Conflict in Israel and the U.S. Response

Conflict in IsraelA ceasefire has brought an end to weeks of increasing violence between Israel and the Palestinian communities in the territory it controls, particularly the Palestinian Islamic-nationalist group Hamas. This latest outbreak of conflict ended a period of relative calm that had persisted for the better part of a decade. Adding to the complexity of the conflict is the role of the United States and emerging disagreements over what the nature of that role should be.

Israel’s history has been fraught with struggle and violence between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, even before the state of Israel was founded in 1948. Numerous wars with neighboring Arab countries and the lingering consequences of those wars also inform this issue.

If you’re looking for more information on the broader history of Israel and its Palestinian population, check out “Israel-Gaza Violence: The Conflict Explained” from BBC News.

Timeline of the Current Conflict

While the full history between Israelis and Palestinians is beyond the scope of this blog post, the current conflict does have an immediate timeline of events that can help shed light on the situation.

  • APRIL 13: The first night of Ramadan (Islam’s most sacred month) in 2021 coincides with Israel’s Memorial Day commemorations. The president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, is set to make a speech at the Western Wall near the Al-Asqa Mosque. The Western Wall and the site of the Al-Asqa Mosque are sacred sites to Jews. However, Al-Asqa itself is currently open only to Muslims, as it is among the most sacred sites in Islam as well.1 The president’s team requests that the loudspeakers that are used to call Muslims to prayer be turned off during his address, claiming that they could drown out the speech. The mosque refuses the request but Israeli police enter the complex and allegedly disconnect the loudspeakers, sparking backlash from Muslims in Israel, most of whom are Palestinian.2
  • APRIL 13 – MAY: The Al-Asqa controversy occurs in the midst of growing unrest surrounding the attempted eviction of several Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Protest and unrest continue to escalate throughout April, with direct fighting taking place between pro-Palestinian protesters and Israeli police and pro-Israeli counterprotesters. Forming a backdrop to all of this are political crises in both the Israeli and Palestinian governments, adding to the instability of the situation.3
  • MAY 4: Hamas, which the United States has officially labeled as a foreign terrorist organization, presents itself in the midst of this crisis as the bold, revolutionary leadership that the Palestinian people need to assert their rights and independence. It announces a “final warning” on May 4, declaring that Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah must be allowed to remain and, more broadly, that the Israeli police and military must stop clashing with Palestinian demonstrators.4
  • MAY 7: On the last Friday of Ramadan, Israeli police raid the Al-Asqa Mosque. Police claim that the action is in anticipation of the site being used as a gathering and supply storage space for violent Palestinian demonstrators. The Arab-Palestinian community responds with even more demonstrations, and violent clashes between Jewish and Arab groups spread throughout the country.5
  • MAY 10: Coinciding with the final hearing in the Sheikh Jarrah case and celebrations and demonstrations for Jerusalem Day (a holiday celebrating East Jerusalem coming under Israeli control following the Six Day War in 1967), another raid takes place at Al-Asqa. At 6 pm, Hamas launches 150 rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercepts many of the rockets. Ultimately, no one is killed in the attack but the rockets injure some people and damage property.6
  • MAY 10 – MAY 20: Immediately following the rocket attack, which in part targeted the capital, Jerusalem, the Israeli military begins an airstrike campaign killing 20 people, including nine children. Hamas rocket fire, street clashes, Israeli airstrikes, and military and police actions continue. Thus far, the conflict has resulted in deaths of more than 200 Palestinians and 12 people in Israel, with thousands more injured and hospitalized on all sides. Adding to the tensions are rocket attacks that are suspected of originating in Syria and Lebanon, as well as growing anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian demonstrations in neighboring Lebanon and Jordan. Across the world, demonstrations are also taking place with various groups demanding support or condemnation for the actions of Israel and Hamas.7
  • MAY 20: Israel and Hamas agree to a ceasefire to be monitored by Egypt.8

The U.S. Response

Historically, the United States has been a strong supporter of Israel and it remains among Israel’s closest allies. Public support for Israel, and specifically for the Israeli people, has remained fairly widespread in the United States, with roughly 70 to 75 percent of Americans expressing a favorable view of Israel in Gallup polls between 2018 and 2021. Sentiment toward the Palestinian Authority has gradually warmed over time, with favorability increasing from 21 percent in 2018 to 30 percent in 2021.9

