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Before Joining Biden Administration,...

Before Joining Biden Administration, White House Staff Attacked ‘Apartheid’ Israel

By: Philip Wegmann - October 20, 2023

(Office of the President of the United States, Wikimedia Commons)

Even before the Hamas attacks, Israel was being condemned as “an apartheid state” by progressive Democrats, including by some who now serve within the president’s administration.

The U.S. Secret Service arrested dozens of protestors outside the White House this week on charges of unlawful entry. The immediate aim of the demonstration, organized by the progressive Jewish group IfNotNow, was to “shut down the White House.” Their ultimate goal: pressuring President Biden into supporting an Israeli ceasefire. The White House has repeatedly rejected those calls.  

“How dare he send offensive weaponry to that government right now,” Eva Borgwardt, the group’s political director, said of President Biden’s decision to provide military aid to Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration in the wake of a Hamas attack that killed more than 1,300 Israelis and at least 30 Americans.

She told the crowd that Netanyahu’s administration was “fascist.” She yelled into a microphone that resupplying Israel “to carry out what they’ve explicitly stated is genocidal intent, is unfathomably unacceptable.” Borgwardt also served as a field organizer for the Arizona Democratic Party to elect Biden in 2020.

The demonstration was ultimately unsuccessful, and the president traveled to Tel Aviv Wednesday where he embraced Netanyahu on the tarmac in a show of continued solidarity. IfNotNow, meanwhile, organized a second demonstration, this one inside the Cannon House Office Building, which was also widely covered by the press and where even more protestors were arrested.

But while the president has earned bipartisan praise for his support of Israel, there is a creeping anger on the left at Biden for abetting the alleged mistreatment of Palestinians. Even before the Hamas attacks, Israel was being condemned as “an apartheid state” by progressive Democrats, including by some who now serve within the president’s administration.

The Washington Post reported in May 2021 that more than 500 Biden campaign and Democratic Party staffers signed a public letter calling on Biden to do more to protect Palestinian human rights. It was co-authored by Borgwardt. And, as the Post noted at the time, it was co-signed by staffers who worked in Biden campaign headquarters, at the Democratic National Committee, and in 22 states.

The staffers asked the president to address “underlying conditions of occupation, blockade, and settlement expansion that led to this exceptionally destructive period” and included a list of specific demands. Among those demands: Ensure that foreign aid from the United States “no longer funds the imprisonment and torture of Palestinian children, theft and demolition of Palestinian homes and property, and annexation of Palestinian land.”

RealClearPolitics found that at least nine of the co-signers now work across the administration in posts from the Department of Energy to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, often in low to mid-level positions. Some of the co-signers work on the White House campus, including one in the Office of Management and Budget, which will administer foreign aid to Israel, as well as a senior associate director for Presidential Boards and Commissions.

When reached for comment, the White House told RCP that the president stands with Israel and that all questions of foreign policy fall squarely on him. “Joe Biden sets policy for the United States. Period,” said White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates. “He has been steadfast and unequivocal in our support for our close ally Israel in the aftermath of Hamas’ terrorist atrocities.” 

The White House was similarly clearcut in its denouncement of members of Congress who compared the Hamas terror attacks to previous actions taken by the Israeli military. “We believe they’re wrong. We believe they’re repugnant, and we believe they’re disgraceful,” Karine Jean-Pierre told RCP when asked about statements from progressive Democrats like Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Cori Bush of Missouri. “There can be no equivocation about that, there are not two sides here.”

A former foreign policy advisor, who served on the 2020 Biden campaign and co-signed the 2021 letter, described the president’s current approach to the Middle East as a product of both his generation and a “gut instinct” developed during his many years as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations committee.

“There is not a sense that they see value in engaging with any of the pressure from the left. They overwhelmingly are in defensive crouch, and they don’t want to be attacked on an issue like this,” the former advisor said, before predicting that the administration wouldn’t make anything more than “micro-movements” toward restraining Israel during the coming Gaza invasion.

For his part, Biden has repeatedly denounced those who call Israel an apartheid state, a criticism particularly popular among younger far-left progressives. “I think they are wrong,” he said last summer when asked about that description of Israel, adding that the nation “is a democracy.”

Public polling shows that most of the American public shares his support for Israel. A new Morning Consult Survey found that 41% of voters report mainly sympathizing with Israelis in the current conflict, a double-digit increase since last year.

On the National Mall, at a protest attended by demonstrators who had just left a sit-in inside the Cannon House Office building, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat told the crowd that “as an American, not just as a member of the United States Congress, I am ashamed.”

She repeated the claim from Hamas that Israel had bombed a Gaza hospital, even though U.S. and Israeli sources said the atrocity was committed by the Palestinian jihad group, and applauded the protestors for the “courage it’s taken to speak up.” She then addressed Biden directly. “To my president, to our president,” she said condemning the administration’s support for the Israeli military response, “I want him to know, as a Palestinian American and somebody in Muslim faith, I’m not going to forget this. And I think a lot of people are not going to forget this.”


This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.

About the Author(s)
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Philip Wegmann

Philip Wegmann is White House Correspondent for Real Clear Politics. He previously wrote for The Washington Examiner and has done investigative reporting on congressional corruption and institutional malfeasance.