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Republicans respond to attack on Israel by demonstrating their unfitness
From Tim Scott to Trump, they couldn't resist smearing Biden with shameless lies.
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During a Fox News hit Saturday, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel reacted to Hamas’s attack on Israel by calling it a “great opportunity” for Republican candidates. Her comments were widely panned as ghoulish, but she wasn’t totally wrong — it’s proven to be an opportunity for Republicans to demonstrate anew that there is no bottom.
This weekend, Hamas launched a series of rocket attacks from the Gaza strip into Israel, coordinated with invasion of Israeli territory. Over 600 Israelis were killed, and an unknown number, including children, abducted in indiscriminate and terrifying attacks (casualty totals on both sides are still rising as of this writing on Sunday). Israelis hid in their homes from Hamas fighters, and there were reports of Palestinians firing on civilians.
Israel retaliated quickly; military jets bombed targets in Gaza, killing more than 310 and wounding around 2,000. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country was at war and promised to inflict “an unprecedented price.” He also cut 80 percent of the power to Gaza. Human Rights Watch has in the past called the severance of electricity in Gaza “collective punishment” that “violates the laws of war.”
Israel intelligence failed to warn of the Hamas attacks, and that’s been the focus of most immediate analysis. The horrifying loss of life on both sides, and the promise of more, is also a devastating failure of US policy in the region. For decades, the United States has tried to broker an Israeli/Palestinian peace, and to encourage a diplomatic solution to the Israeli occupation. All those efforts have led, instead, to yet another war.
There’s no doubt that, in the face of this disaster, the US needs to rethink its approach. But Republicans have used the crisis to indulge in monstrously irresponsible lies and inflammatory conspiracy theories that seem designed to hobble peace efforts and encourage dissension, confusion, and war.
The GOP has been cosplaying recently as an antiwar party. But their rush to demagogue escalating violence makes it very clear they have little regard for the lives of either Palestinians or Israelis, nor for the stability of the world order.
Trump and Republican leaders lie about US aid
Shortly after news of the Hamas attacks, leading Republicans settled on a talking point. They claimed, utterly without evidence, and contrary to fact, that the US has been funding Iran, and that these funds had been used by Iran to provide Hamas with the rockets launched at Israel.
South Carolina senator and presidential candidate Tim Scott claimed, falsely, that “Joe Biden funded these attacks on Israel.” Ohio Senator JD Vance said, again falsely, that “Americans must face a stark truth: our tax dollars funded this.” Former president Donald Trump chimed in, less coherently but still falsely: “Sadly, American taxpayer dollars helped fund these attacks, which many reports are saying come from the Biden administration.” Florida Sen. Rick Scott, tech entrepreneur and presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, and other Republicans responded with the same false talking point.
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The pretext for these lies is a hostage deal that Biden made with Iran in September. In exchange for the release of five US prisoners (one of whom had been held since 2015), the Biden administration released $6 billion in Iranian money which had been held in South Korean accounts. The US said that the funds could only be used for humanitarian purposes, such as food and medicine.
Many Republicans, including Tim Scott, mentioned the $6 billion figure specifically, claiming the Hamas attacks were the “Biden $6 billion ransom payment at work.” But the $6 billion, again (and as the White House reiterated), could not be used for weapons. It was also not money from taxpayer dollars, as Vance claimed. It was Iranian money that had been frozen, and was released in return for Iran releasing hostages — hostages who neither Trump, nor Vance, nor Scott, nor any other Republican mentioned or apparently considered important.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken went on CNN Sunday morning, was asked to respond to these Republican lies, and thoroughly demolished them, saying, "People are either misinformed, or they're misinforming. And either way, it's wrong.”
But you don’t have to take the Biden administration’s word for it — a Fox News reporter even debunked Republican lies about the attack live on air.
GOP leaders almost certainly know that the money released in September doesn’t come from American taxpayers, was restricted to humanitarian purposes, and couldn’t have been funneled to Hamas in time to be used in what appear to be long-planned attacks in any case. In short, these Republican leaders are deliberately lying.
The US funds Israel, not Hamas
Recently, MAGA Republicans like Vance and Rep. Matt Gaetz have been pretending to be antiwar. They’ve opposed funding to help Ukraine resist the Russian invasion, claiming that the US needs the money to defend itself from a supposed “invasion” of immigrants on the Mexican border.
These arguments were always transparent nonsense. They were a cudgel to use against Biden and a way to undermine opponents of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, whose nationalism, authoritarianism, and homophobia appeals to many on the right.
But the GOP’s latest lies make their utter indifference and irresponsibility even clearer. They mainly want to find a way to link Biden to Hamas, because the GOP base is extremely Islamophobic — three quarters of white evangelicals, core Trump voters, supported his ban on Muslim immigrants. But in lying about US aid to Iran, they also are obfuscating how the US is actually implicated in the conflict.
The US doesn’t fund Hamas. But, through bipartisan consensus, the US does fund Israel. In fact, Israel is the largest recipient of US military aid since World War II, at a total of some $146 billion. In 2016, President Barack Obama signed a further 10 year, $38 billion aid package.
US funds help Israel deter aggression from potentially hostile neighbors, including Iran. But because the aid has been mostly unconditional, it also enables an unstable, incendiary Israel occupation.
That occupation has been especially unstable in recent years. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel has moved farther and farther right, and the occupation has become more and more violent, vicious, and uncompromising. Israel has been rapidly expanding settlements in Palestinian territory in contravention of international law. Israel has also refused to loosen a 16-year blockade of Gaza, which has led to economic misery and brutal rationing.
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The increased provocations and restrictions have led to increasingly violent protests, which in turn have caused accelerating Israeli repression. In July in the West Bank, Israel launched an attack with drones and 1,000 ground troops; eight adults and four children were killed. A Palestinian in Gaza was killed by Israeli troops less than a month ago.
None of this is meant to excuse Hamas’s horrific brutality. But it highlights the real causes for continued unrest and violence in the region — causes Republicans ignore while they smear Biden with lies.
The GOP doesn’t care about peace
Democrats as a whole have become more supportive of Palestinians in recent years. In part as a result, some Democratic leaders have urged Biden to put conditions on Israeli aid. There’s been little practical movement by the Biden administration, however. If Republicans actually wanted to reduce violence and pursue peace, this is an area where their input could be constructive.
But the GOP isn’t interested. Instead, its leaders spout lies, heedless of their effect on Israelis, on Palestinians, or even on American hostages in Iran.
Both Republican and Democratic administrations have facilitated peace deals in Israel in the past. Perhaps we could help reduce violence in the region again if we were willing to honestly admit our failures and try a new approach. But that’s going to be difficult to do when Republicans prefer lies to truth, and are apparently willing to trade any amount of bloodshed for power.
That’s it for today
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