Israel's siege on Gaza cracks Democratic unity in Washington

Progressive wing of the party is breaking from bipartisan lines to demand a ceasefire

The protest calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, in the US Capitol building in Washington, on October 18.  Reuters
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A small group of progressive Democrats in Washington is breaking party lines to call for a ceasefire in the Israeli siege on Gaza.

Representative Cori Bush and other liberals, including Andre Carson and Rashida Tlaib, this week introduced a resolution urging the Biden administration to call for “an immediate ceasefire in Israel and occupied Palestine, to send humanitarian aid and assistance to Gaza, and to save as many lives as possible”.

Ms Bush is among a small but growing group of representatives in Congress who have expressed solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

On Wednesday, she spoke at Jewish-led protests around Capitol Hill demanding a ceasefire, and eventually staged a sit-in in the legislature's halls.

The resolution is a counter to a broadly supported measure in support of Israel led by the House Foreign Affairs Committee under chairman Mike McCaul and ranking member Gregory Meeks.

That bill has been sponsored by almost 400 members of Congress in both political parties.

Democratic leadership has outright opposed Ms Bush's resolution and calls for ceasefire in Gaza. On Tuesday, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer denounced the calls for a ceasefire.

“If you allow Hamas to continue to exist as is, the same thing will happen again, and we have to do everything to prevent that from happening,” Mr Schumer told reporters.

Mr Carson said: “the answer to violence is not more violence”.

“Our call for action is clear: every human life is precious, and no civilian – Israeli or Palestinian – should fear for their life,” he said in a statement.

“I condemn the horrific attacks by Hamas on Israeli civilians, and I also condemn the Israeli government’s cruel response on millions of Palestinians.”

The Hamas attack of October 7 has also played a role in shifting one prominent group that is critical of Israel closer to that country’s line.

J Street is a “pro-peace and pro-Israel” lobby that has often been a more liberal counter to the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee and its more hardline pro-Israel stance in Washington.

In response to the widely supported McCaul-Meeks Congressional resolution pledging support for Israel, the group has urged Democratic members sceptical of the resolution to stay on board.

In a statement published by The Intercept, the group’s vice president of government affairs Kevin Ranchin said it is “urging our endorsed candidates and all Members of Congress to vote yes on this resolution if and when it is brought to a vote”.

But a group of former J Street staff and student leaders petitioned the organisation, calling on it to push for a ceasefire and urge elected officials to do the same.

“We condemn the organisation’s alignment with pro-war forces in America,” the petition reads.

“J Street’s threat to withdraw their endorsement of Congresspeople who refused to support a one-sided and incendiary House resolution represents a turn for the organisation, which we cannot abide.”

Updated: October 18, 2023, 9:51 PM