‘Moral failure’: Democrats Rep. Khanna & Michigan State Rep. Aiyash urge Biden to change Gaza policy

The Biden administration’s support for Israel has come under fierce criticism both around the world and in the U.S.

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As the death toll of Palestinians killed by Israel’s assault on Gaza approaches 30,000 and the United States vetoes a ceasefire resolution at the U.N. Security Council for the third time, the Biden administration’s support for Israel has come under fierce criticism both around the world and in the U.S. In Michigan, which is a key battleground state and home to one of the largest Arab American populations in the country, a campaign is growing to vote “uncommitted” in next week’s Democratic primary in protest of Biden’s policies backing Israel. “We’re not standing against anyone, but we’re simply reaffirming our stance for humanity and for the basic tenets of human rights,” says Democratic state Representative Abraham Aiyash, Michigan’s highest-ranking Arab and Muslim leader. “The administration needs to change course in foreign policy in the Middle East in order to gain the trust of people who we have lost,” says California Democratic Congressmember Ro Khanna, who says the U.S. must call for an immediate ceasefire and place conditions on aid to Israel.

Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The United States on Tuesday vetoed a widely supported Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The vote was 13 to 1 in favor of the resolution, with the United Kingdom abstaining. It marked the third time the U.S. has vetoed a Security Council resolution demanding a ceasefire in Gaza. The vote came a day after the U.S. circulated a rival resolution calling for a temporary ceasefire linked to the release of all Israeli hostages.

Nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s assault on Gaza over the past four-and-a-half months, with thousands more missing and presumed dead under the rubble. Nearly 70,000 people have been wounded. Eighty percent of Gaza’s population has been displaced, while a humanitarian crisis continues to worsen, with a quarter of Palestinians in Gaza facing starvation.

The Biden administration’s support for Israel in its assault on Gaza has come under fierce criticism both around the world and here at home. In Michigan, which is a key battleground state, home to one of the largest Arab American populations in the country, a campaign is growing to vote “uncommitted” in next week’s Democratic primary in protest of President’s Biden’s policies backing Israel.

For more, we’re joined by two guests. Michigan state Representative Abraham Aiyash is the Michigan House majority floor leader, the second-ranking Democrat in the Michigan House. Representative Aiyash was among several Arab and Muslim leaders who met with Biden officials in Dearborn last week, after refusing to meet with Biden’s campaign manager, Julie Chávez Rodríguez. He’s also joined more than 40 other Michigan elected officials in pledging to cast a vote for “uncommitted” in Michigan’s February 27th primary. He’s joining us from Detroit. Joining us from Washington, D.C., on his way to Michigan, is Democratic Congressmember Ro Khanna. He’s the deputy whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and is going to Michigan tomorrow to meet with Muslim and Arab American leaders in the state.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Abraham Aiyash, let’s begin with you. What are you demanding — as the Michigan House majority floor leader, what are you demanding of the Biden administration? You don’t usually take such stands against your own party, but right now the Democratic Party is really dealing with enormous pressure at this point. Can you talk about what you want to see happen?

REP. ABRAHAM AIYASH: Look, I think our demands are simple. We just don’t want our government, our country to support, to aid, to abet any operation that kills innocent men, women and children. It is not a radical idea for us to suggest that the richest and most powerful country in the history of the world should not be funding what we see as a genocide, that we have seen nearly 30,000 dead Palestinians at the hands of the U.S.-funded Israeli missiles and bombs, and we want our leadership to not engage in that type of moral failure and that degenerative act that does not dignify the humanity of the Palestinian people. So, you know, more than anything, we’re not standing against anyone, but we’re simply reaffirming our stance for humanity and for the basic tenets of human rights, which says it is not a crazy concept that we should not be supporting any effort that is killing any innocent person in the world, especially to the magnitude that we’ve seen in Gaza, where more people have died in this conflict than any war since World War II, which is just a devastating toll.

And we’re hoping to exercise our right. We’re going to use the ballot box on February 27th to show that we are going to not support any effort that is supporting a genocide and that we’re going to stand firm and, hopefully, allow this administration to change course before the November election.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I wanted to ask Congressman Ro Khanna, who’s with us, as well — you’ve said that, for example, that President Trump is too dangerous to not support President — I mean, former President Trump is too dangerous to not support President Biden. Your response to those Democrats who cannot in good conscience vote for President Biden, at least in this primary?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, first of all, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Representative Aiyash, and I’m looking forward to seeing him in Michigan. I do believe the administration needs to change course in foreign policy in the Middle East in order to gain the trust of people who we have lost. You can’t just meet with the Muslim American or Arab American community and then veto in the United Nations a resolution calling for a ceasefire and, by the way, an unconditional release of the hostages. This is the third time we have vetoed that. It is hurting our moral standing. It is hurting our commitment to human rights. And it is not giving confidence to people that you’re hearing them and changing course.

So, my hope is, in my meetings with Representative Aiyash and others, that we can come up with a strategy that helps change course in the Middle East so we get a permanent ceasefire, so we have a release of the hostages, so we get aid into Gaza, and we have more peace and justice in the region.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Representative Aiyash, I wanted to ask you about the meeting you had with Biden officials earlier this month in Dearborn. What did you get out of those talks?

REP. ABRAHAM AIYASH: We were firm in reiterating our points. We want to see an immediate, permanent ceasefire. We want to see humanitarian aid delivered to the people of Gaza through entities like UNRWA. And we want to see restrictions and conditions on the aid that is sent to Israel. You know, it is unfathomable that we just send a blank check with no conditions to a country that has violated human rights, that has violated international law over and over and over again.

And we reminded the administration that, one, they showed up 124 days into this conflict. They visited a state that happens to be the swing state. So, we are not seeing the level of support. We’re not seeing the level of concern that our communities have demonstrated for months. And we reiterated those messages once again.

