A NEWSLETTER FROM DAVID CORN
How the Hamas-Israel War Threatens American Democracy
By David Corn November 4, 2023
The aftermath of an Israeli strike on the Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on November 2, 2023. Majdi Fathi/AP
A half-century ago, the Democratic Party tore itself up over the Vietnam War—an internecine battle that led to chaos and violence at the 1968 Chicago convention. Months later, Richard Nixon slithered into the White House. The conflict among Democrats and progressives over the Hamas-Israel war may not cause a melee at the next Democratic convention, but it does threaten to undermine the most important political cause in America: preventing the restoration of Donald Trump.
It may seem crass to be worrying about the effects of the horrific October 7 massacre and the subsequent Israeli counterstrikes on US politics. The mourning continues in Israel, and the bodies of innocents in Gaza continue to pile up. Ending the violence there ought to be a top priority. Yet as that war rages, we see here a deepening division within the center-left that could weaken the effort to keep Trump from regaining power.
Trump poses a profound threat to American democracy. You know the score: He tried to mount a coup and overturn the election with his promotion of the Big Lie. He incited an insurrectionist riot. He called for suspending the Constitution so he could be returned to office. He has hobnobbed with racists and antisemites. And perhaps most worrisome of all, he and his henchmen have concocted schemes for implementing authoritarian and extreme measures should he once again get ahold of the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Can the republic survive another Trump turn?
Unfortunately, polling shows that Trump has a decent shot at a new season in the White House and that to keep the country safe, a popular front of Democrats, progressives, centrists, independents, and anti-Trump Republicans must rally behind President Joe Biden, the likely Democratic nominee. It’s a coalition of the not-willing-to-see-what-happens-if-Trump-gets-another-chance. This sort of movement is bound to have plenty of ideological and issue-driven fissures. After all, the Democratic Party on its own always has had a bunch. But this new war is causing serious cracks.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats have been at each other’s throats. When the House last week passed a resolution supporting Israel and condemning Hamas on an overwhelming bipartisan vote, 15 Democrats did not support the measure because it did not acknowledge the civilian deaths in Gaza caused by Israeli strikes. Afterward, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), a staunch supporter of Israel, denounced this band of Democrats as “despicable” and exclaimed “they do not speak for our party.” Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.), one of the 15, replied harshly, noting that Gottheimer “has to understand that there is a community out there. There are Americans out there who are deeply opposed to what’s happening. And if he wants to call us despicable, I’m saying he’s a coward. And he’s a punk.”
A Democratic-backed political action committee called Democratic Majority for Israel has been airing ads slamming Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the only Palestinian American in the House, for voting against measures declaring support for Israel and funding its Iron Dome antimissile system. She did so, she said, because these bills had “no conditions on upholding human rights” of Palestinians and were predicated on a “deeply incomplete and biased account of what is happening in Israel and Palestine, and what has been happening for decades.”
There is indeed a large slice of Americans out there opposed to or ambivalent about Israel’s actions in response to the vile Hamas attack. It’s true that most Americans are on Israel’s side. In a recent poll, 49 percent said their sympathies lie with Israelis, while 10 percent stated their sympathies are with Palestinians. But it’s clear that key elements of the Democratic coalition—young people, activist-minded progressives, and others—either do not embrace or outright reject the traditional pro-Israel stance long dominant within American politics.
A poll released by the Arab American Institute this week shows that two-thirds of Arab Americans have a negative view of Biden’s response to the war. This could matter a lot in 2024. The poll asked respondents who they now support in the upcoming election. A measly 17 percent said Biden, who won 59 percent of the Arab American vote in 2020. Forty percent said Trump. Yes, a whopping plurality picked the guy who implemented a ban on Muslims entering the United States and who promises to revive it should he triumph in 2024.
This eye-popping shift is happening at a time when tensions are high and emotions raw. But such a change, if long-lasting, could have significant consequences next year. Arab Americans account for hundreds of thousands of voters in Michigan and Pennsylvania, key swing states.
Some components of the anti-Trump coalition are looking at the Democratic Party these days and saying, WTF. This week, Hillary Clinton declared, “People calling for a ceasefire now do not understand Hamas. That is not possible. It would be such a gift to Hamas because they would spend whatever time there was a ceasefire in effect rebuilding their armaments, creating stronger positions, to be able to fend off an eventual assault by the Israelis. So we’re in a very different world. I don’t think it had to be the world we’re in. But that’s where we are, and we have got to figure our way forward through it.”
