the ongoing occupation of millions in an open air prison.”

Rep. Omar continued: “You aren’t prioritizing human rights. You’re siding with an oppressive occupation.”

Jewish Voices for Peace, a national organization that is against Israel’s occupation of Palestine, echoed AOC and Omar in its response to President Biden’s call.

“This is not a complicated situation,” the organization said Wednesday. “The Biden administration is defending a government that is forcibly displacing Palestinians from their homes, assaulting Palestinian worshippers, and raining bombs on an open air prison.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a press conference that between last weekend and Wednesday, the administration has “had more than 25 high-level calls and meetings” with officials from Israel, the Palestinian authority, and other countries in the region, including Qatar, Tunisia, Jordan, and Egypt.

This week, protests in solidarity with Palestine have taken place in cities, including New York City, Washington, D.C., London, and Istanbul.