Sixteen people were killed when an Israeli air strike hit a Greek Orthodox church in Gaza. The hundreds of Palestinians seeking shelter there, as apartment blocks and entire civilian neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble throughout Gaza, were given yet another reminder that there are no safe places in that tiny strip of land, which millions aren’t allowed to leave.
Israeli officials have been remarkably blunt about how little effort they’re making to target Hamas fighters as opposed to simply piling up Palestinian corpses and hoping the fighters are somewhere in the mix. Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, compared the bombing of Gaza to the Allies’ indiscriminate firebombing of Dresden during World War II, saying that it was the only way to beat the Nazis, and similarly this is the only way to defeat Hamas — never mind that numerous legal experts have called the bombing of Dresden a war crime. Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, says that the civilian population is responsible for the crimes of Hamas — even though Hamas never won an outright majority in any election, and about half of Gaza residents weren’t alive when the last election happened — because the Palestinians haven’t overthrown Hamas in an uprising.
The presidency is a mostly ceremonial role in the Israeli system, but Herzog being able to say something like that without having to resign in shame is profoundly telling. The Israeli government has been quite open about the strategy to deny millions of civilians food, water, and medicine as a pressure tactic against Hamas, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has framed the conflict — which, remember, is taking place entirely within territory that Israel has controlled since 1967 — in existential and apocalyptic terms.
This is hard to see as anything but an outright ethnic-cleansing campaign being carried out with American weapons and funds. And from President Joe Biden on down, the entire spectrum of mainstream American politicians have been cheering and waving the Israeli flag, contravening the opinion of the American people. When Biden flew to Israel, he threw a few vague phrases into his speech about how the Israelis shouldn’t go too far — but he made it abundantly clear that the United States would provide financial, military, diplomatic, and rhetorical cover to the Israeli state for as long as the bombs keep falling. That’s the stance of most elected Democrats and the entire GOP, very much including the hardcore MAGA types who sometimes posture as antiwar when the subject is the war in Ukraine.
Against this grim background, the elected officials affiliated or allied with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) have taken a remarkably brave stand on behalf of a cease-fire, de-escalation, and moves toward a just and lasting peace.
DSA Elected Officials Step Up
Even many fairly progressive Democrats have refused to take the same stand, whether out of cowardice or (more disturbingly) genuine support for Israel’s war crimes in Gaza. Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA), for example, has taken better-than-average stands on several issues — but his political director just resigned after only two weeks on the job because of the congressman’s refusal to call for a cease-fire.
Last week, I wrote that DSA-endorsed congresswomen Cori Bush and Rashida Tlaib had shown unusual courage and moral leadership in making statements that condemned Hamas’s violence against civilians while also “acknowledging Palestinian humanity and talking about the roots of the cycle of violence in the ugly realities of Israeli apartheid” — at a time when almost all of their colleagues were condemning Hamas, and only Hamas, and implicitly or explicitly supporting everything Israel had already started to do in Gaza.
It didn’t go without saying that they’d take this stand. Some members of the squad of congressional leftists have wavered on such questions before. Notoriously, in 2021, Jamaal Bowman voted to fund Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system — on top of the already massive amounts of US military aid already going to Israel — and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez changed her Iron Dome vote through tears from “no” to “present” at the last minute.
In this case, though, Bush and Tlaib have gotten the entire Squad to cosign their resolution calling for a cease-fire. AOC’s name is there. So is Jamaal Bowman’s. So is the name of Ayanna Pressley — a moderate enough Squad member that she endorsed Elizabeth Warren when the rest of the group was supporting Bernie Sanders. So too is the name of Greg Casar, a DSA member who ended up cutting his ties with the group during his election campaign because of DSA’s criticisms of his support for US aid to Israel. As of October 19, an approximately equal number of non-Squad members of Congress were also on the list.
This advocacy from the highest offices of elected democratic socialists has mirrored intense grassroots protests on behalf of a cease-fire — ranging from walkouts by high school students to a mass sit-in at the US Capitol by hundreds of Jewish progressives (DSA members among them) brandishing signs declaring “Not In Our Name” and “Ceasefire Now.” Bush and Tlaib spoke outside the Capitol.
Sometimes the grassroots protests and the activity by elected officials have intersected, as when two DSA-endorsed members of the New York State Assembly, Zohran Mamdani and Marcela Mitaynes, joined a group of protesters blocking traffic outside the Brooklyn home of Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer.
Assemblyman Mamdani laid out the moral core of the protest in his quote to the media. “So many of the New Yorkers who were there were people who had lost loved ones in the horrific attacks the prior Saturday,” he said. “And they were making it explicit that their grief should not be used as a justification to kill more innocent civilians. That war crimes cannot beget war crimes.”
Given that the overwhelming majority of elected Democrats and Republicans have been on the wrong side, it’s easy to remember that Mamdani and Mitaynes, the Squad, and other congresspeople calling for a cease-fire, and the hundreds of young progressive Jews who flooded the Capitol, are not only on the right side of history but that, in important ways, they represent the mainstream of American public opinion.
While a majority of grassroots Republicans support sending weapons to Israel for this operation, a majority of grassroots Democrats, and an even larger majority of independents, oppose it. So do most Americans under the age of sixty-five, and a supermajority under the age of forty-five. And when you change the question to whether the United States should call for a cease-fire and de-escalation, 66 percent of Americans of all parties, and even 56 percent of Republicans, either somewhat or strongly agree.
Democratic socialists and a handful of their allies are the only politicians reflecting this view, but the disconnect between politicians and the rest of us is gigantic. And history won’t be kind to the politicians who can’t find the spine to call for the killing to stop.