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Saturday, October 28, 2023

Opinion The Biden administration should rethink its Israeli-Palestinian policies

Opinion The Biden administration should rethink its Israeli-Palestinian policies

President Biden in the Oval Office on Oct. 19. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post) 

“I voted for Joe Biden in 2020 and almost certainly will again next year. His policies on a number of issues have been very good — and I’m much closer to him ideologically than whoever the Republican candidate will be. But I’m extremely disappointed with how he and his administration have handled the aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. The past two weeks have been far from this administration’s finest hours.

I’m glad Biden and his administration rallied to Israel’s defense immediately after the heinous attacks that killed more than 1,400 Israelis. And the Israeli government not only has the right but also the responsibility to defend its citizens. The United States should be playing an active role in preventing such an attack from ever happening again in Israel. And as The Post reported Friday, Biden administration officials have been privately discouraging Israel from starting a full-scale ground invasion in Gaza, which would likely lead to massive civilian casualties.

But I’m uncomfortable with a number of things that the U.S. government has done since Oct. 7:

“President Biden publicly undermining the Gaza death toll is dangerous & wrong. Questioning death tolls directly dehumanizes Palestinians. … By minimizing this, the U.S. is laying the groundwork for more death,” the U.S.-based Jewish group IfNotNow said in a tweet Thursday.

I worry this administration isn’t prioritizing Palestinian lives enough and is putting the interests of Israelis far ahead of those of Palestinians. Biden and his aides keep stating that they understand that everyday Palestinian citizens are not Hamas terrorists and had nothing to do with the Oct. 7 attacks. But their actions don’t fully line up with that. Israel’s bombing seems less a targeted effort to kill Hamas terrorists and more a general punishment for everyone who lives in Gaza in retaliation — and the United States continues to tacitly approve it.

Questioning casualty numbers, going to journalists’ bosses to get them to change their coverage, using vague talking points and carefully policing the language of underlings are signs that administration officials are not confident and proud of their policies. And they shouldn’t be.

Some progressives and Arab Americans in particular are saying they won’t vote for Biden again. I don’t know whether they will follow through on those comments and I don’t think election analysis is that important at this stage, a year from when voting starts. But there is real, serious disappointment with the actions of the Biden administration over the past few weeks. This is how I feel too.

There is also surprise and a sense of betrayal. Biden and his aides have done more than perhaps any administration ever to ensure that minority groups, including Arab Americans, Muslims and Jewish Americans, are listened to and have their interests reflected in governing. And the president himself, despite his long tenure in Washington, has seemed open to rethinking his approach on many issues. But his administration’s actions over the past few weeks have been both very old-guard (strongly aligning with Israel’s government) and without enough regard for the views of Arab Americans and others who are deeply hurt by the killing of so many Palestinian civilians.

I hope the president shifts his approach, especially as Israel appears this weekend to be moving into a new phase in its military response to Oct. 7. While privately prodding is useful, the U.S. government needs to be publicly and forcefully calling for greater restraint by Israel. The U.S. government should be acting as if Palestinian and Israeli lives matter, not as if the latter are actually important and the former should just get lip service. Time is running out for the president and his team to do right by the Israelis and also the Palestinians.”

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