In the Debates, Gaza Is Verboten


This Fall, Human Rights Watch declared Israel’s limitation of fuel supplies to Gaza collective punishment of a civilian population and thus a violation of international law. As the area’s humanitarian crisis worsens, grim headlines about the misery of Gazans have become all too familiar. I was moved to search the transcripts of the past 11 presidential debates to see if our presidential hopefuls were addressing the situation in Gaza or the larger issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What I found is troubling, though not entirely surprising given the bipartisan consensus to support Israel, right or wrong.

In nine of the 11 debates, the terms Israel, Palestinians, and Gaza were either never uttered or were mentioned once or twice peripherally. For instance, Joe Biden said at the October 30 NBC debate that Pakistan has missiles that can reach Israel. The two exceptions were the November 15 Democratic debate in Las Vegas, where Bill Richardson, unprompted, briefly outlined his ideas for a two-state solution, and the December 4 Democratic radio debate on NPR, in which moderator Robert Siegel posed the single question about Israel of the past 11 debates. Unfortunately, the query was effectively avoided. Excerpt of Edwards and Obama dodging, after the jump.

“When we do things that policymakers in Washington may think are rational, like very strong support of Israel, that also upsets a lot of those 1 billion Muslims you’ve described. How would you, Senator Edwards … answer the complaint that the U.S., in its support of Israel, is so pro-Israeli, it can’t be an evenhanded, honest broker of matters and is anti-Muslim?”

Edwards proceeds to ignore the question, makes a point about Ahmadinejad and says to improve relations with Muslims we must “help make education available to fight global poverty.” He makes no mention of Israel/Palestine. Siegel then turns to Obama. The senator says we need to close Guantanamo and talk not just to our friends but to our enemies. He, like Edwards, doesn’t touch the Israel issue. To their credit, Dodd and Kucinich do a much better job at engaging.

So in the past 11 debates the grand total of references to the Gaza Strip is zero. Considering that Israel is our biggest ally in the Middle East and the biggest recipient of U.S. aid in the world, isn’t it about time the candidates were asked what they think of our ally’s destructive policies in Gaza? Will any moderator have the courage to pose the question?

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