WASHINGTON: Twenty-eight US senators, led by newly elected Democrat Jon Ossoff of Georgia, issued a joint statement on Sunday night calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Israeli war against Gaza.
Treading the political boundaries very carefully, in their short statement they did not assign blame for the ongoing conflict. It was signed by an all-Democratic group of mostly liberal or progressive senators, including Dick Durbin of Illinois, who is the number two Democratic leader in the Senate, and former presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who are known for their outspoken support for Palestinian rights.
“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,” the senators said.
In less than a week of war more than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli airstrikes — mostly civilians, including 47 children — and more than 500 people have been wounded, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer did not sign the statement. Instead he echoed the stance of President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi in reiterating unequivocal support for Israel by stating that it “has the right to defend itself.”
The statement by the 28 senators came days after 25 Democratic members of House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, before the war started, denouncing the demolition by Israel of homes in Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem, especially the Sheikh Jarrah area, and ongoing plans to evict Palestinians to make room for Jewish settlers.
Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who signed Ossoff’s letter, previously issued his own statement, at the start of the war, in which he said that while he endorses Israel’s “right to self defense,” he supports the rights of Palestinians to live in peace and security alongside Israelis.
“Both Israelis and Palestinians have a right to live in security, a right to self-determination and a right to have their human rights protected,” he said.
The response in the House was led by progressive congresswoman Marie Newman of Illinois, who was joined by representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Cori Bush of Missouri, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana, as well as traditional pro-Palestinian Democrats such as Bobby Rush of Illinois and Betty McCollum of Minnesota, a senior member of the party who chairs the Defense Appropriations Committee.
Tlaib made a passionate plea from the floor of the House, during which she described her experience as a Palestinian who still has family in the occupied territories.
“I am the only Palestinian American member of Congress now, and my mere existence has disrupted the status quo,” she said. “(It is) so personal for me.
“I am a reminder to colleagues that Palestinians do indeed exist, that we are human, that we are allowed to dream. We are mothers, daughters, granddaughters. We are justice seekers and are unapologetically about our fight against oppressions of all forms.”
However, these “well meaning” individuals still represent a tiny minority of elected officials, according to former Democratic congressman Jim Moran.
He told Arab News that he is “proud of these members of Congress for speaking out” but added that “the vast majority of members … are under the influence of pro-Israeli lobby groups and are afraid to speak out.”
Moran said many member of Congress are “scared” to voice an opinion about the injustices the Palestinian people are subjected to by US ally Israel. He said the right wing of the Republican Party often targets progressive party members, and those who support Palestinians, financially and through disinformation campaigns.
Khaled Saffuri, a Washington-based political analyst and expert on US politics, said the latest efforts by some senators and representatives might not signal a major shift in the culture of Congress, which has historically supported Israel “no matter what its actions may be.”
But he told the Arab News that “despite being outnumbered and outgunned, these members of Congress deserve our respect and our support.”