Under pressure from Squad, Biden finally comes out for Gaza ceasefire
Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, an original member of the Squad, confronted President Biden on the tarmac at the Detroit airport, insisting that he step up action to protect the Palestinians. Tlaib demanded that Biden take a strong stand demanding an end to Israeli attacks on Gaza and also on attacks on Palestinian rights everywhere in the region. | Evan Vucci/AP

WASHINGTON—Continuing Israeli Air Force attacks on Palestinian-controlled Gaza, in disproportionate retaliation for Hamas rockets fired at Israel, finally drew some concern from Biden after stepped up demands from congressional members of the Squad and others in Congress.

In his fourth phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu since the fighting began two weeks ago, Biden finally demanded that Israel de-escalate the barrages, which have killed at least 230 Palestinians, including more than 60 children.

And at least six lawmakers, including the four original members of “The Squad,” plus Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., a Painter and past co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, introduced a joint resolution to halt the latest $735 million U.S. arms sale to Israel.

Israeli attacks are continuing until the last minute before any ceasefire has a chance to take effect. | Hatem Moussa/AP

Biden told the right-wing extremist Netanyahu he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire,” a White House readout of it said. But the bombing continued—even over protests from political foes of Netanyahu inside Israel itself.

An example of the intensity of the bombing: The Israel Defense Forces said at 10 p.m., Israeli time, on May 19 that planes dropped 122 bombs in 25 minutes on overnight runs. The military claimed it was targeting 12 kilometers of Hamas’ tunnel network, weapons storage sites, and a command center under Gaza.

All this has drawn a lot of flak in the U.S., and not just in Biden’s phone call to Netanyahu.

“For decades, the U.S. has sold billions of dollars in weaponry to Israel without ever requiring them to respect basic Palestinian rights. In so doing, we have directly contributed to the death, displacement, and disenfranchisement of millions,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., the Squad member who authored the resolution to veto the arms deal.

“At a time when so many, including President Biden, support a ceasefire, we should not be sending ‘direct attack’ weaponry to [Israeli] Prime Minister Netanyahu to prolong this violence,” she added.

Fellow Squad member Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., directly confronted Biden on May 18 about supporting Netanyahu when the president came to Dearborn, Mich., to tout—and drive—the UAW-made Ford F-150 electric trucks being rolled out there. Tlaib’s co-sponsoring the arms deal ban.

Tlaib, whose parents and grandmother are Palestinian, and whose district, including Dearborn, includes the largest population of Arab-Americans in the U.S., bluntly told Biden at their airport meeting the bombing must stop.

“Palestinian human rights are not a bargaining chip and must be protected, not negotiated,” Tlaib’s office quoted her as saying.

“Approving this sale now, while failing to even try to use it as leverage for a ceasefire, sends a clear message to the world — the U.S. is not interested in peace, and does not care about the human rights and lives of Palestinians,” Tlaib added when the arms sales ban resolution was unveiled.

Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib also attracted Reps. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Andre Carson, D-Ind., Cori Bush, D-Mo., Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Mark Pocan, D-Wis., as cosponsors. Jayapal chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Pocan, a Painter, is its former co-chair with her.

Lawmakers “repeatedly requested a ceasefire in Israel and Palestine, yet once again, Benjamin Netanyahu has refused,” said Pocan. “That leaves us at a point where the only way to prevent innocent children and others from being killed is to take a necessary look at future weapons sales to the region.

“Peace in Israel and Palestine is in everyone’s best interest, and if anyone refuses that, we must question how they use our assistance and possibly condition future assistance,” he added.

First-term Rep. Bush, a Squad member and a Black Lives Matter activist elected to Congress, told colleagues in a House floor speech the day before there are similarities between BLM’s campaign against U.S. systemized racism and Palestinians’ drive for their own homeland.

Senate Republicans tried to wrap themselves in the Israeli flag with a one-sided pro-Netanyahu resolution. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., a longtime Netanyahu and arms sales critic—and the only U.S. lawmaker who has ever lived in Israel—countered. Debate on both moves started after 5 p.m. and ran late into the evening.

“Whereas every Palestinian life matters; and Whereas every Israeli life matters,” it read, “Be it resolved, the Senate urges an immediate cease-fire to prevent any further loss of life and further escalation of conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and supports diplomatic efforts” to solve the conflict between the two.

The weapons sales ban drew support from more than 70 U.S. organizations, including the National Writers Union and Labor Against War And Racism, the renamed U.S. Labor Against War. It held a national zoom meeting of members on the evening of May 19 to plan its next moves.

Israeli bombing of Gaza also drew protests from The News Guild, a Communications Workers sector, after an Israeli bombing run the weekend before deliberately hit and destroyed a 12-story office building that included the bureaus of both the Associated Press—which the Guild represents—and al-Jazeera.

“The intentional bombing…was a blatant attack on press freedom that was clearly intended to prevent independent reporting on the government’s actions. It violates international law,” the Guild said.

In an indication of U.S. involvement in the war, the Daily Beast reported that while Israel has a vigorous and sophisticated arms industry, the $735 million arms deal “includes Boeing Joint Direct Attack Munitions, from the same family as the missile that destroyed the AP and Al-Jazeera offices.”

Even longtime U.S. supporters of Israel are upset by the continuing Israeli attacks. A typical statement, the weekend before, came from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the lead sponsor of a bill to cut off U.S. funding of the Israeli military. | Susan Walsh/AP

“I am deeply troubled by reports of Israeli military actions that resulted in the death of innocent civilians in Gaza as well as Israeli targeting of buildings housing international media outlets,” he began.

After saying Israel has a right to defend itself, the senator concluded “there must be a full accounting of actions that have led to civilian deaths and destruction of media outlets. All political and military leaders have a responsibility to uphold the rules and laws of war and it is of the utmost importance for all actors to find ways to deescalate and reduce tensions.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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