The Democratic Party is divided on the Israeli-Palestinian question, with the left wing seeing the conflict through a racial justice lens, and a more centrist group, personified in President Joe Biden, reluctant to condemn the Israeli bombings.
Since the start of the tensions that have caused 227 Palestinian deaths and 12 Israeli ones, the American president, Joe Biden, has remained very discreet regarding the conflict. Even if the White House inhabitant invited Benjamin Netanyahu at the beginning of the week to work toward a cease-fire, he once again took the usual American position on May 12, declaring that “Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory.” And his press secretary clarified that the president is concentrating on diplomatic efforts in private rather than on public declarations.
In the House of Representatives, several Democratic representatives adopted a much different tone. Breaking the tradition of almost unconditional support for the Hebrew state, the young left wing of the Democratic Party is speaking a very militant language that links the Palestinian movement and the antiracist Black Lives Matter struggle. On Twitter, the hashtag “Palestinian Lives Matter” is used by activists across the world to share images of Palestinian victims. “It is our duty to end the apartheid system that for decades has subjected Palestinians to inhumane treatment and racism,” declared Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American elected to the House of Representatives, in a speech to Congress on May 13.
Cori Bush, a Missouri representative active in the movement against police brutality, made the parallel between “militarized police” in the United States and in Israel, and declared that “Until all our children are safe, we will continue to fight for our rights in Palestine and in Ferguson,” the city that saw the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley also made a similar comparison in her speech: “Palestinians are being told the same thing as Black folks in America − there is no acceptable form of resistance.”
A Dichotomy That Eliminates the Role of Hamas
Seen across this racial prism mirrored by American history, Israel is the oppressor and the Palestinians are the oppressed, a dichotomy that eliminates the role of Hamas. However, it has been several years since the convergence between antiracism and the pro-Palestinian activism that divides the Democrats came into existence. Meanwhile, in 2016, when the Black Lives Matter movement included in its manifesto a phrase implying that the U.S. was “complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people,” numerous associations and leftist personalities distanced themselves. The support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel by representatives like Tlaib and Ilhan Omar is also a source of discord.
On the opposite end of the Democratic spectrum, there are elected officials who reject all criticism of Israel. Like Ted Deutch, a Florida representative, who declared to the House: “If I am asked [to choose] between a terrorist organization and our democratic ally, I will stand with Israel every day of the week.”
Between these two poles, a third lane is materializing. In fact, the Netanyahu government, with its politics of annexations in the West Bank and its alliances with the extreme right and Donald Trump, started to deter centrist Democrats. Recently, 28 senators and over a hundred House Democrats wrote to Biden asking him to call for an immediate cease-fire. And Democratic officials close to the pro-Israel lobby the American Israel Public Affairs Committee started to distance themselves, although timidly. New York Rep. Gregory Meeks tried to delay the selling of arms to Israel, before changing his mind, and New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez said he was “deeply troubled by reports of Israeli military actions that resulted in the death of innocent civilians in Gaza,” a sentence that could seem insignificant but that was treated everywhere as a significant breach.
For over 10 years, more moderate pro-Israeli voices have been heard, as is indicated by the emergence of J Street, a pro-Israel and pro-peace organization that does not hesitate to criticize the Netanyahu government, and that wants to be an alternative to the influential AIPAC lobby. But if the Democratic Party is less unanimous in its support for Israel, Biden has ignored this new tendency until now, avoiding for the moment publicly condemning the actions of the Netanyahu government.