American Words vs. American Deeds


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Our Zoom call this week will be at the regular time: Friday at Noon EST. (I’ve decided to stop mentioning Friday’s guests at the beginning of these Monday videos.)

Our guests this week will be Diana Buttu and Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man. Diana is a Palestinian-Canadian lawyer and a former spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization. Emily is a Jewish Israeli human rights lawyer. They’ll talk about the challenges and opportunities that this terrible war poses for Palestinians and Jews who want to work together on behalf of Palestinian freedom and mutual coexistence.

As usual, paid subscribers will get the link this Tuesday and the video the following week. They’ll also gain access to our library of past Zoom interviews with guests like Thomas Friedman, Ilhan Omar, Omar Barghouti, Benny Morris, Noam Chomsky, and Bret Stephens.


Sources Cited in this Video

Eighty percent of Gaza’s people have been forced from their homes.

The Director-General of the World Health Organization calls conditions in Gaza’s hospitals “unimaginable.”

Biden officials warn Israel about its actions in Gaza.

Joe Biden’s longstanding opposition to conditioning military aid to Israel.

Congressional Democrats debate conditioning aid.

When Benjamin Netanyahu said “America can be easily moved.”

Things to Read

(Maybe this should be obvious, but I link to articles and videos I find provocative and significant, not necessarily ones I entirely agree with.)

In Jewish Currents (subscribe!), Dan Berger examines the call from families of some Israeli hostages for an “all for all” swap of Israeli captives and Palestinian prisoners.

+972 Magazine’s blockbuster report on how the Israeli military loosened its rules to allow more killing of civilians in Gaza.

A Jewish Israeli teacher recounts being jailed for criticizing the Gaza war.

Iyad Baghdadi on how to think (and not think) about decolonization in Israel-Palestine.

Rabbi Shai Held on Jews and the left after October 7.

From Maha Nasser, the best discussion I’ve heard of the historical roots of the phrase, “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea.”

Fadi Quran shares a personal story about Palestinian children in prison.

Haya Alyan on what it’s like to have to audition for people’s empathy.

I talked on Slate’s “What’s Next” podcast about the exchange of hostages and prisoners.

This Thursday, December 7, in Brooklyn I’ll be talking to Shaul Magid about his new book, The Necessity of Exile.

See you on Friday at Noon,



Hi. I’m recording this on Sunday, December 3rd, and it seems like we’re at a kind of critical turning point or juncture. The pause and release of hostages and prisoners has ended for the time being. And Israel, having cleared out the northern Gaza Strip, is now going into the southern Gaza Strip. And what that means is that the level of dislocation and death, which has already been extraordinary, will even grow higher. Remember, Israel has already forced everyone from the northern Gaza Strip out of the northern Gaza Strip, and largely reduced much of it to rubble. Eighty percent of the people of Gaza are displaced, which is just a staggering number. When you think about how shocked the world has been that 25% of the people in Ukraine were displaced from their homes, it’s now already at 80%. And now, Israel is telling people in parts of the southern Gaza Strip that they have to leave their homes. Many of them are people who only moved there because they were forced out of the northern Gaza Strip. It’s provided some kind of map of supposedly safe places. But since October 7th, the evidence has been that there really is no safe place for Palestinians in Gaza, and certainly there’s no infrastructure to really support human life in the places that they might go where they have no homes. There’s no infrastructure for food. The hospitals are in a circumstance that the head of the WHO said on Sunday that the condition was ‘unimaginable.’

So, we are witnessing, we are right in the middle of one of the—certainly present proportion—one of the largest acts of slaughter and dislocation as a percentage of the population that we’ve seen in the 21st century. And the Biden administration has responded to this by changing its rhetoric. So, right after Hamas’ massacre on October 7th, the Biden administration gave Israel full complete rhetorical support. Now what we’re seeing is that the rhetoric has changed, and the Biden administration is offering a series of kind of warnings. They’re saying: don’t kill so many civilians; leave open the possibility of a Palestinian state; be willing to bring back the Palestinian Authority; don’t expel Palestinians out of Gaza into Egypt. They’re saying all these things, and they’re clearly showing that there’s a difference of opinion between the United States and certainly elements of the Israeli government, if not the entire Israeli government.

