“The myth of shared values is coming to an end,” a Palestinian American activist said.
As Israel bombarded the Gaza Strip in response to rockets fired by the Palestinian militant group Hamas on Thursday night, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Detroit Democrat and Congress’ only Palestinian American, delivered a tearful appeal on the House floor for solidarity with Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation.
“Help me understand the math: How many Palestinians have to die for their lives to matter?” Tlaib asked while wearing a traditional Palestinian “keffiyeh” scarf around her neck. “Life under apartheid strips Palestinians of human dignity.”
Democratic Reps. Mark Pocan (Wis.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Betty McCollum (Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Cori Bush (Mo.), André Carson (Ind.), Jesús “Chuy” Garcia (Ill.), Joaquin Castro (Texas) and Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) all joined Tlaib in delivering critical remarks over the course of what may have been Congress’ first-ever hour of Palestine solidarity speeches.
This group of 12 lawmakers ― Rep. Marie Newman (Ill.) also co-sponsored the speeches in absentia ― made a point, at times, of objecting to Palestinian militant groups’ targeting of Israeli civilians.
But their chief diversion from traditionally bipartisan, pro-Israel orthodoxy was that the United States must use its power as Israel’s chief benefactor to stop, to the extent possible, disproportionate retaliation by Israeli forces and encourage an end to the ethnocratic occupation of territory captured in 1967. Omar, never one to mince words, dubbed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “far right ethno-nationalist.”
The pro-Palestinian speeches ― and a series of other statements, bills and other efforts to shape policy ― reflect a growing sympathy for the Palestinian cause among Americans in general, and Democrats in particular, that is finally manifesting on Capitol Hill.
The changes are not yet transformative. Proponents of unconditional support for Israeli government policy continue to call the shots. The prospect of a U.S. president or Congress willing to even threaten the withholding of the financial or diplomatic aid to Israel in the interest of curbing the growth of settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories, or other practices that violate international law, remains a dim fantasy
But there is a growing bloc of pro-Palestinian dissenters in Congress that marks a tidal shift from just a few years ago, advocates for Palestinian freedom say.
“There is a far stronger cohort of Democrats in the House and the Senate making statements that have not been made in the past. And that’s noticeable,” said James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute. “It’s reflective of the shifting demographics within the party, and shifting attitudes within the party.”
Perhaps no lawmaker more embodies that shift than Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). In Aug. 2014, Warren shocked many progressives with her impassioned defense of Israeli bombardments of Gaza, including the targeting of schools and hospitals, on the grounds that Palestinian militants used those sites to launch attacks. The position put her to the right of then-President Barack Obama’s administration, which said it was “appalled” by the Israeli bombing of a United Nations school in Gaza.
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