Updated Oct 13, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Progressives press Biden on Israel’s plans for Gaza

Rep. Pramila Jayapal. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

A group of House Democrats is urging the Biden administration to use its influence to limit civilian casualties in Gaza after Israel ordered an evacuation of the northern Gaza Strip.

Why it matters: It’s a rare instance of dissent in a Congress that has been overwhelmingly supportive of the Israeli government in the Hamas-Israel war.

Driving the news: In a letter to President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the 55 lawmakers wrote of their "concerns regarding the unfolding humanitarian situation in Gaza as Israel responds to Hamas' terrorist attack."

  • The members said they are "deeply concerned" about Israel's order to evacuate more than a million Palestinians to southern Gaza and the Israeli Defense Forces' "complete siege" of the country.
  • "We cannot achieve lasting peace and security for Israelis without addressing the humanitarian crises in Gaza and the West Bank," the letter said.

The details: The letter called for Biden and Blinken to demand that Israel's response in Gaza comply with international law and limit harm to civilians.

  • It also urged the administration to work to restore the delivery of food, water, fuel and other human necessities to the country, and a humanitarian corridor for evacuees and supplies.
  • It also called to discourage hate crimes in the U.S. against Muslims and Jews.
  • As lawmakers and the administration start to put together a military assistance package for Israel, the lawmakers wrote that it should "include humanitarian assistance for both Palestinians in Gaza and Israelis."

Zoom in: The letter was led by Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) — the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the ranking member of the House Rules Committee.

  • Most of the signers are progressives, with prominent "Squad" members including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) joining the letter.
  • But it also includes some surprising signatures, such as Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), a more moderate swing-district member who is part of House Democratic leadership.

The intrigue: Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.), who were heavily criticized for statements condemning U.S. military aid to Israel in response to Hamas' brutal surprise attack, did not sign the letter.

  • Neither did Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), the Progressive Caucus whip who called to end "unconditional" U.S. military assistance to Israel.
  • The letter "unequivocally" condemns Hamas' "shocking and horrifying terrorist attack on Israel," calling it the "worst perpetration of violence inflicted on the Jewish people since the Holocaust."

What we're hearing: The letter comes as more than 50 House Democrats were briefed on the situation in Israel on Friday morning by leaders of J Street, a liberal PAC that advocates for a two-state solution, according to a spokesperson for the group.

  • Representatives of the IDF and Israeli analysts and commentators – including some with firsthand experience with the attack – briefed members as well.
  • The spokesperson said J Street also held a separate briefing for congressional staffers in both parties.
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