A possible result of this shifting sentiment is an increasing number of lawmakers, particularly liberal Democrats, speaking out against U.S. policy toward Israel. Representative Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., the nation’s first Palestinian American elected to Congress, has been vocal in her opposition to the Biden administration’s statements of support for Israel in this conflict and has spoken frequently about crimes she alleges Israel has carried out against its Palestinian population.10 Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., also made headlines when she recently drafted a resolution to block a $735 million arms sale to Israel, a resolution which has gained the support of other prominent officials such as Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.11 Most Democratic leaders have yet to publicly make such criticisms, but the willingness of any national politician to be so openly critical represents a significant development and a likely shift in Democratic voters’ opinions.

On the other side of the aisle, Republicans have remained steadfast in their support for Israel, choosing either to not comment beyond voicing their support for Israel’s right to defend itself or to outright condemn Democratic colleagues who have voiced opposition. Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, accused Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats of “regularly engaging in hateful antisemitic and anti-Israel rhetoric,” while Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., has criticized the Biden administration and suggested that President Joe Biden will yield to the “far-left” and block the upcoming arms sale.12

For its part, the Biden administration has been relatively cautious in its public statements on the conflict. Initially, the administration made little commentary beyond President Biden affirming Israel’s right to protect its interests.13 However, on May 19, it was reported that President Biden held a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging a de-escalation of the conflict. Despite this, Netanyahu recommitted to the offensive against Hamas as necessary for any ceasefire to occur.14 Although a ceasefire has now been agreed to, this seeming divide between the two leaders has fueled speculation about how the U.S.-Israeli alliance will evolve moving forward.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are questions you have about the current and historical Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What do you know for certain about the region and its people? What are areas you need to learn more about?
  2. What do you believe the role of the United States should be in conflicts outside of the country? What role could the United States play if it is not already doing so?
  3. For decades, the typical response of U.S. politicians regarding conflict in Israel has been that “Israel has a right to defend itself.” Do you agree with that sentiment? To what extent? Is that sentiment alone sufficient to address the issue? Why or why not?

Related Posts:

U.S. Iranian Relations Following the Death of Qasem Soleimani

President Trump Seeks to Further Reduce U.S. Military Presence in Syria

Calm or Chaos: The Role of the Media During a Crisis

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: GETTY IMAGES
[1] https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2017/12/6/al-aqsa-mosque-five-things-you-need-to-know
[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/15/world/middleeast/israel-palestinian-gaza-war.html
[3] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/israel-palestinians-sheikh-jarrah-eviction-east-jerusalem-explained/
[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/15/world/middleeast/israel-palestinian-gaza-war.html
[5] Ibid.
[6] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/israel-iron-dome-rockets-gaza-hamas/
[7] https://www.dw.com/en/timeline-how-the-current-israel-hamas-conflict-has-expanded/a-57573511
[8] https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/hamas-official-predicts-ceasefire-soon-israel-gaza-fight-goes-2021-05-19/
[9] https://news.gallup.com/poll/340331/americans-favor-israel-warming-palestinians.aspx
[10] https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/05/18/us/joe-biden-news-today/tlaib-biden-palestine-israel#tlaib-biden-palestine-israel
[11] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2021/05/20/sanders-follows-aoc-tlaib-objecting-us-arms-sale-israel/5179770001/
[12] https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-republicans-seek-to-use-israel-hamas-fighting-to-divide-democrats/
[13] https://www.business-standard.com/article/international/biden-calls-netanyahu-says-israel-has-right-to-defend-itself-121051600045_1.html
[14] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2021/05/19/biden-says-he-expects-significant-de-escalation-today-gaza/5162735001/

 

 

Reshaping the Economy

Joe and Jill Biden at School

President Joe Biden is currently promoting his plan to transform the U.S. economy.1 In a previous blog post, we explored one element of that plan: infrastructure. In this post, we will examine some details of the Biden administration’s American Families Plan.

What is in the Plan?

