Monday, October 30, 2023

J Street Urges Democrats: Support Gaza War Resolution or Risk Losing Endorsement


J Street Urges Democrats to Support Resolution Backing Gaza War

On Tuesday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and Ranking Member Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., introduced a resolution pledging Congress would stand “with Israel as it defends itself against the barbaric war launched by Hamas and other terrorists.” Nearly every member of Congress announced their support for the resolution — with the exception of 13 Democrats.

The resolution, however, does not mention Palestinian civilians, who face an ongoing siege of medieval proportions — with Israeli forces cutting off access to food, water, and electricity — and calls for further restricting and scrutinizing imports because of Hamas’s use of bulldozers and other rudimentary equipment to break down the border fence with Israel.

The lack of any attempt in the resolution to urge Israel to avoid civilian casualties, as the Palestinian territory stares down an apocalyptic and ongoing massacre, has led to a small pocket of resistance to the resolution among a handful of Democrats.

The liberal organization J Street is working to break down that resistance. J Street, which dubs itself both “pro-peace and pro-Israel,” often serves as a counterweight to the more hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee. On this resolution, however, there’s no daylight between the two.

J Street has been warning Democrats that if they don’t sponsor the McCaul–Meeks resolution, they will lose the group’s endorsement come reelection time, according to sources familiar with the position J Street has been relaying to members of Congress.

Asked for comment, J Street confirmed it has made the resolution a priority, providing a statement from Kevin Rachlin, vice president of government affairs:

“An important part of being in political partnership is ensuring that one’s core values are shared — especially in moments of crisis. We have been reaching out to all of our endorsed candidates to let them know that for J Street, a pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy organization, signing on to the broad-based congressional resolution that condemns Hamas, and states support for the State and people of Israel, is a deeply important affirmation of one of our core values. We are urging our endorsed candidates and all Members of Congress to vote yes on this resolution if and when it is brought to a vote.”

While the resolution has yet to officially pass, Israel has been buoyed by the United States’s continual assurance of unwavering support. On Thursday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin remarked that American military aid would remain unconditional, though President Joe Biden, in his more recent remarks, made an about-face and has begun to insist that civilian lives be protected in Gaza. On a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, Biden said that “it is really important that Israel, with all the anger and frustration … that exists, is that they operate by the rules of war.” The resolution J Street insists all Democrats support does not include the type of admonition now being made by Biden himself.

On the Hill, Democratic leadership has declined to defend members who’ve urged a ceasefire — among them the holdouts from the McCaul-Meeks resolution — when they have come under attack.

Human Rights Watch has confirmed that Israel, in its airstrikes, has been using white phosphorus in violation of international law — an ordinance prohibited particularly for its risk of threatening civilians and surrounding buildings and structures. On Thursday, Israel’s Air Force boasted on Twitter of its use of 6,000 bombs to raze entire city blocks — or, as the military put it, “terrorist targets” — in Gaza; the account posted accompanying photos depicting the rows of buildings leveled by Israeli strikes.

Later Thursday, Israel ordered 1.1 million people in northern Gaza to leave the area within 24 hours, in what is believed to be a warning of a looming ground invasion. Human rights organizations as well as the United Nations have called such a rushed evacuation impossible. Nevertheless, Israel has stuck by its order to evacuate half the territory, which houses Gaza’s main hospital.

Some 70 of the Gazan civilians who heeded the orders to flee were reportedly bombed and killed by Israel anyhow. Israel has also killed at least seven journalists.

Israeli strikes have killed at least 1,900 people in Gaza, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, since Hamas’s attack, which itself killed more than 1,000 Israelis, many of them civilians.

J Street has also expressed support for a 55-signature letter, led by Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Mark Pocan, D-Wis., urging the Biden administration to work to ensure that people in Gaza have access to food, water, and electricity, and that Israel follows international law. The letter discouraged hate crimes against both Jews and Muslims and asked Biden to guarantee that any supplemental funding requests include aid for Palestinians and Israelis.

The signatories of the smaller letter, signed by just 26 percent of the Democratic caucus, also condemned Hamas’s attack and stated that Israel has the right to defend itself — but they wrote that Israel’s response must acknowledge the millions of Palestinian civilians in Gaza “who themselves are victims of Hamas.”

The article highlights the division among Democrats regarding the resolution introduced by McCaul and Meeks. J Street’s efforts to rally support for the resolution are discussed, along with their warning to Democrats about losing endorsement if they don’t sponsor it. The article also touches on President Biden’s changing stance on civilian casualties and Israel’s use of white phosphorus in violation of international law. The dire situation in Gaza is emphasized, with details about the evacuation order and the number of casualties. The support for a separate letter urging humanitarian aid for Gaza is also mentioned. Overall, the article provides a comprehensive overview of the current situation and the different positions taken by key players.

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