Is Clinton this tone-deaf? Even if she were possibly correct from a policy perspective, she sounded callous. I imagine young progressives who have protested the Israeli bombing raids and civilian deaths and who have urged a ceasefire listening to this and thinking, “Screw the Democrats.” After all, even Biden has called for a “pause”—not a ceasefire—to allow for more time to negotiate a hostage deal. And the president added, “This is incredibly complicated for the Israelis. I can thoroughly understand the emotions on the Palestinian side of the argument and the Jewish side of the argument.” On Thursday night, media reports noted that Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be pushing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a “pause” to help win the release of the hostages and to permit the distribution of more humanitarian aid to Gaza. But how hard are he and Biden pushing? And if there is a pause, how long will it be before the attacks and civilian casualties resume?
Biden, as I’ve observed previously, is trying to thread a needle: Be supportive of Netanyahu and Israel but nudge them to avoid widening the conflict. That may be responsible statecraft, but it still comes with the price of a tremendous number of civilian deaths in Gaza—and awful images and footage that stirs justifiable outrage in the United States and elsewhere. As David Rothkopf pointed out in the Daily Beast, the Biden administration has deftly handled the complex task of both supporting and restraining Israel since the opening of the Gaza crisis, but the question is will the “bear hug” continue to work or will mounting civilian losses in Gaza force Biden to alter his approach? He writes:
It is the profound flaws of judgment and instincts of Bibi & Co. that will require Biden and his team to demand a significant change of course by Israel. Should that change not come, it will then be the deep-seated values of Biden and his team and their clear sense of U.S. national interests that will require what will be a major adjustment in U.S. policy.
We will see if that happens and if a Biden shift changes the political dynamics in the United States.
Meanwhile, the war is also stirring divisions within the left. On campuses, in labor unions, and within progressive activist groups, there have been angry debates about how to respond to the Hamas raid and the Israeli counterattack. A rash of stories have detailed the rift: the Wall Street Journal (“The Left Is Tearing Itself Apart Over Israel”), NBC News (“The left faces a reckoning as Israel divides Democrats”); the New York Times (“Democrats Splinter Over Israel as the Young, Diverse Left Rages at Biden”).
This has been a long time coming. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a flashpoint within the left for years. Some progressives have complained about comrades who are PEP: progressive except for Palestine. Yet this split has often been sidelined, with greater attention paid to common causes. Now, in a time that seems fraught in general, with terrible violence bringing notice to the conflict at the heart of this war, these differences are coming to the fore and causing anguish on all sides within the left. Some Jewish progressives say their allies did not respond sufficiently to the slaughter of Jews (or, worse, seemed supportive of that attack). Some supporters of Palestinian rights view their Jewish colleagues as not caring enough about the Palestinian lives lost.
All this is good news for Trump. A divided left, a divided Democratic Party, young voters and Arab Americans alienated from the Democratic establishment—this impairs the coalition needed to thwart Trump. Oh, don’t ask me for a solution. The best I can come up with is that people with common interests ought to communicate honestly and respectfully with each other about their differences and keep in mind the important goals that they do share. But during a time of war—when babies are pulled out of rubble and young adults are mowed down at a rave—that might be too much to expect.
I don’t know how to tell an activist protesting massive bombing raids that are killing thousands that she should not be turned off by Clinton’s remarks or Biden’s acceptance of these strikes. Yet it’s rather obvious that if the divisions deepen and cause Biden to lose, the nation will be in a much shittier position: no climate change action, more assaults on women’s freedom, more tax breaks for the wealthy, less help for the needy, more attacks on democracy. And who knows what that will mean for the Middle East?
By the way, the Democratic convention next year is in Chicago.
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An Our Land Zoom Get-Together
As previously noted, we’re going to have another Zoom gathering of Our Land readers on November 9, 8 p.m. ET. That will be two days after critical elections in Virginia and Ohio. These gatherings are open to premium subscribers. On the morning of the event, they will get an email with a onetime Zoom link. But here’s the good news: You can now sign up here for the full newsletter and be eligible to attend. What will we talk about? You want me to predict what will be happening a week from now during these crazy days? No way...See you soon.
