Tensions Mount Among Democrats as Biden Urged to Put ‘Rule of Law’ at Forefront of US-Israel Policy


by Svetlana Ekimenko

The worst conflict in recent years in the Gaza Strip follows days of clashes in East Jerusalem and an Israeli court’s decision to side with Jewish settlers demanding several Palestinian families be evicted from their homes in the disputed city.

Israel’s allies in the Senate Democratic Caucus have been fending off increasing criticism of Tel Aviv’s aggression towards Palestinians.

Fighting between Israel and Gaza has descended into the worst violence in years, triggered by court rulings to evict Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem and  banning Palestinians from visiting holy sites in the city during Ramadan.

Key Democratic figures, however, are acknowledging Israel’s right to evict Palestinians and to respond to rocket attacks from Hamas.

“Israel is a country of law. I have confidence in their judicial system so let’s let their judicial system play this out,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), who applauded the handling of the current situation by the administration of President Joe Biden.

The Democrat, who is on the Foreign Relations Committee, also urged Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas to refrain from “unilateral action.” However, Cardin argued Israel’s right “to defend itself.”

“It’s an extremely serious situation with Hamas rockets coming into population centres,” he said.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) has also weighed in on the issue, questioning the ability of US senators to make judgments on the legality of the evictions.

“I don’t know. I’m not an expert in international law to come to that conclusion… I’m not about to preempt whatever they decide under Israeli laws,” he said.

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) denounced Hamas’ rocket attacks as “unacceptable,” saying:

“Israel being our biggest partner in the Middle East and the only true democracy, we’ve got to make sure Israel has what it needs to defend itself.”

Progressives Slam Israel’s ‘Abhorrent’ Plans

The simmering tensions within the ranks of the Democrats come as progressives like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) have slammed Israel’s “abhorrent” plans to evict Palestinian families from Jerusalem’s east, which are currently under review by Israel’s Supreme Court.

The forced removal of long-time Palestinian residents in Sheikh Jarrah is abhorrent and unacceptable. The Administration should make clear to the Israeli government that these evictions are illegal and must stop immediately. https://t.co/uI1vnTjDau

— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) May 8, 2021

​Senator Warren urged the Biden administration to “make clear to the Israeli government that these evictions are illegal and must stop immediately.”

Bernie Sanders (I-VT) tweeted that the US should “speak out strongly against the violence by government-allied Israeli extremists in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.”

The United States must speak out strongly against the violence by government-allied Israeli extremists in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and make clear that the evictions of Palestinian families must not go forward.

— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) May 8, 2021

​Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) on Monday denounced Israeli air strikes that killed civilians in Gaza as “an act of terrorism.”

Israeli air strikes killing civilians in Gaza is an act of terrorism.

Palestinians deserve protection.

Unlike Israel, missile defence programmes, such as Iron Dome, don’t exist to protect Palestinian civilians.

It’s unconscionable to not condemn these attacks on the week of Eid. https://t.co/vWWQfMqBkT

— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) May 10, 2021

Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) went on Twitter to underscore that “evictions of families in East Jerusalem would violate international law.”

As this makes clear, evictions of families in East Jerusalem would violate international law. If the Biden Administration puts the rule of law and human rights at the heart of its foreign policy, this is not a moment for tepid statements.

— Senator Chris Van Hollen (@ChrisVanHollen) May 9, 2021

He did clarify in an interview that he fully supported Israel’s right to defend itself from rocket attacks.

“The Biden administration should weigh in — first of all, as they have — to demand that Hamas stop firing rockets, but the Biden administration also needs to stand up for international law when it comes to issues like evictions, which are a violation of international law,” he was cited as saying.

A senior Democratic aide was cited by The Hill as saying the current situation revealed a “difficult dynamic.”

“Democratic senators, all senators, want to support Israel. But I think there are a lot of Democratic senators — more so on the Democratic side than the Republican side — who believe that Trump shifted the balance too far to the Israeli side at the expense of Palestinians and turned the back on things that the United States has backed Palestinians on,” the aide said.

Jewish-Arab Violence

The explosive situation on the Gaza Strip border began on Monday evening following days of clashes in East Jerusalem after Israeli authorities erected barriers around the Al-Aqsa Mosque – one of the holiest sites of Islam, ahead of Ramadan on 12 April, while leaving access to Jewish holy sites unobstructed.

Tensions ratcheted further after Israel’s Supreme Court ruled to evict a number of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem.

In response to the continuous rocket fire from the Gaza into Israel, we have now struck numerous Hamas terror targets in Gaza, including:

2 rocket launchers
2 military posts
8 Hamas terror operatives

Terror targets civilians. We target terror.

— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) May 10, 2021

​Since the start of the week, Palestinian militants have launched about 2,000 rockets toward Israel, while Tel Aviv has retaliated against the Hamas Islamist movement.



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