The Senate hearing with Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin for the approval of a substantial military aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan began with a sensational protest. The secretary of state and the head of the Pentagon were interrupted and challenged by a large group of pacifists from the group Codepink, their hands “bloodied” with red paint, who entered the meeting room shouting slogans against the two officials and holding up placards in favor of a ceasefire and against new aid to Israel.
Biden has been in politics for too long to consider the Codepink protest only a marginal episode of extremist dissent, given the United States’ growing involvement in different conflicts. Yes, the climate is decidedly tense in Washington and the tension connected to the crisis in the Middle East does not only manifest in the streets and universities. Likewise, the tension isn’t making its way into the halls of power solely on the initiative of protesters. 55 Democratic Party members of the House of Representatives signed a letter to the president asking for his intervention on Israel to make it respect international rules and stop harming the civilian population. In the Senate, Bernie Sanders has pointed out that the United States has committed to giving 3.8 billion dollars in aid to Israel annually (until 2028) and that “Israel has the right to defend itself and destroy Hamas, but it does not have the right to use America’s dollars to kill thousands of men, women, and innocent children in Gaza.”
Political messages in the same direction are also emerging from the polls. A Gallup poll conducted before the war now underway in the Middle East showed consistent shifts in the Democratic electorate from support for Israel to sympathies for the Palestinians, with a majority of 49 percent for the latter and 38 percent for Israel. Other surveys conducted in recent days show similar data among young and very young Democratic voters.
These are significant changes, which in some electoral districts could prove to be decisive political factors for Biden’s re-election, as the representatives of the American Islamic communities who were received confidentially at the White House after his mission to Israel clearly told the president himself. The delegation’s message was, “Don’t take the Arab vote for granted”; they were also irritated by the fact that the presidency had not given any public notice of the meeting.
Obviously, the now numerous and widespread episodes of anti-Semitism taking place are shaking and alarming public opinion and fueling polarization, as are the no less horrendous and numerous episodes of Islamophobia (a Muslim pediatrician, Talat Jehan Khan, was stabbed to death in Conroe, Texas, last Monday), creating a political climate that is restricting and influencing the space for maneuvering available to the president. Meanwhile, his popularity polls remain dramatically alarming. His average job disapproval in surveys by the five main polling companies is 54 percent versus a 40 percent approval rate.
Biden attempted to get out of the corner by connecting the three international crisis points in which his administration is involved, Ukraine, the Middle East and Taiwan, proposing a single military aid package worth 106 billion dollars to Congress. The idea was to take advantage of the broad consensus on support for Israel to renew support for Ukraine as well, which is now encountering open and growing hostility in the two branches of Congress, especially within the Republican ranks of the House of Representatives. The operation seemed successful until the new speaker of the House, Trump supporter Mike Johnson, got in the way. In contrast with the big names of the Republican Party in the Senate, who were already in agreement with the White House, Johnson has proposed separating the three aid packages, immediately introducing a specific appropriations bill in favor of Israel for an amount of 14.5 billion dollars, and therefore leaving Ukraine and Taiwan out for now. But even this aid is contested within the Republican Party itself. Announcing his opposition to the bill, Kentucky Representative Thomas Massie said that if Congress sends $14.5 billion to Israel it means “an average of one hundred dollars each will be taken out of the pockets of American workers” in inflation and taxes.
Now Johnson has linked the funding for Israel to an equal cut in funding for the IRS, a ploy that would not only cost more than double that figure in lost revenues but is also guaranteed to seriously delay any progress on this and other aid legislation.
The scenes coming from Gaza are certainly not helping to lower the political temperature in Washington and thus to facilitate Biden and Blinken’s efforts aimed at offering the image of an administration that has weight and role in the ongoing crisis. The Israeli leadership seems willing to do anything to influence the White House, not vice versa, even equating, with great audacity, the identification of criticisms of the Israeli government with forms of surrender, if not complicity with rising anti-Semitism, as demonstrated by the sensational scene with the Israeli ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, who at the end of his speech at a security council meeting pinned on a yellow Star of David, associating Hamas with the Nazis. A gesture that the president of Yad Vashem, Dani Dayan, said he was “sorry to see”, “an act that dishonors the victims of the Holocaust and the state of Israel”.
Translation by Paul Rosenberg
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