Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is offering his full-throated support for Israel in its conflict with the militant group Hamas, calling the U.S. ally a “responsible state defending itself.”
In the Gaza Strip, health officials say Israel’s airstrikes have killed over 200 Palestinians, including more than 60 children. Israeli authorities say Palestinian militants’ rocket attacks have killed 12 people, two of whom were children, in Israel.
“No one is glad to see the fighting. But we are already seeing some push the false narrative that this conflict is a tragic dispute between two legitimate combatants where both sides share blame that is roughly equal. What nonsense,” McConnell said on the Senate floor this week.
“To say that both sides need to de-escalate downplays the responsibility the terrorists have for initiating the conflict in the first place and suggests Israelis are not entitled to defend themselves against ongoing rocket barrages,” he continued. “Now look, I completely reject this obscene moral equivalence.”
Back home in Louisville, Ibrahim Imam — a Palestinian-American who was born a refugee after his parents and around 700,000 other Palestinians were forced out of the territory now known as Israel in the late 1940s — said it’s actually McConnell who’s spreading a false narrative about the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
“The reality of it is: Palestinians are people. … Palestinians were evicted. They were ethnically cleansed — 700,000 or more in 1948 — to establish the state of Israel,” Imam told The Courier Journal. “Mitch McConnell does not know what it means to be born as a Palestinian refugee.
“I’ve lived it. I know exactly what’s going on there, and if there is a false narrative, it’s Mitch McConnell’s narrative.”
Imam questioned why McConnell and others insist Israel has the right to defend itself but do not say the same of Palestinians.
“They are not Hamas. They don’t have rockets. They don’t have anything, and they are the ones that actually are subject to the wrath of the Israeli border control and the Israeli army and the brutal Israeli occupation,” he said.
McConnell’s show of support for Israel was welcomed by the Jewish Community Relations Council, a committee of the Jewish Federation of Louisville.
“We’re grateful that Sen. McConnell recognizes Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorist attacks,” the JCRC’s director, Matt Goldberg, told The Courier Journal. “Hamas, which rules (the) Gaza Strip, has launched over 3,000 rockets into Israel, aiming specifically at civilian targets.
“It’s very distressing,” Goldberg said. “We have a fairly substantial number of Israelis living here in Louisville who are speaking to me every day, telling me what their families are going through. The constant attacks, the sirens, the schools being closed. Spending hours and hours in bomb shelters.”
McConnell is far from the only American politician, Republican or Democrat, who has voiced support for Israel since a fresh wave of violence erupted this month.
However, there’s growing criticism, in the international community and in Congress, of Israel’s approach to this latest conflict and its overall treatment of Palestinians.
Several prominent Democrats — including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who’s a Palestinian-American — have said Israel practices apartheid and criticized America’s provision of billions in military aid to that country.
On Monday, McConnell dismissed the idea that Israel is an “apartheid state” as another “false narrative,” despite the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch’s recent report that said Israel is committing “the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution” against Palestinians.
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said those claims were false.
“I’ve been proud to stand with Israel for years, and I am proud to stand with Israel today,” McConnell said Monday. “The United States needs to stand four-square behind our ally.”
This month’s violent conflict was preceded by rising tensions over the possible expulsion of some Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem. (Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognized internationally.)
There has been increasing pressure on Jerusalem’s disenfranchised Palestinian residents, who are being squeezed out of such neighborhoods, said University of Louisville professor Ranen Omer-Sherman, who served in the Israel Defense Forces decades ago and is now an endowed chair in Judaic studies at U of L.
“Apartheid is not an ideal word, but I think it comes closer as a legal definition to what happens in the occupied territories,” he said.
In addition to the tensions over Sheikh Jarrah, another flashpoint that preceded the current conflict involved Israel’s recent, intensive policing at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, an especially sacred place in Islam. Over 200 Palestinians were injured in early May in a clash there with Israeli police during Ramadan.
Then Hamas, a militant group that controls Gaza and is designated by the U.S. and the European Union as a terrorist organization, started firing rockets at Israel on May 10.
Most have been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.
Israel, in turn, has launched lethal airstrikes at Gaza, where about 2 million Palestinians live and essentially are unable to leave because of a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt.
McConnell has given several speeches about the latest outbreak of violence this month and repeatedly stressed Israel’s right to self-defense.
That’s a common refrain for both Republicans and Democratic officials.
Kentucky’s sole Democrat in Congress, Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville, echoed that line in a recent tweet, but he paired it with sharp criticism of the Palestinian deaths Israel’s airstrikes have caused.
“While Israel has a right to defend itself, it doesn’t have the right to knowingly kill women and children,” Yarmuth said Sunday on Twitter. “These atrocities must stop immediately, and I condemn (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu as I would any other leader killing innocent civilians.”
McConnell continued pushing back against some congressional Democrats’ criticisms of Israel in another speech on Wednesday.
“For a long time, Republicans and Democrats have stood together in standing with Israel. I’m proud of all the work we’ve accomplished together — like improving Israel’s Iron Dome defenses, providing precision-guided munitions and Joint Strike Fighters,” McConnell said.
“But now?” he went on to say. “Rather than having Israel’s back, senior Democrats have actually pressured Israel to end its defensive operations.”
While McConnell has criticized calls for a blanket cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, President Joe Biden is under pressure to reconsider his administration’s planned sale of $735 million in weapons to Israel and to push more strongly for a cease-fire.
Imam, the Palestinian-American who lives in Louisville, criticized the U.S.’s substantial provisions of military aid to Israel and McConnell’s support for it.
“Israel was a country that was formed on the displacement of innocent Palestinians,” he said. “It hurts me that my tax dollars and the country I chose to live in and become a citizen of … is enabling and financing and supporting the country that is destroying my ancestral homeland.”
Omer-Sherman, the Israeli-American U of L professor, said this situation has been “nerve-wracking.”
Friends of his have cowered under bridges from a Hamas missile attack, he said, and “the full-scale enmity on Israeli streets between Arabs and Jews is really, really demoralizing.”
Omer-Sherman said he doesn’t see a military endgame for Israel here.
“I think this is a case of ‘wag the dog,’ where Prime Minister Netanyahu faced the most severe challenge to his reelection in a very, very long time, and there was a historical opportunity for Arab political parties to unify with parties more affiliated with Jewish voters,” he said.
“I’ve come to believe that this operation first and foremost serves his cynical drive to shore up his power base,” Omer-Sherman said. “Ultimately, there’s no military goals that can be achieved that haven’t been already.”
Reach reporter Morgan Watkins: 502-582-4502; email@example.com; Twitter: @morganwatkins26.
Source: USA Today – Breaking News