Dumbass Comment of the Week
Fresh GOP House Speaker Mike Johnson made it into the running this week. After he released a $14 billion aid bill for Israel that would cut an equal amount from the new funds President Joe Biden won for the IRS, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that this measure would add nearly $27 billion to the deficit. In response, Johnson scoffed, “Only in Washington when you cut spending do they call it an increase in the deficit.”
There’s a simple explanation. If you defund the IRS—and allow rich tax cheats to escape scrutiny—it will bring in less money. Johnson, a Christian fundamentalist who says he believes in “biblically sanctioned government,” was being extremely disingenuous. Maybe he forgot what the Bible says about taxes in Romans 13:7: “Pay, then, what you owe them; pay your personal and property taxes, and show respect and honor for [the authorities]."
Far-right influencer Stew Peters, a chief promoter of the conspiracy theory that Covid vaccines are causing people to die suddenly, had another doozy. At a conference in Florida called the Stew Peters Fall Freedom Fest, he railed against activists and volunteers who are helping undocumented migrants at the borders: “These people cross into Mexico and coach illegals on how to get admitted here...These are these, you know, not-for-profit charities. Catholic Charities is a very good example...We need troops on the border that will shoot people that are trying to invade our country. That’d be a good first step. But you know what a better second step would be? Shooting everyone involved with these fake charities.”
As my colleague Kiera Butler reported, “Kevin Brennan, vice president for media relations at Catholic Charities USA, called Peters’ comments ‘deeply disturbing’ in an email to Mother Jones, noting that his words ‘could endanger Catholic Charities staff members and volunteers, who on a daily basis selflessly serve people in need in every corner of this country.’” Yes, dumb can also be dangerous.
Fox host Laura Ingraham was a strong contender this week. As part of the network’s never-ending crusade to make Biden seem like a nincompoop, she doubled over in laughter, as she pounced on the president’s reference to NASA’s super-duper deep space telescope: “Did he call it the Webb telescope? Isn’t it the Hubbell? Was he thinking of Webb Hubbell?” (Webb Hubbell was the Clinton administration’s associate attorney general who pleaded guilty to wire fraud.)
Uh, no. It is the James Webb Space Telescope. The Hubble Space Telescope was its predecessor. Biden had it correct. Ingraham’s performance was a stunning display of ignorance—even for a network that often hates science.
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) made a fool of herself on television, too. Appearing on The Daily Show, she pushed the right-wing narrative that Biden is corrupt: “Corruption is a real problem in this country. I have seen bank accounts of the president’s grandchildren with money directly from communist China. That should not be happening in our country, and it should be exposed for every American to see and then to decide whether or not that’s okay.”
Guest host Charlamagne tha God quickly shot back: “Do you believe the evidence against Donald Trump?” Mace, stuttering, replied, “Which evidence?” The audience howled with laughter. Charlamagne tried to make it easy for her: “Exactly. Pick one. Pick one of the 91 charges...Let’s just say, Georgia.” Mace responded, “Georgia, that would be the election fraud. I haven’t seen the evidence yet.” More hoots from the audience.
Mace had been busted. She was obsessed with the Biden family but showed no interest in Trump’s alleged crimes. Charlamagne also could have asked her about Ivanka Trump’s patents in China that were fast-tracked by the government there when she was a Trump White House adviser. Or about the $2 billion that Jared Kushner pulled in from the Saudis shortly after the Trump’s Saudi-friendly presidency ended. But time was up for the segment.
Speaking of Kushner, appearing on Maria Bartiromo’s show on Fox, he remarked, "One of the ironies is that as an American Jew, you're safer in Saudi Arabia right now than you are on a college campus like Columbia University.” That was, of course, ridiculous. Saudi Arabia is not safe for women, gay people, dissidents, or journalists—even if they’re Jewish. Kushner was once again whitewashing the Saudis—which is what one might expect to come with a $2 billion investment. He is this week’s winner. Sorry, Kushner, there’s no cash prize.
I don’t think any topic has prompted more Our Land subscribers to rush to the keyboard than the Hamas-Israel war. I’ve devoted several issues to this, and each one has drawn a boatload of comments.
Louise Simons emailed:
This article seems looney to me. You are blaming the wrong side. It was Hamas that attacked. It's Palestine's men that attacked. I can't support you again. I'm sorry because I respected your opinions, but not any longer.
