Jerusalem24 – More than 500 Democratic party staffers and alumni ofJoe Biden’s 2020 campaign have signed an open letter calling for the US president to do more to protect Palestinians and hold Israel accountable for its actions in and over Gaza, where a ceasefire currently holds.
The move comes amid a deepening split in Democratic ranks, between some vocal members of its progressive wing – such as Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez – and more centrist figures including Biden who have taken a consistently pro-Israel stance.
Biden has come under increasing pressure to take a firmer stance against Israel after the recent conflict in which more than 230 Palestinians were killed and dozens of buildings leveled in Gaza, while 12 Israelis died from rockets fired by Hamas.
The letter will add to that push and also reflects a more subtle turning point in broader US public opinion, which has become more critical of Israel.
The signatories write that they “commend [Biden’s] efforts to broker a ceasefire. Yet, we also cannot unsee the horrific violence that unfolded in recent weeks in Israel/Palestine, and we implore you to continue using the power of your office to hold Israel accountable for its actions and lay the groundwork for justice and lasting peace.”
The letter adds: “The very same values that motivated us to work countless hours to elect you demand that we speak out … we remain horrified by the images of Palestinian civilians in Gaza killed or made homeless by Israeli airstrikes.”
While condemning violence on both sides, the letter singles out Israel for more blame due to its greater military power and its ongoing occupation of Palestinian communities and blockade against Gaza.
“While Israelis had to spend nights hiding in bomb shelters, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip had nowhere to hide. It is critical to acknowledge this power imbalance – that Israel’s highly-advanced military occupies the West Bank and East Jerusalem and blockades the Gaza Strip, creating an uninhabitable open-air prison,” it said.
Biden has sent his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, to the Middle East this week, saying in a statement: “Following up on our quiet, intensive diplomacy to bring about a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas … Blinken will meet with Israeli leaders about our ironclad commitment to Israel’s security.
“He will continue our administration’s efforts to rebuild ties to, and support for, the Palestinian people and leaders, after years of neglect.”
While Blinken will meet with the leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan, he will not see anyone from the Hamas movement that runs Gaza. Hamas is a US-designated “foreign terrorist organization” and contacts between US officials and the group are therefore banned.
That means the US must rely on third countries such as Egypt and Qatar to pass messages to Hamas.
Jewish and Arab Americans were among signatories to the open letter to Biden.
Among its demands, it says the Biden administration must “investigate whether Israel’s most recent assault on Gaza violates the Leahy Law, prohibiting US military aid from funding foreign military units implicated in the commission of gross violations of human rights”.