According to the White House, the American Families Plan is “an investment in our kids, our families, and our economic future.”2 The White House argues, “It is not enough to restore where we were prior to the pandemic. We need to build a stronger economy that does not leave anyone behind—we need to build back better.”3

The American Families Plan focuses on education, medical leave, and the costs of raising children. Some of the most significant elements of the plan include:

  • Making College More Affordable: The plan would invest roughly $160 billion to make two years of community college free and increase Pell Grants for low-income students who are admitted to universities. The plan would also create a program to subsidize tuition for low-income students who attend historically Black and other minority-serving institutions.
  • Universal Preschool: The plan calls for a $200 billion investment to create universal preschool for three- and four-year-old children. The plan would call for state governments to pay half of the cost with the federal government paying the rest.
  • Child Care and Child Nutrition: The plan would subsidize child care for low- and middle-income families and expand current programs to include roughly ten million more children in free and reduced-price meal programs.
  • Paid Family Medical Leave: Under the plan, the federal government would subsidize sick leave for all workers who do not have sick leave from their jobs. The White House estimates that this would cost $225 billion over ten years.4

The Biden administration argues that it would be able to pay for the plan by raising taxes on the top one percent of earners to pre-2017 levels, raising the tax on investment income for anyone earning over $1 million through investment, eliminating a tax break for real estate investors, and enhancing Internal Revenue Service enforcement on the very wealthy.5

The Debate

Congressional Republicans have raised many concerns about the American Families Plan. They argue that the tax increases would hurt the U.S. economy, slow job growth, and harm the very people that the plan is intended to help.6 They note that the plan throws astronomical sums of money—which the government simply does not have—at new entitlements, such as universal preschool, that some Americans do not need. Kelsey Bolar, a senior policy analyst at the conservative-leaning Independent Women’s Forum, argues that the plan is not what women, and especially working moms, need. She contends that the one-size-fits-all approach would further limit people’s flexibility and choice.7

A recent poll showed that nearly 60 percent of voters support the American Families Plan and 30 percent oppose it, with the rest having no opinion.8 Kevin Shafer, a health and social policy expert at Brigham Young University, argues that the plan is necessary to bring about equity in the economy and to protect children from poverty.9 Bernard Yaros of Moody’s Analytics said that the plan has “meaningful longer-term economic benefits by increasing labor force participation and the educational attainment of the population.”10

This is a large bill that would impact many aspects of the U.S. economy and it is made all the more complicated because it is part of the president’s broader economic plan for recovery and infrastructure. As Congress debates the future of the U.S. economy, this is a good time for voters to make their voices heard on these issues.

Discussion Questions

  1. How has your community’s economy been affected by the pandemic?
  2. Do you think there are people in your community who struggle with the cost of child care? What about higher education?
  3. Do you think that it is the government’s responsibility to address economic inequality? Is that an appropriate power of the federal government?
  4. How would passage of the American Families Plan impact the community in which you live?
  5. Do you support the ideas in the American Families Plan? Why or why not?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Evan Vucci/AP
[1] Politico: https://www.politico.com/news/2021/04/28/biden-child-care-plan-484883
[2] WhiteHouse.gov: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/04/28/fact-sheet-the-american-families-plan/
[3] Ibid.
[4] CNN.com: https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/28/politics/american-families-plan/index.html, WhiteHouse.gov: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/04/28/fact-sheet-the-american-families-plan/, NPR News: https://www.npr.org/2021/04/28/991357190/white-house-proposes-massive-spending-on-children-and-families
[5] CNN.com: https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/28/politics/american-families-plan/index.html
[6] Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/us-policy/2021/04/24/biden-families-plan-tax/
[7] The Hill: https://thehill.com/opinion/finance/551279-bidens-american-families-plan-is-not-what-women-need?rl=1
[8] Morning Consult: https://morningconsult.com/2021/05/05/biden-american-families-plan-support-poll/
[9] Deseret News: https://www.deseret.com/opinion/2021/5/17/22436823/president-joe-biden-american-families-plan-childcare-paid-family-leave-child-tax-credits-education
[10] FactCheck.org: https://www.factcheck.org/2021/05/two-views-of-american-families-plan/

 

Build It and They Will Come: The Biden Infrastructure Plan

Alex Brandon/AP ImagesPresident Joe Biden is currently campaigning to promote his administration’s infrastructure plan. The plan is intended to address three main areas of concern: crumbling or inadequate infrastructure, job creation and economic growth, and environmental issues. In this post, we will focus on the infrastructure goals of the plan.

