6 House Dems, back from Israel, accuse Netanyahu of ‘utter disregard for Palestinian lives’


WASHINGTON ((JEWISH REVIEW)) — Six U.S. House of Representatives Democrats returned from an Israel trip accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “utter disregard for Palestinian lives” and fearing that he is moving toward Gaza’s “total destruction.”

The Democrats — including the most senior Democrat on the House  appropriations committee, Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut — made the comments in a statement issued Friday. They represent the breadth of the party’s ideologies and include several with pro-Israel records.

The statement came as President Joe Biden said he would airdrop assistance into the Gaza Strip after more than 100 Gaza Palestinians died during a chaotic aid delivery under disputed circumstances on Thursday.

Speaking briefly Friday with reporters in the Oval Office, Biden called the event “tragic and  alarming.”

“We need to do more, and the United States will do more,” he said. “In the coming days, we’re going to join with our friends in Jordan and others who have provided air drops of additional food and supplies.”

The recommendations in the joint statement signed by DeLauro, Sean Casten of Illinois, Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, Becca Balint of Vermont, and Salud Carvajal and Mark Takano of California were in line with President Joe Biden’s policies, including a call for a six-week ceasefire to facilitate the release of all hostages held by Hamas and the entry of direly needed humanitarian assistance into the Gaza Strip.

But the tone was extraordinary, and could only be seen as a warning that Democrats in the House would continue to veer sharply away from Israel as long as Netanyahu is prime minister.

The six Democrats squarely blamed Netanyahu for the failure to get relief to the Palestinians.

“We are deeply worried that Prime Minister Netanyahu is moving toward the total destruction of Gaza and has demonstrated an utter disregard for Palestinian lives,” the statement said. “Nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed – with almost 70,000 more injured and thousands missing. He has shamefully been unwilling to allow humanitarian services in at the scale needed.”

Biden, too, seemed more ready than he has in the past to squarely place responsibility for aid delivery on Israel.

“We’re going to insist that Israel facilitate more trucks and more routes to give more and more people the help they need,” he said. “No excuses. Because the truth is aid flowing to Gaza is nowhere nearly enough.”

Biden has been at pains to defend Israel from charges that it is committing genocide in Gaza, and has until now accepted, to a degree, Israel’s claims that it is not alone to blame for the failure of assistance to enter the strip. Israel says Hamas steals the aid and that it must also contend with a chaotic reality as the war drags on.

Biden’s envoys to the United Nations on Thursday blocked a Security Council resolution that would have blamed Israel for the deadly humanitarian aid debacle. Israel contends that the vast majority of deaths were caused by a stampede, while Hamas says Israeli gunfire was mostly to blame.

On Friday, the number of Palestinians killed since Israel launched counterstrikes topped 30,000, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not differentiate between combatants and civilians. Israel says that more than a third of the dead are combatants.

Israel launched the counterstrikes after Hamas terrorists raided Israel on Oct. 7, massacring 1,200 people and abducting more than 250. The statement from the six Congress members condemns the massacres at the outset and called for the immediate release of the more than 130 hostages remaining captive, of whom about 100 are thought to remain alive.

Hamas said Friday that seven hostages, including three elderly men who appeared in a video it distributed some time ago, had been killed. The group has previously announced the death of a hostage who was later released alive.

The six lawmakers traveled to Israel as part of a delegation organized by J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group that has affiliated political action committees.

DeLauro, who led the delegation, stands out: In addition to being the top Democrat on the powerful Appropriations Committee, she is a member of the House Democratic leadership and has in the past been close to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the preeminent mainstream pro-Israel lobby. AIPAC’s affiliated political action committee has endorsed her. She is married to pollster Stanley Greenberg, who has been active in pro-Israel advocacy.

But the others are also significant: Casten in 2022 unseated Marie Newman in a primary, a victory propelled in part by pro-Israel anger at her policies. Carbajal is a member of Problem Solvers Caucus, which unites moderates of both parties. Balint is Jewish and a member of the Progressive Congressional Caucus. Dean’s Philadelphia-area district has a substantial Jewish population.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the J Street president who accompanied the delegation, said the lawmakers were moved by how officials across the spectrum — in Netanyahu’s government, in the opposition and in the Palestinian Authority — saw the U.S. role as “indispensable.”

“If the United States doesn’t lead some kind of a very large initiative to come out of this in a better place, nothing is going to happen,” Ben-Ami said.

He said the six saw up close the devastation wrought by the Oct. 7 attacks and their aftermath, staying in a hotel housing evacuees from Israel’s northern border, where Hezbollah is firing rockets into Israel in support of Hamas.

“The children are playing on the couches next to the members in the lobby as we’re getting ready to go on a tour,” he said. “It’s in the breakfast hall in the morning. The families are getting ready for school and the members are there, getting food right next to them.”