Not one Democrat has defended Israel over Gaza massacre

A boy waves a Palestinian flag, among thousands taking part in a Great March of Return rally along Gaza’s boundary with Israel, east of Jabaliya, 30 March. Israeli snipers opened fire on protesters all along the boundary, killing 14 that day and injuring 1,400 others.

Ramez Habboub APA images

There’s been a lot of online commentary about how so few members of Congress have criticized Israel’s premeditated massacre of civilian demonstrators in the besieged Gaza Strip last Friday.

Just three have done so on Twitter and one did so through an aide.

But here’s another remarkable fact that has not been noted: as far as The Electronic Intifada can determine, not one Democrat in the House or Senate has spoken up – at least on Twitter – to defend Israel’s actions.

This may reflect a recognition among Democratic leaders of how toxic Israel is becoming to a large segment of the party’s base.

In the bloodiest day since Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, Israeli forces killed 18 Palestinians on 30 March, including 14 protesters taking part in Great March of Return rallies near the Gaza-Israel boundary.

About 1,400 more were injured, including 800 by live ammunition. A Human Rights Watch investigation condemned the killings of protesters as “calculated” and warned Israeli leaders that they could face prosecution in international courts for the illegal attacks on unarmed civilians who posed no danger whatsoever.

Widely circulated videos show Israeli soldiers shooting down unarmed protesters.

With more marches planned by Palestinians in coming weeks, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has published ads in Israeli media urging soldiers to disobey patently illegal orders to shoot at unarmed demonstrators.

Congressional silence

On Monday, Said Arikat, the Washington correspondent of the Palestinian newspaper Alquds, reported that Senator Bernie Sanders was the only one of 535 US lawmakers to criticize Israel’s actions.

But Vermont’s Sanders was then followed by representatives Betty McCollum of Minnesota and Barbara Lee of California.

McCollum is the lead sponsor of a bill that would bar US military aid to Israel being used for the detention, abuse and torture of Palestinian children.

Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota tweeted out a CNN article reporting that the UN had called for an inquiry into the bloodshed in Gaza but refrained from any direct criticism of Israel:

Ellison has previously been an outspoken defender of Palestinian rights but self-censored as he sought election in 2016 as chair of his party’s governing body, the Democratic National Committee.

Ellison lost that race but was appointed vice-chair by winner and staunch Israel supporter Tom Perez.

Leahy law

An aide to Patrick Leahy, Sanders’ fellow Democratic senator from Vermont, told the publication Splinter that Israel’s actions in Gaza should be considered in light of a US law that prohibits aid to foreign military units that engage in human rights violations.

Leahy hasn’t tweeted about the matter.

But in 2016, Leahy himself and 10 fellow lawmakers, urged the US government to investigate abuses by Israeli and Egyptian forces under the law that bears Leahy’s name.

Splinter reported that none of the other 98 current members of the Senate – Democrat or Republican – had any comment on Gaza at all.

No support

That’s about it as far as criticism of Israel’s bloody attack in Gaza goes.

But how about support?

The Electronic Intifada performed a search of the Twitter accounts of every House and Senate Democrat.

As of Wednesday morning, not one of them had tweeted any statement in support of Israel’s narrative – debunked by Human Rights Watch and others – that Israel was defending itself against a “terrorist” threat.

The silence was universal, even among outspoken Democratic supporters of Israel or sponsors of pro-Israel legislation, such as Florida Representative Lois Frankel, Illinois Representative Brad Schneider and New York Senator Chuck Schumer.

Even Democrats who had spoken out in favor of Israel’s “right to self-defense” during its bloody 2014 assault on Gaza, such as representatives Gene Green of Texas and Rick Larsen of Washington, are apparently not publicly prepared to toe the same line this time around.

John Lewis won’t speak up

One particularly notable silence is perhaps that of civil rights hero Representative John Lewis of Georgia.

As someone who famously marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama, in the face of brutal state forces determined to maintain segregation, Lewis might have been expected to say something in support of civilians in Gaza mercilessly gunned down for demanding their rights.

But instead, the only tweet related to Israel on Lewis’ account dates from 2015, and it appears to use a reference to another iconic civil rights struggle – against segregated buses – to emphasize the congressman’s support for Israel.

Almost two decades ago, Palestinian human rights defender Raji Sourani called Lewis out on his reluctance to support the Palestinians’ struggle for liberation.

Democrats in Israel

Last month, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi led a congressional delegation to Israel. This was just days before the massacre in Gaza.

While several participants tweeted out photos from their trip, none offered any criticism for Israel’s violence against Palestinians in Gaza. But neither did any speak up in support.

Other Democrats recently tweeted about how pleased they were to meet with delegations from the powerful Israel lobby group AIPAC, or to take part in its conference last month.

Yet none of them tweeted public support for Israel’s attack in Gaza:

Shifting opinions

What can we make of the remarkable fact that though the number of Democrats willing to criticize Israel is tiny, it still exceeds the number – zero – willing to publicly defend it?

For several years there has been an ongoing shift in public opinion in the US: views on Israel have become highly polarized along partisan lines.

Support for Israel is now much more concentrated among Republicans, while the Democratic base has significantly shifted toward support for Palestinian rights.

This is especially true among younger Americans and the Trump administration’s tightened embrace of Israel may be accelerating the trend.

Another notable silence is that of Ben Cardin, the Maryland senator who is the chief sponsor of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, an AIPAC-backed bill aimed at suppressing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights.

If anyone was willing to publicly sell Israel’s claim that deploying snipers against civilians was necessary self-defense, it ought to have been him.

But even Cardin may see which way the wind is blowing. AIPAC has been having trouble recruiting Democrats to back Cardin’s bill and its leadership has recently admitted that progressives are deserting Israel.

What the Democrats’ Twitter record following the Gaza massacre suggests is that while a tiny number have the courage to speak up for Palestinian rights, none sees an advantage in defending Israel’s indefensible crimes.

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Silence in the face of criminal acts is collusion especially when these nuts get free weapons from the very people that give them...

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They may not have disembarked yet, but it seems that a good many rats are packing up their cheese and crackers, trying to locate that flotation vest, and sending discreet ship-to-shore messages inquiring after emergency accommodation.

Keep up the pressure- with BDS.

Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.