President Biden’s message in response to Hamas’s October 7 massacre of Israeli civilians has been swift and clear: the United States stands with Israel as it defends its citizens in the wake of this brutal and horrific attack. Responses from members of Congress, while unified on a basic message of sympathy and solidarity, have also been more diverse.
Members of Congress are navigating these issues in a new and unprecedented climate, colored by shifting political dynamics, engagement on social media, and grassroots activism on a level never before seen on Israeli and Palestinian issues in the United States. As policymakers feel the push-and-pull of loud voices and strong opinions, it is important for them to ensure that their responses and decisions that deeply impact the future of the region take into account a few basic principles.
Just as there is no question that ensuring Israeli security is a long-term American strategic interest, so too is ensuring an end to Palestinian suffering. The October 7 terrorist massacre brought Israeli security needs into stark relief in a new and paradigm-shifting way unprecedented since 1973.
For a generation of policymakers, including younger members of Congress and their staff, the horrific mass murder of children, women, and men, kidnappings, beheadings, rapes, and torture have turned the recollecting stories associated with the days of yore into a waking nightmare. These unfathomable events have also brought into stark relief for policymakers the reality of those who seem to value a Jewish life less than others. This bias masquerading as far-left policy shows their true colors of allyship.
In the same vein, the American press has shown a bright light on the growing Palestinian civilian death count and increasingly dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, bringing a new heightened consciousness to the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza. The same younger generation of policymakers has grown accustomed to a “cycle of violence” with sparse images of Palestinian casualties, lasting a mere few days or a couple of weeks. What we are witnessing is a completely different reality of human suffering— the terrible tragedy of children killed and innocent lives lost as collateral damage, mass internal displacement, and the lack of food, water, medicine, and electricity to power life-saving equipment.
The Palestinian people of Gaza suffer both from Hamas denying them these basic humanitarian needs and from Israel’s need to militarily uproot Hamas. Similarly, this disastrous situation has also unmasked the twisted bias of those eagerly calling for collective punishment of the Palestinian people, disguising it as concern for Israeli security. Seeking to take advantage of Jewish pain for political gain, they too are showing their true bigoted agenda.
Sound policymaking is able to recognize both truths: that Israel has been attacked and is justifiably feeling vulnerable in a way unmatched in a generation or longer, and that the inhumane Palestinian civilian suffering in Gaza is acute, unfair, and undeserved. Policymakers should also take this opportunity to look around and take account of who are the real allies of security and prosperity for all, and who use the lives of real people to promote their own dangerously prejudiced and fanatical agenda.
The challenges faced by members of Congress in navigating these challenges are immense and the tensions have arguably never been higher. Those who are able to successfully feel the deep agony and also affirm the right to security and dignity for both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples in this moment will be remembered in the long memory of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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