Collegial concerns

Rep. Kathy Manning says calls for suspending Israel aid embolden Hamas 

Manning said she’s feeling ‘perplexed’ by the current mood inside the Democratic caucus toward Israel

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Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC) speaks during a press conference on new legislation to support Holocaust education nationwide at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 27, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC) told Jewish Insider on Thursday that she’s worried that efforts and threats by her colleagues to suspend aid to Israel are making it less likely that Hamas will accept a deal to free the hostages, and that Hamas views such divisions between the U.S. and Israel as a victory — comments that echo sentiments expressed by other Democratic pro-Israel lawmakers in recent days.

Manning told JI in an interview that she’s “concerned” that “letters from some of my colleagues” about suspending aid to Israel “will be viewed by Hamas as a sign that they have succeeded, through the terrible humanitarian situation they’ve created in Gaza, which we know they expected and they exacerbate by continuing to hide underneath the civilians,” she said, referring to Hamas’ extensive network of tunnels.

“I am concerned that they now will see that they are driving a wedge between the United States and Israel,” she continued. “And why should they take a deal when, if they continue to allow the disaster to continue in Gaza — it’s doing their work for them.”

Manning emphasized that Hamas “hold[s] the key” to resolving the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and that they are the only party interested in prolonging and worsening the humanitarian crisis.

“It just seems obvious that their plan is to continue to encourage Israel to keep fighting so that they can build even more sympathy from the world,” she said. “And sadly, it’s easy to forget why the situation has developed the way it is.”

Manning had first floated these concerns, in less specific terms, on Wednesday in a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing with U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power, where Manning said she is “deeply worried that there are things that we are doing that are preventing Hamas from taking the deal and releasing the hostages.”

Asked whether she thinks her colleagues pushing punitive measures toward Israel are truly concerned about or considering the plight of the hostages, Manning told JI she didn’t want to “paint so many of my colleagues with such a broad brush.”

But she said “there are people who look beyond the complexity of this situation and have moved beyond the horrors of Oct. 7, for reasons that I don’t understand.”

“If they gave equal weight to loss of life — Jewish loss of life and other loss of life, it would not be so easy to move on,” she said, questioning why there has not been more widespread public outrage and protest targeting Hamas, including for bringing about the current war by attacking Israel.

“The other thing I wonder,” she continued, “is for those who say ‘cease-fire now, period,’ — and then what? We just let Hamas go back to work and we wait for the next Oct. 7 and hope that Israel is better armed and better equipped? What comes after ‘cease-fire now’? That’s what I can’t understand.”

Manning is not the first Democratic lawmaker to express concerns that her colleagues’ rhetoric is effectively working in Hamas’ favor; she joins a cohort of reliably pro-Israel Democrats including Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Ritchie Torres (D-NY) and Sens. John Fetterman (D-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), who have expressed similar sentiments to JI this week. But that currently is a minority view among Democratic lawmakers.

Asked what percentage of her colleagues see the situation the way she does, Manning said she didn’t know. And she said she’s feeling “perplexed” by the current mood inside the Democratic caucus toward Israel.

Like Gottheimer and Torres, Manning did not extend the same criticisms to the administration’s own efforts to pressure Israel that she offered for her colleagues’ recent moves.

She said that it’s clear from public reports that the relationship between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “difficult,” tensions that she noted date back years. But she said that she thinks Biden “has worked very hard to foster a good relationship,” including by visiting Israel shortly after the attack, something she said Israelis told her on a recent visit they still deeply appreciate.

“I think it’s fair to say that President Biden has had an outstretched hand, and that hand has not met the warm handshake that it should have,” she said.

Manning said that she believes that the administration hasn’t altered its position that Israel has the right to defend itself and ensure that Oct. 7 cannot be repeated, noting, “there have been some clarifying statements along those lines” in recent days and weeks.

She said that many of the administration’s recent statements have focused on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the need to increase humanitarian access, but “the impression I have right now is the United States does not say you cannot destroy the Hamas military capability. But the U.S. is, of course, very, very concerned about going into Rafah.”

The North Carolina lawmaker visited Israel during a congressional recess with other Democrats earlier this month, and said that, despite the close attention she’s paid to the crisis, including watching footage and hearing testimony about the Hamas attack, meeting with hostage families and speaking with Israeli officials, she was still “not prepared” for what she saw on the ground at Kibbutz Kfar Aza and the site of the Nova music festival massacre.

Speaking about the visit to Kfar Aza, Manning said that she’d “never seen destruction like that anywhere, and it was so much more grotesque than I expected, much more systematic than I expected.” 

Manning also said she didn’t fully comprehend before her visit that attendees at the Nova festival had truly “no place to hide… it’s just so much more horrifying when you see it in person.”

“It just became so clear to me the diabolical nature of the attack, how well planned it was, how intentional the destruction, murder, sexual violence used to humiliate people… the way they systematically went through the houses and targeted the young people and their homes,” she continued.

Manning described Israel as “a very different country now” than it was even during previous wartime visits, and a country devoid of tourists. The group also had to cancel a visit to northern Israel due to rocket fire along the Lebanese border.

She said that lawmakers told Netanyahu during a sit-down that it was “a big mistake” to cancel a meeting between his senior advisers and the Biden administration about a potential invasion of Rafah, a decision that Manning described as a “particular moment of frustration” for the Biden administration.

Netanyahu canceled the delegation in retaliation for the U.S.’ decision not to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire unconditioned on the release of hostages, but subsequently re-scheduled the sit-down. U.S. officials have said that the meeting, with Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, will be rescheduled in the coming weeks.

She said the lawmakers also spoke with Netanyahu about his plan for the war as well as his long-term plan and approach to “Israel living in peace among its neighbors.” 

She added that Netanyahu told the lawmakers that, after Hamas is eliminated from control of Gaza, he expects Israel will have to maintain security control for a period of time until a new government is established that can allow the enclave to redevelop and perform normal governing functions.

Netanyahu said that as that body “is able to demonstrate the ability to govern,” Israel will increasingly step back. Looking further ahead, she said that Netanyahu framed the Abraham Accords as central to his “long-term vision.”

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