Sen. Chris Murphy thinks it’s time for Israel to change its strategy in Gaza. Tear up the meticulous plans crafted by the war cabinet and the top military brass and replace them with… something else. “It’s time for Israel’s friends to recognize that the current approach is causing an unacceptable level of civilian harm and does not appear likely to achieve the goal of ending the threat from Hamas,” the Connecticut Democrat said in a statement.
Murphy then proceeds to pour the following bowl of word salad on Israel’s head: “I urge Israel to immediately reconsider its approach and shift to a more deliberate and proportionate counterterrorism campaign, surgically targeting Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders and terrorist infrastructure while more highly prioritizing the safety of civilians in accordance with the law of armed conflict.”
He’s not saying Israel’s warfighting is disproportionate, you see—just that it could be more proportionate. And Murphy would never suggest Israel doesn’t prioritize the safety of civilians! But perhaps the IDF could “more highly” prioritize them?
I can’t imagine Chris Murphy knows what Chris Murphy means by this. “Proportionality” in warfare is not a math equation; it is concerned foremost with weighing the collateral damage of a specific attack against the strategic gains that attack might make toward a legitimate military goal. The statement also bears no relation to the actual situation on the ground, as Israeli troops have reportedly surrounded Gaza City in what is almost certainly a prelude to the kind of dangerous house-to-house fighting that will contain the civilian death toll but raise that of Israeli soldiers.
The reason the statement is newsworthy, strangely enough, is precisely because it contains buzzwords but no meaning. We can only learn from a statement like this that Murphy felt strong pressure to make a statement that expressed dissatisfaction with the civilian toll of the war and, implicitly, with Israel.
It’s no secret that a fair chunk of Democratic staff on Capitol Hill and in the administration are growing impatient with their bosses’ support for Israel’s self-defense. Some of that pressure is coming from the fact that the staffers agree with left-wing activists. On one occasion so far, a staffer quit to join those activists, when Rep. Ro Khanna’s political director, Adam Ramer, stepped down. A Quinnipiac poll released today, Nov. 2, found that Democrats disapprove of Israel’s response to Hamas’s attacks by a 49-33 margin. (Republicans back Israel’s response 75-14.)
All this is clearly having some effect, and not just with progressives like Murphy. Yesterday President Biden was interrupted by a heckler who demanded a ceasefire. “I think we need a pause,” Biden responded, adding: “I’m the guy that convinced Bibi to call for a ceasefire to let the prisoners out. I’m the guy that talked to [Egyptian President] Sisi to convince him to open the door.”
This, like Murphy’s statement, is gobbledygook. But as so often happens in Washington after a president speaks, the gobbledygook became policy. The Pentagon told reporters today that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin does not support a “ceasefire” but noted the president’s support for a “pause.” Soon after that, the New York Times reported that “Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will urge the Israeli government to agree to a series of brief cessations of military operations in Gaza to allow for hostages to be released safely and for humanitarian aid to be distributed, White House officials said.” They are calling these interludes “humanitarian pauses.”
Don’t call it a ceasefire! It’s a pause, a cessation, a recess, if you will. Pardon the interruption.
This only scratches the surface of the unserious word games nervous Democrats are playing with this deadly serious war. Ramer talked to the New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz about his decision to quit Khanna’s team. A couple of weeks ago, progressive activists decided on making a ceasefire their central demand. Ramer agreed with the position, but his boss didn’t. A ceasefire resolution put up by Reps. Cori Bush and Rashida Tlaib failed to get Khanna or Bernie Sanders as a cosponsor. Ramer’s continued internal pressure on his boss got him this response from Khanna: “Even Bernie has not called for this.”
But then Bernie called for a “humanitarian pause” after hearing Blinken mention the phrase to the UN. After that, Khanna and the others had what they’d been searching for: something that sounded like a ceasefire but didn’t use the word “ceasefire.”
Listening to this extended word game is maddening. The word “ceasefire” actually has a meaning—including in international law—so that’s the word they didn’t go with. According to Marantz, a Democratic operative was coming up with possible terms that sounded less extreme than “ceasefire,” since that had become the Squad’s preferred word. Instead, they considered “cessation, maybe, or a truce.”
Cessation is not a term of war. Truce is, but… it goes farther even than ceasefire does!
This is a terrible game and everyone is losing. Israel is fighting a war against Hamas, which insists it will try to wipe the Jews off the map for as long as it exists. They are not playing $10,000 Pyramid. Democratic support for Israel’s war of self-defense will soon be circling the drain. The president needs to speak clearly and unequivocally or the West is going to suffer a disastrous setback at the hands of a terrorist group and a thesaurus.