And unfortunately, just four days after that meeting, we saw the Netanyahu regime did one of the worst attacks on the Rafah region, and the United States still did not put the type of pressure on that regime to stop these heinous acts.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask Congressmember Khanna: Do you think the Biden administration made a mistake in vetoing yet another ceasefire resolution? And I want to go a little further. Right after the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations issued that veto, President Biden was in Los Angeles at a fundraiser. He was attending a high-dollar fundraiser with the media mogul Haim Saban, well-known Democratic, pro-Israel billionaire. The dinner — the meeting was at, what, $3,300, to cost as much as $250,000. I’m looking at a piece now in Common Dreams. Your thoughts on this and on President Biden continually saying he’s putting enormous pressure privately on Netanyahu, yet their private acts continue to be against the kind of ceasefire that was put forward and vetoed at the United Nations?

REP. RO KHANNA: It was a mistake to veto the United Nations resolution. At the very least, we could have abstained. I mean, you have 15 countries on that Security Council. Thirteen of them are voting for a resolution for a permanent ceasefire and the release of all hostages, which is the sentiment not just in the world, it’s the sentiment about the majority of American people. And we are the lone “no” vote in the global community. It is hurting America’s standing in the world, especially an administration that is committed to multilateralism and rebuilding international institutions. What does this say about the credibility of the U.N. if we aren’t going to participate in those institutions?

The other issue is that I appreciate that there has been some movement in the administration because of many of us in Congress who have called for a permanent ceasefire, who have called for the humanitarian aid to Gaza. There has been movement in recognizing the value and dignity of Palestinian lives and the humanitarian concerns. But now we need action. There needs to be clear consequences to Netanyahu and his very far right-wing government. I mean, people in his government are way to the right of Donald Trump, and that is important to understand, people like Ben-Gvir. It needs to be clear to Bibi: He can’t go into Rafah. Our secretary of defense doesn’t want it. Our president doesn’t want it. Who is he to defy the United States of America and then expect us to continue to provide military aid to do that? So we need to be very, very clear of the consequences, and that is not what has happened so far.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Representative Aiyash, I wanted to ask you —— in December, you embarked on a hunger strike and joined a demonstration outside the White House to call for a ceasefire. Why is this issue so deeply personal to you?

REP. ABRAHAM AIYASH: Look, my chief of staff [inaudible] — her two aunts were one of the victims of the Nakba. And I remember her telling me the story where her father and his two sisters walked across the Jordan Valley, only for the two aunts to pass away from dehydration. You know, there is a real pain and a real history behind the dehumanization of the Palestinian people.

And we’ve seen people all across this country stand up and say our country should not be looking by while all these innocent men, women and children are suffering at the hands of a right-wing regime that, Congressman Khanna mentioned, that we are funding. You know, if you look at the facts, a majority of Americans — 80% of Democrats support a ceasefire. Over 60% of Americans support a ceasefire. Yet we see a majority of Congress and this White House just seem to ignore the will of the American people. You know, that is just a uniquely un-American concept, when you have folks for months who have protested, folks for months who have stood up and said, “We demand that our country lead with moral conviction and say that no innocent man, woman and child should be murdered at the hands of U.S. weaponry,” and our leaders just seem to ignore it.

And I’m grateful for leaders like Congressman Khanna, who has stood firmly in supporting human rights, who stood firmly in saying that Palestinians deserve just as much dignity as the Ukrainians, as the Israelis, as anyone in this world. But to see our leaders continue to ignore the will of the American people is extremely disheartening. And, you know, that is why this issue is so important for so many people across this country, because it is a reminder that we are going to continue to fight for our democracy and continue to fight for democratic values and ideals, and it is through things like voting “uncommitted” and continuing to organize and protest for peace all across the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Khanna, you said there needs to be consequences to affect Israeli policy. Do you think that the U.S. should cut off military aid to Israel, to Prime Minister Netanyahu, for what they’re doing in Gaza right now? And if you can talk about the big meeting you’re going to have tomorrow evening with Rashida Tlaib, the “Take Back Our Power” campaign, Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American member of the U.S. Congress?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, I voted “no” on the blank check, $17 million of unrestricted money to Israel, just a week or two ago. And I certainly don’t think we should be giving them more of the precision missiles, which would go to attack people in Rafah. I don’t see how we can bypass Congress, which has been happening, to provide offensive military weapons to undertake strikes that our own government is saying should not happen.

Let me just say this: I’m really looking forward, first, to meeting people like Representative Aiyash and other Arab American, Muslim American leaders. He is not just a representative. He is the leader in the Michigan House. He’s going to be a future governor, a future senator, a future member of Congress. And this is the point. The coalition of the modern Democratic Party is not the coalition of 1972. It is a coalition that includes young people, progressives, Muslim Americans, Arab Americans, Jewish Americans, young folks. The AME Black church has come out for a ceasefire. And we better wake up to that fact, because the future of the Democratic Party is going to demand justice for two states, a Palestinian state living side by side with the Israeli state, and is going to demand concrete actions for a ceasefire and recognizing the humanity of both Palestinians and Israelis. The conversation with Rashida Tlaib is one about electricity and power and justice on that, though I’m sure other topics will come up at that town hall.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us, California Congressmember Ro Khanna, headed to Michigan tomorrow, and Abraham Aiyash, speaking to us from Detroit, the Michigan House majority floor leader. The Michigan primary is February 27 — that’s next week — in Michigan.

When we come back, leaders at this years’s African Union Summit condemn Israel’s assault on Gaza. We’ll get the latest and also hear decisions they made around Sudan, around the Democratic Republic of Congo and more. Stay with us.

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