This Tuesday, South Bend mayor and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is coming to Bloomington to discuss foreign policy and national security. The Israel-Palestine conflict always occupies an important spot in foreign policy discussions. Mayor Pete’s attitude towards the matter is troubling.
Democrats are beginning to shift away from the pro-Israel default and are focusing more on Palestinians. A number of 2020 candidates boycotted the 2019 American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, an annual gathering of the pro-Israel political elite.
New members of congress such as Ilhan Omar are voicing unprecedented support for Palestinians. Some Democratic senators have authored a resolution condemning Israeli West Bank settlements. However, others have remained pro-Israel and offer little to no criticism of Israel’s role in perpetuating the conflict. In May 2018, Mayor Buttigieg traveled to Israel for his first visit. That summer was a critical time for Palestinians.
Beginning in March 2018, Palestinians began weekly border protests to signal their dissatisfaction with the conditions created by Israel’s policies. Israel responded to the largely peaceful protests with deadly force. On the first day of protests, Israeli soldiers slaughtered 14 Palestinians and injured hundreds. Most of them were unarmed.
Still Palestinians persisted. Each week, Israel responded with live ammunition on unarmed protesters. After 6 months, there were 214 dead and over 18,000 injured. Human Rights Watch described the massacres as “calculated.” The nature of Israel’s brutal response was largely sanitized by U.S. media. Neither the soldiers on the ground nor high command have been held accountable.
When Buttigieg came to Israel, the protests were in full-swing. Dozens were already dead, and thousands were injured. Similar protests against the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem saw 60 protesters killed in a single day, just days before Buttigieg arrived.
Apparently Buttigieg did not find any of this worth noting. Upon his departure, he gave an interview with the American Jewish Committee about his time there. During the conversation, he had nothing to say about Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. He did not mention the recent massacres. It is unlikely he would not have heard of them. He only praised Israel for its modernity and security and reserved his criticism for the Palestinians.
During the interview, Buttigieg claimed the lack of a “unified or single [Palestinian] voice” was part of the cause for the continued situation. He ignored the fact Israel has opposed the existence of a unified Palestinian voice for decades. Israel has repeatedly countered any effort to form one.
For example, the Palestinian government announced in 2014 it was creating a unity government between Gaza and the West Bank. The new government was going to recognize Israel and renounce violence. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the unity government by urging the world not to recognize it. He later attempted to fracture the government when he provoked Hamas into a response to justify assaulting Gaza.
The operation escalated into the devastating Operation Protective Edge. The pro-Palestinian Institute for Middle East Understanding labeled the assault “51 days of death and destruction.” With the escalation, Israel was able rebrand Hamas as a violent extremist group and once again dissolve the ties between the Gaza and the West Bank. This is a typical example of how Israel treats the Palestinians.
When most centrist liberals discuss Palestinians, they usually ignore the overwhelming role Israel has in maintaining the status quo. They claim it is a complicated issue where both sides are equally at fault, or that Israel is doing its best in a “challenging neighborhood,” as Mayor Pete said in his AJC interview. This distortion of reality is deadly to the Palestinians.
Mayor Pete is a well-educated, well-spoken politician. But the most terrifying times are when smart people do and say nothing in the face of atrocities. Anyone who wants to be president ought to understand just how toxic America's relationship with Israel is for millions of Palestinians, including Buttigieg.