WASHINGTON - Two blocs of Democratic lawmakers gave a series of remarks on the House floor on the current flare-up between Israel and the Palestinians, with one offering staunch defense of Israel amid Gaza rocket fire with the other offering unabashed support for Palestinians.
It is perhaps the most staunch example to date of the growing rift within the party concerning the longstanding U.S. stance toward Israel, with prominent lawmakers growing increasingly emboldened in their support of Palestinians and offering unprecedented criticism of Israel within the halls of Congress.
The first bloc of speakers supporting Israel included Reps. Elaine Luria, Brad Schneider, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Josh Gottheimer, Brad Sherman, Ted Deutch, Kathy Manning, Jim Costa and Lois Frankel.
The second bloc of speakers was organized by Rep. Mark Pocan. He was joined by Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Betty McCollum, Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Jan Schakowsky, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, Andre Carson and Joaquin Castro.
The pro-Israel bloc used their respective one-minute remarks to defend Israel's right to self-defense, decrying the rocket fire from Gaza indiscriminately targeting Israeli civilians while accusing Hamas of using Gazan civilians as human shields.
The pro-Palestinian bloc used their respective remarks to decry longstanding Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, as well as U.S policy and the Biden administration for empowering such behavior, beyond the events in Jerusalem and Gaza over the past several weeks. They also respectively contextualized Israel's treatment of Palestinians through their own respective lenses — ranging from their religious heritage, their experience encountering militarized policing and U.S. military funding to human rights abuses abroad.
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The slate of pro-Israel speakers was organized by Luria - who has quickly become one of Congress' most stalwart supporters of Israel - when word got out of the progressive bloc's plans to speak in support of Palestinians from the floor.
"From the ashes of the Holocaust, the massacre of 6 million of our brethren, Jews returned to their ancestral homeland to build an oasis in the desert - a democracy of their own. Jews, persisted, even in the face of the ultimate evil. And today - in their rightful homeland, they are attacked from within," Luria said.
"Moral clarity - that's what this moment calls for. Terrorists launch rockets at civilians, launch rockets from schools and hospitals, putting kids at risk. They use humans as shields, Hamas is a terrorist organization, sworn to wiping out the only Jewish state on earth," Deutch said, imploring the House not to be fooled by supposed false choices between Israel and Hamas.
Manning highlighted her own experiences running for bomb shelters while visiting Sderot upon rocket alarm sirens sounding. "When a democratic country is attacked by terrorists. It has the right, and indeed the duty to protect its people," Manning said.
'Palestinians aren't going anywhere'
Pocan, introducing his bloc, noted that their outspoken criticism wasn't limited to the events of the past few weeks, but on the disproportionate discrimination faced by Palestinians.
Tlaib highlighted how her mere presence as a Palestinian-American in Congress shakes up the stauts quo, reminding her colleagues that Palestinians, too, are human beings and justice seekers. "Palestinians aren't going anywhere. No matter how much money you send to Israel's apartheid government," she said.
Omar linked her own experiences as a child refugee to the pain felt by both Palestinian and Israeli families at the moment, as well as Americans with ties to the region. She detailed how millions of Palestinians have been continually displaced from their homes since 1948 in what she termed "one of the largest and longest lasting refugee crises in human history" and described Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an "ethno-nationalist." She also decried how members of Congress have not received a briefing or had hearings on the situation and don't know whether U.S. aid to Israel is being used to violate Palestinian human rights.
Ocasio-Cortez said the U.S. must acknowledge its role in the injustice and human rights violations of Palestinians. "This is not about 'both sides,' this is about an imbalance of power," decrying Israel for banning Tlaib and Omar from entering the country in 2019. "We have to have the courage to name our contributions, and sometimes I can't help but wonder if the reason we don't do that. If we're scared to stand up to the incarceration of children in Palestine is because maybe it'll force us to confront the incarceration of children here on our border. If by standing up to the injustices there, it will prompt us to stand up to the injustices here."