on the hill

Moderate congressional Democrats criticize far-left over Gaza tweets

In statements on the attacks on Tuesday, Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Elaine Luria (D-VA) appeared to criticize their Democratic colleagues.

Steve Helber/AP

Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) speaks to participants at a USO event in Virginia Beach, Va., in 2019.

As violence continued to escalate in Israel and the Palestinian territories on Tuesday, with Hamas firing barrages of rockets at Israeli population centers and Israel retaliating with strikes against Hamas targets in Gaza, U.S. lawmakers on Capitol Hill weighed in on the conflict, in some cases trading barbs over who should be blamed for the violence.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), a vocal pro-Israel Democrat in Congress, appeared to criticize colleagues who have singled out Israeli strikes on targets in Gaza or downplayed Hamas rocket attacks on Israel.

“A critical point for some of my colleagues whose facts are a bit off: Hamas is the terrorist organization, as designated by the United States,” Gottheimer said. “The U.S. supports our ally Israel’s right to defend itself, particularly against heinous Foreign Terrorist Organizations.”

In a statement, Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) also seemingly hit back at progressive Democrats who criticized Israel’s response to the missiles.

“My heart is with the Israeli people as they shelter from rockets fired by terrorists in the Gaza strip. The current situation highlights the importance of American security assistance to Israel, as Iron Dome is intercepting many of these rockets and saving lives,” Luria said. “As a sovereign nation and our strongest democratic ally in the Middle East, Israel must defend itself from terrorist attacks and Hamas must end their deadly assault.”

Luria’s statement appears aimed at far-left Democrats in Congress who have called to condition U.S. security aid to Israel.

In his first public comments on the clash, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on both sides to work to de-escalate the situation.

“Clearly Hamas’ rocket attacks into civilian populations is condemnable and violates all international norms, and so I certainly condemn those in the strongest possible terms,” Menendez said during a CNN interview. “The Israeli and Palestinian political and military leaders have to actively discourage agitators from any further action that provoke more violence and also that the Israeli National Police has to take steps to lower tensions throughout Jerusalem… This violence begets violence, and so we have to have it dramatically reduced on both sides.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also issued a statement on Tuesday night.

“I condemn the escalating and indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas against Israel. Israel has the right to defend herself against this assault, which is designed to sow terror and undermine prospects for peace,” Pelosi said in a statement. “The recent inflammatory provocations including by extremist forces in Jerusalem have exacerbated the situation and restraint must be shown by all to de-escalate the crisis.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) acknowledged the missiles’ toll on Israeli civilians in a statement that was otherwise critical of Israel.

The Vermont senator condemned Israeli nationalists as the source of the latest violence, tweeting, “once again we are seeing how the irresponsible actions of government-allied right-wing extremists in Jerusalem can escalate quickly into a devastating war,” but added that “Israeli children should not have to spend the night scared in bomb shelters as many are doing tonight. Palestinian children should not have to grow up under the constant violence and oppression of occupation, as so many do, and have done.”

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) tweeted: “Enough of Black and brown bodies being brutalized and murdered, especially children. Enough of the inhumanity. The White House must act,” and attached a lengthier statement.

“The United States must step in and rapidly broker a ceasefire to de-escalate and bring us closer to a two-state solution,” Bowman wrote. “Violently evicting families from their homes in which generations have lived is not an act of peace. A show of strong force during prayer is not an act of peace. Destroying holy sites is not an act of peace. Hamas rocket attacks are not an act of peace. Israeli government airstrikes are not an act of peace.”

A Bowman spokesperson did not respond to a request for clarification as to which holy sites had been destroyed.

Some Republicans also turned their fire toward President Joe Biden, casting blame on him for the renewed violence. 

Sen. Rick Scott accused Biden of having taken insufficient action in comparison to former President Donald Trump.

“While President Trump took unprecedented action to stand with Israel, under President Biden, rockets are raining down on our great ally. It’s time for Biden to stand up and make it clear that the U.S. stands with Israel as it defends its people from these reprehensible terrorist attacks,” Scott said in a statement. “President Biden should take immediate action to remind these terrorists and the world of the United States’ strong and unwavering support of the Israeli people.”

Many Democrats are accusing Trump of setting the stage for the latest conflagration by ignoring warnings about Palestinian unrest and involving himself in Israeli domestic politics.

Some lawmakers also sought to cast blame for the rocket attacks toward Iran; Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) highlighted Hamas’s ties to Iran in speculating that the missiles may have been made by Tehran.

In New York City on Tuesday, mayoral candidate Andrew Yang received some backlash over a Monday tweet in which he said he was “standing with the people of Israel.” Yang was confronted by protesters in public and disinvited from a Muslim community event over his statement.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) responded that it is “utterly shameful for Yang to try to show up to an Eid [ul-Fitr] event after sending out a chest-thumping statement of support for a strike killing 9 children, especially after his silence as Al-Aqsa was attacked.”

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