Is the United States callously ignoring the needs of a suffering population of refugees? That’s the conceit of a letter signed by 70 Democratic members of the House of Representatives last week that condemned the Trump administration’s decision to reduce its contributions to the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA).
The U.S. funding cuts to UNRWA is part of an effort by the administration to change the unhealthy dynamic by which the U.N. agency that is solely devoted to dealing with Palestinian refugees (a separate U.N. agency deals with all other refugee problems) is one of the chief obstacles to peace in the Middle East. As long as millions of descendants of the 1948 refugees hold onto hopes of a “return” to pre-1967 Israel, peace on any terms other than the destruction of the Jewish state remains impossible.
Yet almost 40 percent of the House Democratic caucus is not only supportive of UNRWA and the destructive role it continues to play in perpetuating the conflict. The same group is also echoing the call of Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and 11 other Democratic members of the upper body to end the blockade of Gaza being carried out by Israel and Egypt.
What’s going on here?
Though the letter acknowledges that the Hamas rulers of Gaza deserve a share of the blame for the current situation, it’s clear that they consider Israel to be the main culprit. Moreover, they have the chutzpah to quote comments by Gadi Eizenkot, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, regarding the combustible situation in Gaza and the fact that conditions there will impact Israel’s security just to claim that they are as concerned about the safety of Israelis as they are of Palestinians.
But like the Senate Democrats’ letter, the 70 House Democrats’ position is disingenuous. It’s also the latest indication that a considerable portion of the party’s congressional delegation thinks that the party base’s leftward tilt in favor of “resistance” against Trump demands a change of policy towards Israel.
While many worry that U.S. President Donald Trump’s embrace of the Jewish state is alienating Democrats who might otherwise be supportive of Israel, the latest congressional letter is proof that the belief in “intersectional” ideology—in which the Palestinian struggle to destroy Israel is equated with the fight for civil rights in America—is gaining ground on the left. With the party being increasingly identified with people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, who combine ignorance about the Middle East with bias against Israel, this letter represents more proof that Democrats are turning away from the Jewish state.
Indeed, the approximately 1.8 million people who are trapped in Gaza under the rule of the Islamist theocrats of Hamas have a hard life. But the talk of a humanitarian crisis being caused by the Israeli-Egyptian blockade is misleading.
There is no shortage of food and medicine in Gaza. That’s because Israel sends a daily convoy of essential supplies into the strip on a daily basis. It also facilitates the supply of electricity to Gaza, although payment for keeping its lights on is being withheld by the Palestinian Authority, which views the Hamas government there as a deadly rival.
What congressional Democrats either don’t know or choose to ignore is that the purpose of the blockade is to prevent Hamas from receiving arms and building materials that they can use to strengthen their war-making ability. If Israel and Egypt were to lift the blockade, it wouldn’t necessarily better the lives of ordinary Gazans. But it would enable Iran to ship Hamas more military material so as to strengthen the Islamists’ ability to wage war on Israel. While it’s hard to imagine any sane person advocating the arming of terrorists, that’s exactly what these Democrats are doing when they invoke humanitarian concerns to justify opening the borders to Gaza.
The key point here is that the weekly “demonstrations” that Hamas has organized on the border between Gaza and Israel aren’t about conditions in Gaza. To the contrary, the theme of the violent marches every Friday at the border fence is that of “return”—the dream that UNRWA has bolstered to erase the last seven decades of Middle East history in which refugees can eliminate the State of Israel.
The only way to change this toxic dynamic is to end the way in which the international community has subsidized the myth of “return.” Transforming UNRWA from an agency that makes the Palestinians the only refugee problem in the world that may not be solved (as all others have been, including the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were forced to flee their homes in the Arab world after 1948) is the vital first step towards ending the conflict.
Yet there is more at work here than just a wrongheaded pair of Democratic letters that oppose a sensible Middle East policy.
By supporting opening the gates of Gaza for an Iranian resupply of Hamas, a critical mass of elected Democrats are signaling that their party’s backing for Israel is no longer a given. The conflict within the party between genuinely pro-Israel congressional leaders and left-wing grassroots activists who buy into the lies about an “apartheid state” has been simmering for years. While the moderates prevailed in 2016 when Hillary Clinton held off Sanders’s challenge in the presidential primaries (where Israel provided one of the few clear ideological contrasts between the two candidates), it’s obvious that the tide has shifted in favor of the left-wingers in the last 18 months. That the list of signers of the letters included more than just the usual radical suspects, but also the party’s rising stars, like Pennsylvania’s Conor Lamb and Texas’s Beto O’Rourke (who is hoping to upset Ted Cruz in a Senate race this fall), shows which way the wind is blowing in Democratic circles.
If pro-Israel Democrats aren’t willing to speak up against this trend, even if it means aligning themselves on this issue with Trump, then it’s clear that they’ll be left out in the cold in 2020.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS – Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.