A group of Senate Democrats is calling for a ceasefire in the Middle East after a week of conflict between the Israeli military and Hamas that has left more than 200 people dead, including dozens of Palestinian women and children.
But the lawmakers’ push for an immediate end to the violence comes amid a broader split over whether the United States should push for an end to a conflict in which civilians are being killed. While some Democrats are calling for an immediate halt, others are keeping quiet or backing the ongoing Israeli military operation. Republicans, meanwhile, remain largely united in their support of the bombardment of Gaza.
The call for a ceasefire came in the form of a statement released Sunday night by Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), who along with 27 of his colleagues is urging an immediate end to the airstrikes between Israel and Palestine. “To prevent any further loss of civilian life and to prevent further escalation of conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories, we urge an immediate ceasefire,” read the statement.
Joint Statement Urging Ceasefire in Middle East pic.twitter.com/nkTNFqH7re
— Jon Ossoff (@ossoff) May 16, 2021
Hours after Ossoff released his statement on Sunday night, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Republican Sen. Todd Young released one of their own calling for a ceasefire, making sure to stress that Israel has the right to retaliate against against aggression from the Palestinian militant group. “Israel has the right to defend itself from Hamas’ rocket attacks, in a manner proportionate with the threat its citizens are facing,” they wrote. “As a result of Hamas’ rocket attacks and Israel’s response, both sides must recognize that too many lives have been lost and must not escalate the conflict further. We are encouraged by reports that the parties are exploring a ceasefire. We hope that this ceasefire can be reached quickly and that additional steps can be taken to preserve a two-state future.”
The United Nations Security Council was prepared to released a statement calling for a ceasefire early last week, but it was blocked from doing so by the the United States. According to Reuters, the Biden administration says it feared such a statement could have undermined its own efforts to quell the violence.
As of Monday morning, at least 197 Palestinians have died in the past week, including at least 92 women and children, the Palestinian Ministry of Health has reported, and 10 Israelis have died from rockets fired by Hamas, according to the Israel Defense Forces. The airstrikes have continued into Monday morning.
The statements followed the deadliest day of a week of violent conflict. Earlier on Sunday, Hamas launched over 100 rockets into Israel, according to authorities, while Israeli airstrikes into Gaza killed at least 43 Palestinians and injured over 50 others, mostly women and children, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
The death toll on Sunday came a day after Israel escalated its assault on Gaza by bombing the home of a Hamas leader, and killing a family of 10, mostly children, in a refugee camp, according to the Associated Press. Israel also leveled a high-rise building that housed the AP and other media, which were given warning to escape. “We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organizations in Gaza,” AP President Gary Pruitt wrote in a statement, adding that though Israel claimed the building housed Hamas, the AP had seen “no indication” of this. “The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today,” Pruitt wrote.
The pushback from Congress goes beyond the statements released on Sunday. Several Democrats in both the Senate and House of Representatives have been critical of Israel’s aggression against Palestine since the conflict escalated last week. This has been true of progressives like Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), and others, but also of some establishment Democrats with a history of backing Israel. “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,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) wrote in a statement released Saturday.
Some have also called for the United States to reconsider the military aid it provides to Israel, both on the floor of Congress — as Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) did on Thursday — and through social media. “The devastation in Gaza is unconscionable,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tweeted on Sunday. “We must urge an immediate ceasefire. The killing of Palestinians and Israelis must end. We must also take a hard look at nearly $4 billion a year in military aid to Israel. It is illegal for U.S. aid to support human rights violations.”
But plenty of congressional Democrats are either avoiding the issue or backing Israel. Ossoff’s statement features 27 co-signatories, which means there are 22 Senate Democrats opted not to sign it (minus Murphy, who issued his own statement). And while Pressley and Tlaib criticized Israel on the floor of the House on Thursday, they weren’t without opposition. “[We] must declare that Israel has a right to exist. That Israel has the inherent right to defend itself,” said Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.). “That we have a duty, as Americans, to stand by the side of Israel in the face of attacks from terrorists and suicide bombers and malign regimes — who again, have the same goal in mind: to kill Jews. That now is the time to stand with Israel.”
Among the Democrats refraining from speaking out against Israel are the top rungs of the party’s leadership. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a staunch Israel defender who has co-sponsored legislation that would make boycotting the nation over its oppression of Palestinians a felony, has kept quiet. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has also stood by Israel, condemning Hamas and noting that Israel has “a right to defend itself” in a statement last week. Same goes for President Biden. “My expectation and hope is that this will be closing down sooner than later, but Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory,” he said on Wednesday.
But the violence has only intensified since Biden’s comments, and despite whatever conversations he’s having with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon.