Washington, DC – Anti-Palestinian sentiment is on the rise in the United States, with politicians from both major political parties backing Israel’s war in Gaza despite the mounting Palestinian death toll and growing accusations of war crimes.
Last week, the war in Gaza dominated the third Republican presidential debate, where competing candidates were unanimous in their support of Israel.
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“I’m sick of hearing the media, I’m sick of hearing other people blame Israel just for defending itself,” one of those candidates, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, told the audience.
Such statements cropped up throughout the two-hour event, even when the candidates were discussing topics unrelated to the crisis. But Palestinians were barely ever mentioned, despite a death toll in Gaza that has ticked past 11,000.
In fact, the only time a candidate said “Palestinian” or “Palestine” was when DeSantis bragged about banning a Palestinian student advocacy group from state universities.
Advocates say this is indicative of a wider trend of US politicians — across ideological lines — justifying and denying Israeli atrocities in Gaza.
“There is a bipartisan effort to dehumanise the Palestinian people,” said Ahmad Abuznaid, the executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USPCR).
Abuznaid cited recent episodes in US politics that he said underscore hostility towards Palestinians. They include Democratic President Joe Biden voicing doubt over the accuracy of the Palestinian death count and attacks on Palestinian American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib for her criticism of Israel’s military offensive.
“Whether they fail to mention Palestinians, question our death tolls, attack our students and protests, or censure the only Palestinian American representative in Congress, their attempts to silence us won’t work,” Abuznaid said.
“As much as they wish us to disappear, we are here and will be here, and they will be seeing much more of us moving forward.”
Hostility in Congress
At Wednesday’s debate, DeSantis and Nikki Haley, a former ambassador to the United Nations, used similar language to push Israel to take strong action in Gaza.
“Finish the job once and for all with these butchers, Hamas,” DeSantis said, referring to the Palestinian group that launched a surprise attack on Israel on October 7.
Haley echoed that sentiment, saying, “Finish them. Finish them,” in response to a question about whether she would urge a “humanitarian pause” during the fighting.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie — another Republican presidential candidate — followed his appearance in the debate with a visit to Israel on Sunday, where he likewise rejected calls for ending the violence.
A bipartisan delegation of US congress members, including the top lawmakers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also made a solidarity trip to Israel this past weekend.
Ohio Republican Max Miller, who has faced outrage for saying that Palestine will be turned into a “parking lot”, accompanied key Democrats on that visit and posted a photo of the group with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel Jacob Lew.
— Congressman Max Miller (@RepMaxMiller) November 12, 2023
Advocates have warned that comments like Miller’s could be interpreted as a call for mass violence against the Palestinian people.
But Miller is hardly alone in his sentiments. Congressman Brian Mast suggested earlier this month that there are no innocent Palestinian civilians. “I don’t think we would so lightly throw around the term ‘innocent Nazi civilians’ during World War II,” he said on the House floor.
Such comments did not provoke a rebuke in the House of Representatives. However, the chamber did vote to censure its sole Palestinian American member, Tlaib, over her criticism of Israel.
Twenty-two Democrats, including the former chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Debbie Wasserman Schultz, joined Republicans in supporting the symbolic punishment, which passed 234 to 188.
Attacks against Tlaib have continued after the censure vote. On Sunday, Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn baselessly accused Tlaib of having “alleged ties to Hamas” and “calling for a genocide against the Jewish people”.
Rashida Tlaib has alleged ties to Hamas.
Based on these allegations, it’s sadly not surprising she’s calling for a genocide against the Jewish people.
— Sen. Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) November 12, 2023
Meanwhile, other congressional Democrats have voiced opposition to ceasefire efforts, similar to their Republican colleagues. Democratic Senator John Fetterman, for instance, waved an Israeli flag as he walked by protesters demanding a ceasefire on Capitol Hill last week.
To highlight the solid bipartisan support for Israel, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has been sharing videos of left-wing Senator Bernie Sanders expressing opposition to a ceasefire in Gaza.
Sanders is usually one of AIPAC’s most vocal critics, often rebuking the pro-Israel lobby group for spending millions of dollars on election campaigns to undermine progressive candidates.
‘All of them’
Anti-Palestinian sentiment is also appearing in US politics at the state level. In Florida last week, when State Representative Angie Nixon questioned how many dead Palestinians would be enough to end the violence, her fellow lawmaker Michelle Salzman responded by saying, “All of them.”
Nixon had introduced a resolution urging a ceasefire but the measure failed in a 104-2 vote.
Rasha Mubarak, a Palestinian-American organiser from Florida, called Salzman’s comments “vile” and “disturbing”.
“It’s interesting because when the only Palestinian member of Congress calls for an end to the violence and a ceasefire, she’s literally censured,” Mubarak told Al Jazeera, referring to Tlaib.
“And then we have people in the Florida Legislature, but also people in Congress, who have called for the erasure of the Palestinian people.”
Mubarak said support for Israel appears to unite the US political spectrum — with the exception of a minority of lawmakers who are “connecting the dots” between Palestinian liberation, global human rights and injustices at home.
But Mubarak added that Palestinian rights supporters are not discouraged by the pro-Israel consensus in US politics. She noted the growing protests across the country in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.
“The movements and the masses of people — and the rare people who are serving in Congress and in state, local, federal positions — are trying to interrupt and disrupt the status quo,” she said, referring to Palestinian rights supporters.
Mubarak also warned that Democrats are ignoring and alienating certain members of their base with their stance towards Israel’s military offensive.
“What we’re seeing is people committing to not voting for Biden, not voting down ballot, not voting for Democrats that weren’t right on this issue,” she said. “I don’t think this time around people are going to forget. People remember.”
Abuznaid, of the USPCR, echoed Mubarak’s comments, saying that unwavering support for the Israeli government could fracture the political left and estrange the Palestinian rights movement.
“The bipartisan support is a challenge for the movement, but the cracks in the system are deepening,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Our movement is larger than ever and growing daily. US complicity in the Israeli genocide of Palestinians will be another lasting stain in this nation’s troubled history. Palestinian Americans remain undeterred and will push until there is a ceasefire and a free Palestine.”