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Centrist Lawmakers Join Progressives in Urging Biden to Support Gaza Ceasefire

Top Democrats like Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have come out in support of a ceasefire, signalling a small shift left.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer replaces his surgical mask after yielding the lectern to Sen. Tim Kaine during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on November 17, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

An increasing number of Democrats are pressuring the White House to support a ceasefire in Gaza and potentially stop a planned weapons sale to Israel after Israel ramped up its attacks on Palestinians in Gaza over the past week.

On Monday, Biden’s administration blocked a United Nations Security Council statement calling for an immediate ceasefire in the area for the third time — though, several hours later, Biden said in a statement that he supports a ceasefire.

However, The Washington Post also reported on Monday that the administration would be going ahead with a $735 million weapons sale to Israel that had been planned before the recent escalation in violence.

Health authorities in Gaza say that Israel has killed over 200 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip over the past week or so, including at least 61 children. Reports also say that Israel has leveled 132 buildings, rendering over 2,500 Palestinians homeless.

Now a growing number of moderate Democrats have joined progressives in Congress in speaking out against the White House’s recent statements and actions regarding Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), traditionally a moderate, endorsed calls for a ceasefire this week. “I want to see a ceasefire reached quickly and mourn the loss of life,” he told reporters, per Politico.

Schumer has long maintained the attitude that Israel has a right to defend itself — a flawed concept that completely ignores the history of Israeli colonization of Palestine and apartheid rule over Palestinians. Still, Schumer’s call for a ceasefire represents a small shift away from uncritically supporting Israel, which has thanked the Biden administration for blocking the UN Security Council’s call for a ceasefire.

Another centrist Democrat, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia also came out in support of the ceasefire recently, and told Politico that he was “troubled” by the U.S.’s rejection of the UN statement.

“I just can’t remember a shooting war where kids are being killed on both sides where the U.S. hasn’t aggressively pushed for a ceasefire,” said Kaine. While it’s unclear whether this statement is historically accurate, the implication that kids are being killed on both sides does not hold up to what’s being reported — Israel’s actions have killed dozens of Palestinian children but there have been no reports of Israeli children being killed.

On Monday, a group of 29 senators from a wide spectrum of the Democratic Party led by freshman Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Georgia), signed a statement calling for an “immediate ceasefire.” Signatories included more progressive lawmakers like Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), as well as moderates like Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota).

Progressives in the House have also been vocal recently about supporting Palestinians’ rights and opposing Israeli violence. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) praised Biden for his statement supporting the ceasefire on Monday and urged him to go further. “Finally!! Our delay in supporting a ceasefire has caused the slaughter of children and destruction of lives,” she tweeted. “Now Biden has to push for an end to the occupation.”

Progressive representatives held a special order hour on the House floor last week to testify about the horrors of Israeli apartheid and to urge the U.S. to stop funding the Israeli government. “We cannot remain silent when our government sends $3.8 billion of military aid to Israel that is used to demolish Palestinian homes, imprison Palestinian children and displace Palestinian families,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts) during the special order hour.

Indeed, though the tide in Washington, D.C., may be shifting ever so slightly, Democrats still have a long way to go on the issue. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), a top member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) defended Biden’s somewhat tepid approach to the ceasefire issue, with Cardin saying that Hamas, not Israel, would act in bad faith in a ceasefire order.

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