And she emailed again, referencing a quote from one of my pieces:
"And the counterstrikes he has launched have already killed thousands of Palestinian civilians, generating outrage around the world." And maybe/probably/no doubt the counterstrikes have saved just as many Jewish lives. What about that? Doesn't that matter to you? Where's your outrage about the Jewish lives in the first strikes? This attack was horrible, gut-wrenching, terrifying.
I hope it’s clear that I believe both sides have engaged in wrongdoing. It is wrong to deliberately target and massacre civilians. That’s a war crime, outrageous, and horrific. Full stop. It’s also wrong to drop bombs on civilian targets and kill thousands of innocents. Have these strikes saved Jewish lives? That’s not as easy a question to answer as Louise seems to believe. Certainly, not in the immediate sense. There likely were no additional Hamas raids stopped by these strikes. As for the future, who can tell? Will the Israeli counterattack wipe out Hamas, as Netanyahu vows? Or perpetuate more cycles of violence—while diminishing global support for Israel and inflaming regional antipathy toward Israel—that might lead to more death and destruction? I don’t know. And no one else does.
What is disappointing is the vitriol that flows so easily in this debate. I am trying in good faith—as I know many of you are—to figure out how to respond to this ongoing tragedy. What is the best course to save lives and afford Israelis and Palestinians respect, dignity, and security? Maybe I got it wrong. If so, please engage and try to convince me of that. But, I’m guessing, Louise doesn’t see it that way.
Bob Eisenberg wrote:
It is time to face reality. The people of Gaza will be safe only after Hamas surrenders. Hamas is firing rockets at the population of Israel. That is a continuing act of war that would produce a military response from nearly any country. Israel in fact is responding as the USA would to a rocket attack from Cuba. The situation is rather like Germany and Japan in January 1945. The only protection for the civilian population of Gaza is the surrender of Hamas.
Hamas is a tyrannical, repressive, and murderous outfit that wants to eradicate Israel and its people. If it surrenders and disappears, the Palestinians and the world would be better off. That’s not going to happen. But are the people of Gaza—half of whom are under 18 and most of whom did not vote for Hamas in the 2006 election that brought it to power (in the last national election held there)—so culpable for Hamas’ sins that they should be blown apart? Yes, we fire-bombed Dresden and we nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing tens of thousands of civilians. We also killed 2 million or so Vietnamese civilians. This is not a record to emulate. And, as noted above, whether justified or not, this sort of response may well be counterproductive.
David Bunker shared this:
I am no fan of Benjamin Netanyahu or his far-right coalition. I believe that extending settlements into new territory is outrageous and hampers opportunities to provide Palestinians their own state. However, the Hamas terrorists need to be eradicated. The atrocities committed against civilians, including torture, rape and murder, as well as kidnapping women and children, cannot be permitted to stand. Hamas controls Gaza. According to numerous credible reporters, Hamas sets up their headquarters and stores their guns and munitions in mosques, schools and civilian neighborhoods. When Israel warned civilians to go south to avoid harm, Hamas told them to stay.
The tragic hospital bombing resulted from an errant missile fired by another Islamic group. It is true that Israel has shut down avenues for food, water and medicines from going into Gaza, but Israel has said they will open those avenues as soon as Hamas releases the hostages. I also think Israel would stop the bombing if Hamas would agree to give up the terrorists who committed the atrocities and the leadership that permitted the atrocities, as well as releasing all hostages. If Hamas cares about the people living in Gaza who are not terrorists, then they should undertake these actions. As an aside, thanks to the intersession of President Biden, Egypt will open their route to southern Gaza for several truckloads of food, meds and water.
Hamas has clearly demonstrated it is an extremist organization that does not place the interests of Gazan civilians first. It’s too late to ask it to care about those people or to behave reasonably. So if it is willing to disregard the lives of its own people as a regrettable cost of its struggle to eradicate Israel, does that absolve Israeli and its supporters (say, the United States) of responsibility for causing the deaths of so many civilians?
Rodney Grunes had a different take:
I don't think you have put the dots together on how much the Biden administration is doing. Hostages are very slowly being released. Humanitarian aid is going to the Palestinians in southern Gaza. The anticipated Israeli ground invasion has been on pause. The public display of support to Israel given by Biden has made much of this possible! That is not to say that you are not correct in stating that Biden is also trying to prevent a wider war. Seems to me that Biden is demonstrating that he is a master politician.