What is Infrastructure?

Infrastructure refers to the basic facilities and structures that allow a community or nation to function. It can include transportation, energy and power, basic resources such as water, telecommunications (phones and internet access), and waste removal and management. While talking about infrastructure often conjures images of rebuilding old bridges and adding new highways, it also includes other less “tangible” structures such as broadband access.

What’s in the Biden infrastructure plan?

The plan, formally named the American Rescue Plan, would invest two trillion dollars over a fifteen-year period to rebuild or build new infrastructure, make the economy more equitable, combat climate change, and boost economic growth.1 Major infrastructure-related portions of the proposal include2:

  • 621 billion dollars for transportation, with a focus on roads, bridges, and railways.
  • 300 billion dollars towards reinvesting in U.S. manufacturing, with a focus on green energy, high tech, and medical manufacturing.
  • 213 billion dollars on affordable and energy efficient housing.
  • 111 billion dollars for water infrastructure, including replacing old pipes and removing any pipes containing lead, and upgrading sewage and water runoff systems.
  • 100 billion dollars to build or upgrade public school buildings.
  • 100 billion dollars in digital infrastructure, including providing nation-wide affordable broadband access, with a focus on rural and urban areas.

The plan also calls for raising corporate taxes to pre-2017 levels and changing tax codes to encourage large global companies to invest and produce more in the U.S.3

Hear from Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and David Rouzer (R-NC) as they discuss President Biden’s 2 trillion dollar infrastructure plan.

The Debate

Most of the debate over the infrastructure spending outlined above revolves around how much the U.S. can afford to spend and whether it is a good idea to raise taxes. Steve Scalise, a Republican member of Congress from Louisiana, called the plan a “budget-busting tax hike spending boondoggle masquerading as an infrastructure bill,” and said it would send more jobs overseas and hurt the middle class.4 Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) the Republican leader in the House, said the plan is too big and too expensive. He also cautioned that “the real challenge is in these great big bills there’s just waste, fraud, abuse, but more importantly corruption.”5While critics of the plan have focused on cost, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg argued that “doing nothing is what’s truly unaffordable.” He went on to say that, as infrastructure fails and the U.S. continues to fall behind other nations, the cost for addressing these issues will only grow. “We’re either going to pay now or we’re going to pay a lot more later.”6

While Congress is largely divided along party lines, the plan is finding some Republican support among governors and mayors. Nic Hunter, the Republican mayor of Lake Charles, Louisiana said, “I do believe we can agree on the dire need here in Lake Charles for an infrastructure plan that can build us a new bridge and I do believe we can agree on the dire need to support disaster relief in Southwest Louisiana…Any member of Congress out there listening: Lake Charles needs help right now. And we are asking for it.”7

This is a large and complicated plan. In this post, we’ve only examined some of the largest elements of the proposal. As the proposal takes shape in Congress, the debate may become even more contentious, or there may be places where the two parties can negotiate.

Discussion Questions

  1. How would you describe the infrastructure of your community? Think of road quality, traffic, access to rail and public transportation, the state of public school buildings, and internet access, among other things.
  2. How would you prioritize infrastructure spending? Think of the specific goals outlined above.
  3. How would you advise your member of Congress to vote on this proposal? Which elements of the proposal are most important to your community? Which elements are the least important?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Alex Brandon/AP Images
[1] WhiteHouse.gov: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/31/fact-sheet-the-american-jobs-plan/
[2] CNN.com: https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/31/politics/infrastructure-proposal-biden-explainer/index.html
[2] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/31/business/economy/biden-infrastructure-plan.html
[4] AP News: https://apnews.com/article/louisiana-business-government-and-politics-462e89744cc73d2d953e1c332e36ddb9
[5] New York Post: https://nypost.com/2021/05/09/rep-mccarthy-says-no-need-to-spend-trillions-on-biden-plan/
[6] ABC News: https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/transportation-secretary-pete-buttigieg-23-trillion-infrastructure-plan/story?id=77539522
[7] AP News: https://apnews.com/article/louisiana-business-government-and-politics-462e89744cc73d2d953e1c332e36ddb9