Key Words: President Biden says ‘Israel has the right to defend itself’ as violence escalates


As the violence between Hamas and Israel continues to escalate, U.S. political leaders are coming forward to condemn the attacks on both sides, and to call for a peaceful resolution. 

President Biden told reporters on Wednesday that, “My expectation and hope is that this will be closing down sooner than later, but Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory.” He added that he had spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his “hope is that we’ll see this coming to a conclusion sooner than later.” 

The White House also released a readout of Biden’s call with Netanyahu on Wednesday, which noted that Biden “condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups” and “conveyed his unwavering support for Israel’s security and for Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and its people, while protecting civilians.”

“Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory.”

— President Joe Biden

But some progressive Democrats, including Palestinian-American Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), criticized Biden for failing to also mention the dozens of Palestinians who have been killed by Israeli airstrikes. As of Thursday, Gaza’s Health Ministry said the death toll has climbed to 83 Palestinians, including 17 children and seven women, with more than 480 people wounded, according to the Associated Press. Seven people have been killed in Israel, including a 6-year-old child struck in a rocket attack.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) have also expressed solidarity with Palestinian civilians, and condemned Israel for forcibly evicting Palestinian families. The recent escalation in violence began over the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers over the past month, as well as heavy-handed Israeli police tactics during Ramadan. 

In fact, much of the U.S. response, particularly among Republicans, has expressed support for Israel. 

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted that, “Israel has every right to defend itself against violence and the barrage of rockets from Hamas. The United States unequivocally stands with our ally Israel and the Jewish people.” 

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell also tweeted that, “Israel must know that their friends and allies in the United States stand with them. We support Israel’s right to peace and security. We support their goal of restoring deterrence. The Administration must not relax our efforts to hold terrorists and their supporters to account.” 

Former President Donald Trump released a statement on Tuesday that read, “America must always stand with Israel and make clear that the Palestinians must end the violence, terror, and rocket attacks, and make clear that the U.S. will always strongly support Israel’s right to defend itself.” 

And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wrote that, “In this fight it is clear — Israel is the good guy and Hamas is the bad.”

But Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and NYC mayoral candidate Andrew Yang, have also said Israel has the right to defend itself. 

Pelosi released a statement on Tuesday reading, “I condemn the escalating and indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas against Israel. Israel has the right to defend herself against this assault, which is designed to sow terror and undermine prospects for peace.” She added that, “Every civilian death is a tragedy that we mourn. Hamas’s accelerating violence only risks killing more civilians, including innocent Palestinians. Let us all pray that the situation will be resolved immediately and peacefully.”

New York Democrat Ritchie Torres wrote that “Firing rockets at civilians in Israel is an act of terrorism, period.” 

And House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) tweeted that, “The unjustifiable attacks by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad continue to jeopardize Israeli and Palestinian lives and hinder efforts for peace. The deaths of so many innocents on both sides makes a resolution to this conflict all the more urgent.”

Yang tweeted on Monday that he was standing with Israel and condemning Hamas, but later backtracked after critics had the hashtag #YangSupportsGenocide trending on Twitter
He later clarified that his initial tweet was too simplistic for such a complex situation. “I mourn for every Palestinian life taken before its time as I do for every Israeli,” Yang wrote on Tuesday. “Suffering and pain and violence and death suffered by anyone hurts us all.”

The lawmakers calling for more empathy toward the Palestinians caught in the crossfire largely fall into the Democrat camp. As noted above, Reps. Tlaib, Omar and Ocasio-Cortez have repeatedly called on the White House to keep the human rights of Palestinians in mind, especially considering these attacks have escalated as the holy month of Ramadan came to an end.

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) called on Congress to “stop funding human rights abuses by the Israeli military” on Twitter. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) tweeted that, “We cannot just condemn rockets fired by Hamas and ignore Israel’s state-sanctioned police violence against Palestinians—including unlawful evictions, violent attacks on protesters & the murder of Palestinian children. U.S. aid should not be funding this violence.” 

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) told the Hill in a statement that, “The Biden administration needs to publicly acknowledge that the dislocation of Palestinian families from their own land is unacceptable and a form of persecution.”

And Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted that he has been “extremely concerned by the growing conflict in Israel and Palestine. Once again we are seeing how the irresponsible actions of government-allied right-wing extremists in Jerusalem can escalate quickly into devastating war.” 

“The United States must call for an immediate cease-fire and an end to provocative and illegal settlement activity,” he added. “And we must also recommit to working with Israelis and Palestinians to finally end this conflict.”

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