A House Divided: Gaza Violence and Embassy Divides American Lawmakers

Reactions in Washington highlight the growing partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats on policy related to Israel and the Palestinians

Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
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In this photo combination, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening ceremony of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, May 14, 2018, left, and on the same day, Palestinians in Gaza City carry the body of Mousab Abu Leila, who was killed during a protest at the border of Israel and Gaza. Netanyahu praised the inauguration of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem as a "great day for peace," as dozens of Palestinians have been killed in Gaza amidst ongoing clashes. (AP Photo)
In this photo combination, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening ceremony of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, May 14, 2018, left, and on the same day, PalestiniaCredit: /AP
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON – As Israel and the Trump administration celebrated the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem on Monday – and as the army killed dozens of Palestinian protesters on the Gaza border – reactions in D.C. signaled the growing divide between Republicans and Democrats on Israeli-Palestinian policy.

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Among Republican legislators and activists, the events in Jerusalem were a cause for celebration. A number of prominent Republican senators, including Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) and Ted Cruz (Texas), flew to Israel to attend the ceremony. Other senators published statements of strong support for the Trump administration's move.

Marco Rubio (Florida) wrote, "The unequivocal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital comes after presidents in both parties stalled our embassy’s rightful relocation to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. So I truly appreciate the Trump administration for implementing U.S. law and finally moving our embassy."

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Bob Corker (Tennessee), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he applauded Trump "for following through on the bipartisan will of Congress to relocate the U.S. Embassy, which is a long overdue acknowledgment of Jerusalem as Israel's seat of government."

Rob Portman (Ohio) said: "Jerusalem has always been the capital of Israel. I’ve long supported moving the U.S. Embassy there, and am pleased to finally see the new U.S. Embassy opening in Jerusalem today."

Among Democrat senators and representatives, even those who expressed support for the embassy's relocation to Jerusalem called on the Trump administration to pursue an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement more seriously.

Rep. Ted Deutch (Florida) said that “Jerusalem is the historic capital of the Jewish people and will always be the capital of the modern State of Israel." However, he added, "We must not lose sight of the goal of two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security."

>> Joe Lieberman, lone Democrat at Jerusalem event, lauds Trump on embassy move, Iran deal >>

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (California) published a statement that highlighted the deadly events in Gaza as the most important development of the day.

"Today’s protests in Gaza have left more than 40 Palestinians dead and hundreds more injured – it’s just heartbreaking. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is desperate. Instead of cutting aid, the Trump administration must restore our leadership role and do what it can to alleviate the Palestinians’ suffering," she wrote.

Feinstein added that "the location of the embassy is a final-status issue that should have been resolved as part of peace negotiations where both sides benefit, not just one side. Israel will only know true security when it is at peace with its neighbors."

As she put it, "In the aftermath of the embassy opening today, the Trump administration should state its unequivocal support for a two-state solution and work with our allies to restart talks between the Palestinians and Israelis so that a more secure future for all can be achieved.”

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vermont) offered a harsher condemnation of Israel's actions in Gaza, stating: "Over 50 killed in Gaza today and 2,000 wounded, on top of the 41 killed and more than 9,000 wounded over the past weeks. This is a staggering toll. Hamas violence does not justify Israel firing on unarmed protesters. The United States must play an aggressive role in bringing Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and the international community together to address Gaza’s humanitarian crisis and stop this escalating violence."

Rep. Jim McGovern (Massachusetts) said the killings in Gaza were "completely unacceptable and unjustified, and they must stop now."

A rare voice in the Democratic Party was Sen. Chuck Schumer (New York), who leads the Democratic minority in the Senate and for decades has been a strong supporter of relocating the embassy.

Schumer congratulated the Trump administration for its decision and did not mention events in Gaza. The New York senator has received praise over the years from pro-Israeli groups for his positions, but has come under growing criticism from the left of his own party.

In Washington, more than 100 young American-Jewish activists from the group IfNotNow protested in various parts of the city against the embassy relocation and Israel's reaction to the Gaza protests. The group also included rabbinical students.

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