Since Rodney wrote, a ground operation has begun. But as I write, it is not an all-out assault. It’s clear what Biden is trying to achieve: publicly support Netanyahu and Israel so he can lean on them to not take actions that would lead to an even greater and deadlier conflagration. He has called for a pause and pressed for humanitarian assistance, but let’s not forget that the US government is covering the costs of the bombing still underway and bears some responsibility for what’s been happening. This war seems far from over. Thus, it may be too early to pronounce Biden “a master politician.”
Katherine White sent in this note:
Thank you for your thoughtful and balanced discussion in "The Hamas-Israel War: What Can Be Discussed?" You affirmed my sense that, no, Israel's government cannot get away with imposing apartheid the Palestinians forever—which does not, of course, justify Hamas' heinous attack-- and my discomfort with our own government's full-throated support of Israel without regard for the authoritarian nature of Israel's government of late, much less the way that government has been treating Palestinians for years. And, most of all, that it's the civilians on both sides that pay the price for both Hamas' terrorism and Israel's oppression.
Jonnie Gray shared this:
I hope that all those who are fell for Netanyahu’s promises of security are contemplating the difference between security and peace.
Bobbi Corn (no relation) observed:
As an American Jew, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and the granddaughter of a Holocaust victim I want to commend you for your comments. In the immediate aftermath of the horrific terrorist attack in Israel, the immediate human response is one of rage, but it is important that we are ruled by our intellect and our humanity. Rage only begets more rage. The pursuit of a just peace is the only long-term solution.
Cabot Thunem wrote in about the recent issue on Leonard Leo, the right-wing godfather who has shaped the US judiciary:
I was delighted to finally see a column regarding the right-wing's purchase of the federal judiciary. We need to shine a bright light on this corruption of our democratic system. Ever since Charles Koch gave his speech in 1974 outlining how to clandestinely take over the government through the judiciary, I have been talking with anyone who will listen about how the Kochs quit buying politicians because they always need more money and started buying judges because once bought they are there for life. Here’s one recent article on the issue. We cannot fix any of the other problems we have as a nation until we can expose and neuter the dark money network destroying our country.
“Since the bandage and splint came off my leg, can I play?”
“No, Moxie. Not for a week.”
“Can I jump?”
“No. Not for a week.”
“Can I run?”
“No. Not for a week.”
“Okay. Then can you give me the password for the Times’ crossword?”
Read Recent Issues of Our Land
October 31, 2023: Scoop: Mike Johnson urged a religious test for politicians; Michael J. Fox can’t sit still in his new documentary; U2 goes atomic; and more.
October 28, 2023: Leonard Leo and the Deep State on the right; recent news about Mitt Romney and Mike Johnson; Dumbass Comment of the Week (House Republicans); the Mailbag; and more.
October 24, 2023: Imagine Trump in charge during the Hamas-Israel war; Steve Bannon and Alex Jones conspiracy-mongering together; a Jim Jordan tale; George Santos speaks; and more.
October 21, 2023: Biden and Netanyahu’s delicate dance; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Ari Fleischer); the Mailbag: MoxieCam™; and more.
October 18, 2023: No blank check for Bibi; the strange trip of Asteroid City; Devon Gilfillian gives us a closer with “Love You Anyway”; and more.
October 14, 2023: Jim Jordan’s threat to democracy; from George Santos scoop to indictment; the day the GOP died; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Nancy Mace); the Mailbag: MoxieCam™; and more.
October 11, 2023: The Hamas-Israel war—what can be discussed?; The Bear makes you care; Native Americans at the National Gallery of Art; and more.
October 7, 2023: How our George Santos scoop ended up in the criminal case; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Elon Musk); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
October 4, 2023: How media framing aids Trump’s assault on democracy; why do GOP and Trump donors like Robert F. Kennedy Jr.?; am I a redbaiter?; Crooked chronicles an actual weaponization of the Justice Department; a classic Willie Nelson tune; and more.
September 30, 2023: Trump loses a battle in his long war on reality; GOP donors look to Gov. Glenn Youngkin; comedians make a serious gun-safety video; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Marjorie Taylor Greene); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
Got suggestions, comments, complaints, tips related to any of the above, or anything else? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.