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  /  News   /  Democrats say Biden caved on ‘red line’ warning in Rafah

Democrats say Biden caved on ‘red line’ warning in Rafah

Liberal Democrats are going after President Biden for his approach to Israel’s incursion into Rafah, accusing the president of caving on his “red line” warning to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to storm into the city for fear of outsize civilian casualties.

The Democrats say Netanyahu has clearly crossed that line, as Israeli tanks have reportedly reached the center of Rafah and Israeli missile strikes have killed dozens of Palestinian civilians seeking refuge in what Israel describes as the last Hamas stronghold. They want the president to make good on his vow to halt the delivery of certain weapon systems to Israel as a result of those military operations — a step the administration has so far refused to take.

“It absolutely has crossed the red line, perhaps even before this,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told The Hill in an interview. “I am frustrated by the reluctance to hold Netanyahu accountable for what I believe is just worsening security and peace for Israelis and Palestinians. And I see this as dragging the United States into Netanyahu’s war.”

Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, questioned what Biden’s true red line is, after Israeli forces carried out operations that led to conditions the president had feared.

“He was worried about people being displaced; that has already happened, a million people have already been displaced. He was worried about tanks going into the city; that has already happened. He was worried about strikes on dense areas; that had already happened,” Jayapal said.

“So I really don’t know what the red line is anymore, because it feels fairly clear that this has certainly crossed the red line, and anything more than this would be a complete devastation of people, and at that point, it’s too late. And so, I already feel like this is somewhat late.”

Other liberals are piling on.

“The IDF’s attack on a tent camp of innocents in Rafah is an indefensible atrocity,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) wrote on the social platform X. “This was done in open defiance of @POTUS’s red line and the [International Court of Justice’s] call for a ceasefire. It is long past time for the President to live up to his word and suspend military aid.”

Biden earlier in the month announced he would halt the delivery of some weapons to Israel if Netanyahu sent troops into Rafah, a densely populated city in southern Gaza where Hamas militants remain in control and where many people displaced from other parts of Gaza have sought refuge in.

“I made it clear that if they go into Rafah — they haven’t gone in Rafah yet — if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities — that deal with that problem,” Biden told CNN on May 9. 

The Israeli military, nonetheless, continued its offensive into Rafah over the weekend, striking a displaced persons camp in the southern Gazan city — which set fire to the area — killing roughly 45 Palestinians and injuring 200 others.

Faced with growing outrage over the deadly strike on civilians, administration officials have expressed concerns but also emphasized that they don’t consider Israel’s operations in Rafah to meet the criteria of the “major ground operation” that would violate Biden’s red line. 

“A major ground operation is, you know, thousands and thousands of troops moving in a maneuvered, concentrated, coordinated way against a variety of targets on the ground,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters this week.

“We haven’t seen that at this point,” he added when pressed on the matter.

Progressive Democrats, however, are hammering away at that analysis, arguing in no uncertain terms that the weekend strike on Rafah crosses the administration’s self-imposed red line and calling for consequences in response to Israel’s latest act.

“The scenes out of Rafah have been utterly horrific and a clear crossing of a red line,” Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) wrote on X. “The US should not supply weapons to fuel these atrocities, and our government must use every tool it can to stop this killing and bring about an immediate ceasefire.”

“How many children have to die? We’re past the red line,” Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) wrote on X. “It’s time to stop sending military aid to Israel. Not one more dime.”

The concerns are not limited to the House. 

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) noted this week that Biden’s red line warning was designed to prevent an Israeli invasion into Rafah because such an incursion would not only lead to a spike in civilian casualties but would also make it tougher to deliver humanitarian aid and to free the remaining hostages taken by Hamas on Oct. 7. Israel’s recent military operations in Rafah, Van Hollen said, raise new questions about the wisdom of providing more U.S. weapons to the fight.

“All the things that President Biden was worried about have come to pass,” Van Hollen said in an interview Wednesday with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “The United States needs to get a full and clear commitment from the Netanyahu government on their plans going forward before we continue to shovel more offensive military assistance to the Netanyahu government.”

The weekend strike in Rafah has emerged as the latest flash point in the long-simmering tensions in the House Democratic Caucus over Israel, where staunchly pro-Israel Democrats are finding themselves at odds with pro-Palestinian liberals up in arms over the mounting deaths in the Gaza Strip.

The issue has created an enormous headache for Biden and other Democratic leaders, who are attempting to walk a delicate line by defending a democratic ally in a time of war without alienating the party’s liberal base.

While liberals have called on the U.S. to halt weapons supplies to Israel — contending that Tel Aviv crossed the red line — pro-Israel Democrats have argued that Hamas’s unwillingness to release hostages is the reason why Israeli forces are continuing to press into Rafah.

“Make no mistake about it: The reason why there’s a Rafah operation is because Hamas has not agreed to a temporary cease-fire to release the hostages,” Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) said on “Fox News Sunday.”

But liberals have rejected that argument, saying the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has reached a point that the U.S. should no longer support sending arms to Israel.

“We have to recognize that if we continue down this course of supporting Netanyahu with zero conditions, and despite the fact that he’s doing things that we have said we won’t tolerate, we lose not only credibility with the international community, but we’re just continuing to lose credibility here at home about what values we actually stand for,” Jayapal said. “And I think both of those things are very important at this moment.”