No sooner had the preliminary International Court of Justice report appeared — finding a plausible case of genocide against Israel — than Israel launched a counter offensive, accusing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) of harbouring Hamas fighters.
UNRWA is the key relief agency for distributing humanitarian aid to the people in the Gaza Strip. It has 13,000 employees who also help provide educational and medical services in Gaza.
United States President Joe Biden immediately cut funding to UNRWA. Lackey European countries followed suit, as did Australia.
The US and Europe provide most of UNRWA’s funding. If this is not restored soon, the humanitarian situation in Gaza will become much direr, according to the UN.
Biden already stands guilty of aiding and backing Israel’s genocide, earning him the nickname, “Genocide Joe”. However, this decision means that the US is carrying out its own “heinous genocide” in Gaza — in the words of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).
For years the rightists in Israel’s government have sought to eliminate UNWRA, and now they see their chance.
Writing in The Intercept, Ryan Grim reported on January 9 that the Israeli Knesset (parliament) discussed the issue. A video of the session went viral. Knesset member Noga Arbell says: “Our main goal in the war is to eliminate the threat and not neutralise it. And we know how to eliminate terrorists. It is more difficult with an idea. UNRWA is the source of the idea … [a]nd it will be impossible to win the war if we do not destroy UNRWA. And the destruction must begin immediately … They must be abandoned. Or they must go to hell.”
Even if investigations reveal that some UNRWA employees were indeed involved in the October 7 attacks on Israeli citizens, Biden’s response, in putting hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in harm’s way, is grotesque.
Hamas is more than its armed wing. It is Gaza’s administrative government and UNRWA must work with whatever remains of that apparatus.
JVP ran a full-page ad in the New York Times and other major newspapers on January 26, in the form of a public letter addressed to Biden.
“As American rabbis, we write to you with deep sorrow and fury,” the letter began.
“Tomorrow is International Holocaust Remembrance Day: a time to honor the memory of the millions of people murdered through the genocide committed by the Nazi regime, including six million of our Jewish ancestors.
“We will also remember this is the time in which Israel was committing genocide, aided and abetted by the United States. We know how painful it is for Jews to grasp that a Jewish state could possibly commit a genocide. Nevertheless, we are compelled to speak with moral clarity about what is happening to Palestinians.
“We do so not in spite of our histories, but because of them. We know in our bones what it means to hear Israeli officials dehumanize an entire people, to witness the Israeli military mass murder tens of thousands of Palestinians, to watch Israel systematically destroy civilian infrastructure, cultural institutions, universities, and hospitals. To see Israel purposefully deny food, medicine and shelter.
“The Torah teaches there are moments when we must make a critical moral choice. As Deuteronomy 30:19 says, ‘I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life.’
“President Biden, you have chosen death.
“Instead of using your considerable power to prevent or end this genocide, you have directly abetted it with weapons, funds and diplomatic cover. If the words ‘Never Again’ have any meaning at all, they must mean ‘Never Again for Anyone.’
“With urgency, Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council.”
Black clergy speak out
As reported in the NYT on January 29, a coalition of more than 1000 Black faith leaders, “spurred in part by their parishioners, who are increasingly distressed by the suffering of Palestinians and critical of the president’s response”, is pressuring Biden to push for a ceasefire.
Reverend Timothy McDonald, senior pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, which boasts more than 1500 members, was one of the first in Georgia, a key swing state, to sign an open letter calling for a ceasefire. He told the NYT: “The intense feeling about the war in Gaza is among the many unexpected ways that the conflict has scrambled U.S. politics. And it comes as Mr. Biden is already facing signs of waning enthusiasm among Black voters, who have for generations been the Democrats’ most loyal voting base.”
The coalition is diverse, “from conservative-leaning Southern Baptists to more progressive nondenominational congregations in the Midwest and Northeast”, said the NYT.
Rev Michael McBride, a founder of Black Church Political Action Committee and lead pastor of The Way church in Berkeley, California, told the NYT: “This is not a fringe issue … There are many of us who feel that this administration has lost its way on this.”
Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-convener of the National African American Clergy Network, whose members lead roughly 15 million Black churchgoers, told the NYT: “Black clergy have seen war, militarism, poverty and racism all connected.”
According to the NYT, young parishioners are most angry about the war.
Biden travelled to Michigan — home to the largest percentage of Arab Americans — on February 1.
The United Auto Workers union (UAW) has endorsed Biden’s bid for re-election, but is also calling for a ceasefire in Israel’s war on Gaza. At the January 24 rally where the UAW’s president endorsed Biden, some people held up Palestinian flags and shouted “ceasefire!”. Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters were waiting for Biden at a UAW campaign event held for him at the union’s Detroit office.
When Biden visited a restaurant to talk up his campaign, he was met by people waving Palestinian flags, and protesters with megaphones chanting “Genocide Joe” and “How many kids have you killed today?”.
Dearborn, Michigan, which borders Detroit, is sometimes called the Arab American capital. It is home to many Arab Americans, including from Palestine, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq. Ahead of Biden’s campaign trip, his representative tried to speak with Arab American leaders in Dearborn to set up campaign events, but was rebuffed.
Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud told DemocracyNow! that the community “was sending the message that this is not the moment that calls for electoral politics … [and] [t]he lives of Palestinians should not be measured simply in poll numbers”.
Hammoud said the position in favour of a ceasefire “is not one just supported by Arab Americans and Muslim Americans. This is supported by over 60 percent of Americans across the country, over 80 percent of Democrats and even over 50 percent of Republicans”.
James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, told DN! that in the 2020 election, Biden won 59% of the Arab American vote, but that dropped to 17% in October, and is probably lower today.
Growing numbers of Americans are opposed to the US’ support for Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza. The majority of young voters are opposed to the war.
What all this means for the November presidential election remains to be seen. What can be said now is that a Donald Trump v Biden contest is viewed by many Americans as an awful choice.