But there’s something, I have to say, somewhat farcical and Kabuki-like about this, right? Because the Biden administration is making a series of statements about what it wants Israel to do and not do. And yet, Biden himself has been very clear since he was a candidate that American aid to Israel is unconditional, right? And American diplomatic support at the International Criminal Court at the UN is unconditional. So, under those circumstances, when you’re saying we really want you to do this, Israel doesn’t face that much pressure to do it because there are no consequences if they don’t. And this has been the way America has conducted its policy with Israel really since the early 1990s. That was the last time under George H. W. Bush that the US put any actual conditionality on its aid. In that case, it was saying that the US wouldn’t give Israel loan guarantees to receive Soviet Jewish immigrants unless it promised to stop settlement growth. But since then, no American president has really done that. So, American presidents again and again on issues like settlements have said, ‘we really don’t want you to do this.’ And Israel has just continued to do it, especially under Benjamin Netanyahu, who is something of kind of a master at basically blowing off American presidents of both parties. He famously said years ago, was caught on tape saying that ‘America is a very easy thing to move.’

So, there’s something farcical about the Biden administration saying our policy is that we must keep a horizon open for a two-state solution. Our policy is that Israel should not expel people in Gaza to Egypt. Our policy is that Israel must limit humanitarian casualties. That’s not really America’s policy, right? It would be like me saying my policy is that I’m gonna run the New York marathon. But if I’ve never done a lick of running, and all I do is sit on my couch eating chocolate cake, that’s not actually my policy, right? There’s something called revealed preference. Revealed preference is not what you say, but what you do. And the Biden administration’s revealed preference is Israel can do whatever it wants without consequence.

And it’s funny because there’s a group of people in Washington, kind of foreign policy types, who are very often very concerned about American credibility, meaning that America should never say it’s going to do something that it doesn’t follow through on. Those are the kind of people who got really upset when Barack Obama, you may remember, said that it would be a red line if the Syrians used chemical weapons, and then when they used chemical weapons America didn’t use take military action. So, they said Obama lost his credibility. Well, what does it do to American credibility, including Biden’s credibility, to be continually saying you want Israel to do things, and then when Israel doesn’t do them, you just basically shrug, right?

This is what I mean by I think that we are really at a critical junction, not just a critical juncture in the number of people in Gaza that are going to be killed and dislocated, but on the question, which is a really overdue debate, about the conditioning of US military aid. There are more Democrats now who are talking about this as a policy, and it’s really, really urgent that this conversation become front and center. And I would say that anyone who actually wants to claim that they’re concerned about civilian casualties; who genuinely says they oppose an act of mass expulsion of Palestinians out of Gaza, who says that they want to keep open the possibility of a two-state solution (if that’s not if that’s even possible at this point, about which I have my doubts), we should say—and people in the media should say—we will not take that position seriously unless you’re willing to condition US military aid on some of those things. And not just military, but there should also be the framework that dictates how America behaves in international institutions. If you don’t say that, then I think people in the media and others need to say very clearly that we should not take the Biden administration at its word when it makes these statements about civilian casualties, and the two states, and about expulsion. It can’t be you can take it at their word if they’re not willing to back it up in any meaningful way.

I would remind people these are, in many cases, our weapons that are being used. The United States is not a bystander in this. Palestinians know very, very well that many of the bombs and other weapons that are killing them are American weapons. And America has to decide if it wants to give that military aid without making any effort to actually prevent these weapons from being used in these horrifying ways or not. It’s a really, really critical juncture. And I think that if the Biden administration does not change its position on conditioning military aid, it—and United States in general—will be complicit in something that we’re going to be judged very, very harshly for for many, many years and even decades to come.

Our call this Friday is at noon Eastern time, our normal time for paid subscribers. We’re gonna be joined by Diana Buttu and Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man. Diana is a Canadian Palestinian human rights attorney and former spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization. Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man is a Jewish Israeli human rights lawyer. They’ve been having a really interesting conversation about how Jews and Palestinians can work together for mutual liberation in the wake of the horrors that started on October 7th. And I think it’s an important conversation, so I hope many of you will join us.

The Beinart Notebook
The Beinart Notebook
A conversation about American foreign policy, Palestinian freedom and the Jewish people.