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Over 500 Biden campaign staffers urge him to ‘hold Israel accountable’

Letter calls on US president to take a tougher stance and work to end the ‘occupation, blockade, and settlement expansion,’ and accuses Jewish state of ethnic cleansing

President Joe Biden speaks about a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, in the Cross Hall of the White House, Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Joe Biden speaks about a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, in the Cross Hall of the White House, Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

More than 500 Democratic staffers who worked on US President Joe Biden’s election campaign have signed a letter calling on him to take a tougher stance on Israel and hold it “accountable for its actions”

The letter comes amid a growing split in the Democratic Party among progressives, like representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, who want a shift in the traditional US support for Israel and moderates who continue to back the Jewish state.

“We commend your efforts to broker a ceasefire,” said the letter, signed by mostly low-level election campaign staffers.

“Yet, we also cannot unsee the horrific violence that unfolded in recent weeks in Israel/Palestine, and we implore you to continue using the power of your office to hold Israel accountable for its actions and lay the groundwork for justice and lasting peace,” the petition said.

It called on Biden to “work to end the underlying conditions of occupation, blockade, and settlement expansion that led to this exceptionally destructive period in a 73-year history of dispossession and ethnic cleansing.”

The letter appeared to blame Israel for the recent conflict, which saw more than 4,000 rockets fired at Israel during 11 days of fighting. One Israeli soldier and 12 civilians in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, were killed in the rocket fire, and hundreds were injured.

In Gaza, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said that at least 243 Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes, including 66 children and teens, and 1,910 people were wounded. It did not differentiate between terror group members and civilians. The Israeli army said some of the Gaza casualties were caused by the terror groups’ rockets falling short and landing inside Gaza.

“While Israelis had to spend nights hiding in bomb shelters, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip had nowhere to hide. It is critical to acknowledge this power imbalance — that Israel’s highly-advanced military occupies the West Bank and East Jerusalem and blockades the Gaza Strip, creating an uninhabitable open-air prison,” the letter said.

Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on Gaza, which they say is designed to prevent terror groups from importing arms and material to build fortifications.

In this May 10, 2021 photo, rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The staffers’ letter also appeared to blame Hamas rocket fire on Israel holding off on a ceasefire.

“Israel’s protracted refusal to consider a ceasefire also put Israelis in harm’s way, prolonging the violence of Hamas’s barrage of rockets and Israel’s airstrikes — a cycle that is bound to repeat itself as long as we allow the status quo to stand, where Palestinians have no freedom and Israel controls their lives in perpetuity,” it said.

The letter-writers appeared to be at odds with Biden, who on Friday said there has been no shift in his commitment to Israel’s security, but insisted a two-state solution that includes a state for Palestinians remains “the only answer” to that conflict.

Biden spoke at a White House news conference on the first full day of a ceasefire after 11 days of Israeli-Hamas fighting.

Biden also played down the idea that the newly ended fighting had opened a rift among Democrats, as scores of party members split with his “quiet diplomacy” with ally Israel to publicly demand a ceasefire.

“My party still supports Israel,” Biden said. “Let’s get something straight here,” he added. “Until the region says unequivocally they acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state, there will be no peace.”

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