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Are the Pro-Palestine Protesters Winning?

While conservatives revel in schadenfreude, the Biden administration’s Israel policies inch towards that of the campus radicals.

GWU-students-rally-at-site-of-cleared-Gaza-solidarity-encampment

For President Joe Biden and his administration, the conflict in Gaza is already a two-front war. 

The first front is in Gaza itself: Israel seems intent on escalating its war against Hamas in Gaza by invading Rafah. The consternation caused by Israel’s moves against Rafah has sparked further concerns that a northern front against Hezbollah in Lebanon could open up in full. But that’s not the second front that is causing concern in the Biden administration. That would be the domestic front: Pro-Palestine encampments on college campuses and protest votes in crucial primaries are causing the Biden administration to reconsider its Gaza war strategy.

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Protests and encampments at major universities throughout the country have dominated headlines and social-media discourse in recent weeks. At the start, right-of-center outlets have covered these campus movements with mockery and scorn. It’s mostly deserved: Man-on-the-street interviews with college students camping out on university quads prove they haven’t got a clue what the conflict is about or what’s really going on; Columbia students took over a university hall only to ask for the university to provide them with food and water; social media videos boast about the “beautiful” graffiti defacing great architecture.

The same outlets salivated when the police started giving the students their comeuppance and ravenously cheered for more. So-called “frat boys” became heroes when they protected the American flag and showed up to mock the protesters. Click-driven media laughed all the way to the bank.

But are the protesters winning? Since the war broke out, this magazine has suggested that the Biden administration’s approach to the Gaza war is not foreign policy statecraft, but rather an extension of domestic, intra-left dynamics. Things in the Biden administration seem to be turning the students’ way.

The Biden administration has placed holds on shipments of U.S. weapons to Israel, marking the first time since October 7, 2023 that the U.S. has stalled military shipments to Israel. The shipments include two kinds of Boeing-made precision bombs: Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) and Small Diameter Bombs. By holding off on the sales, the Biden administration is reiterating its opposition to further Israeli offensives against Rafah.

As it stands now, the Biden administration has stopped short of preventing the sale outright. Nevertheless, the Biden administration’s current trajectory suggests that a cessation of future military aid or arms sales could be in jeopardy.

On Friday, news broke that Biden’s State Department has prepared a report for Congress that is highly critical of Israel’s tactics in the Gaza war. The report, according to Axios, is the product of a months-long process at the State Department to meet obligations set forth in a presidential memorandum Biden issued in February. The contents of the communique has reportedly brought forth some of the most contentious debates that Secretary of State Antony Blinken has encountered in his tenure leading the department. Department offices such as the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor as well as USAID reportedly argued that Israel was in violation of its agreement with the U.S. and Biden administration national security directives. Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew and U.S. Gaza humanitarian envoy David Satterfield have been telling Blinken that Israel is holding up its end of the bargain by not violating international law. The same divides that have been playing out in the Democratic party across the country also exist within the executive branch.

If the State Department report concluded that Israel violated international humanitarian law or prevented the dispensation of U.S.-backed humanitarian aid, then U.S. statutes could lead to the suspension of further aid to Israel. Despite a report from Amnesty International that claimed Israel used U.S. weapons against Palestinian civilians, however, the State Department dispatch, though highly critical of Israel, is expected not to go so far as to suggest Israel is using U.S. weapons in an improper manner.

Nevertheless, Biden has quickly gone from one of Israel’s most vocal supporters to a harsh critic. Is Biden suddenly hip and with the kids, or is the tail wagging the dog?