How The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Is Dividing Democrats

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Michael Ginsberg Congressional Correspondent
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Israel’s latest conflict with Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip illuminates one of the major divides in the Democratic Party.

While President Joe Biden, Speaker of the House and California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and Majority Leader and Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer expressed support for Israel, major left-wing figures like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib claimed that Palestinians are subject to “ethnic cleansing.”

Hours before Israeli Defense Forces soldiers conducted targeted strikes against major Hamas targets, including a bank and extensive tunnel networks, 11 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus took to the House floor where they bemoaned Israel’s response to thousands of rockets launched from the Gaza Strip over the past week. The progressives claimed that it was part of a “horrific campaign against Palestinians.”

Democrats who are more supportive of Israel, like New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer and Virginia Rep. Elaine Luria, responded.

“No one here should make excuses for a terrorist organization. Who is the next target of their sympathy? ISIS? Al Qaeda? Hezbollah?” Gottheimer said. (RELATED: 9 Things You Need To Know About Hamas—Straight From Its Charter)

“Some call [the Israelis] villains for defending their homes and their families; for not turning a cheek and a blind eye to terror and bombings and missiles raining down,” Luria added. “Who would turn a cheek when their mere right to exist is questioned? Or turn a blind eye when history has been so unforgiving? Not you and not the Israelis.”

Congressional Democrats were more united in 2014, during the last Israel-Palestinian conflict, although cracks had already begun to emerge. The Obama administration’s relationship with Netanyahu and Israel was notably tense, owing in large part to former President Obama’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons agreement with Iran.

However, the most explicit attacks on Israel were confined to the activist-left. For example, Professor Steven Salaita infamously lost a tenure offer from the University of Illinois after he published a series of anti-Semitic tweets, including asking if “anybody would be surprised … if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children.”

Late night host Jon Stewart complained that Israel warned its citizens of Hamas bombings with “a high-tech smart phone alert system, but only warned Palestinians of IDF bombings with “a smaller warning bombing — an amuse-boom if you will.” The IDF routinely activates a knock-on-roof measures to let the inhabitants know that it is a target so they can escape; it also has the Shin Bet make phone calls to residents to warn them to vacate the area.

The 2016 Democratic presidential primary constituted a major shift in the party’s stance towards Israel when Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders integrated criticism of Israel into his messaging. For example, when Sanders slammed Israel for using “disproportionate” force in Gaza in 2014, CNN described him as “taking a sledgehammer to the political status quo.”

Sanders later endorsed then-Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison for Democratic National Convention chair, despite Ellison’s history of anti-Semitic remarks. Ellison complained that his comments that Israel “mobilized its Diaspora in America to do its bidding in America” were “selectively edited and taken out of context.” (RELATED: Democratic Donor: Keith Ellison ‘Clearly An Antisemite’)

Members of “The Squad,” first elected in 2016, explicitly allied themselves with the Sanders-wing of the party. Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar and Tlaib have been accused of making anti-Semitic comments on multiple occasions.

Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, who was elected in 2020, considers herself a member of “The Squad.” On Thursday, she echoed comments from Tlaib and Omar.

“We are anti-war, we are anti-occupation, and we are anti-apartheid,” Bush said on the House floor.

Bush’s fellow freshman, New York Rep. Ritchie Torres, describes himself as a pro-Israel progressive, demonstrating that even among the newer generation of activists-turned-politicians, there is some dissent.

Firing rockets at civilians in Israel is an act of terrorism, period. The latest rocket fire underscores the need for missile defense programs, such as Iron Dome, which protects Israeli civilians—both Arabs and Jews—from the terrorism of Hamas,” Torres said.