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Victories for abortion access. Plus: is Joe Manchin third-wheeling presidential politics? And breaking down the US’ shifting tone on Israel’s war against Hamas.
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Today, we are bringing you some domestic political news and a look at the US’ shifting tone on the war between Israel and Hamas. Two weeks after Israel launched ground operations, public pressure on Israel is mounting. Israel’s former Prime Minister Ehud Barak put it simply: “You can see the window is closing,” he said and predicted “Israel will have to accommodate “American demands within the next two or three weeks, probably less.” What are those demands and what does this mean?
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First, Domestic News:
Big Week for Democrats: What a difference a week makes. In Monday’s newsletter, we reported on a poll that showed bad news for Democrats — but now the party is celebrating victories in multiple state elections. Here’s my takeaway: don’t over-interpret the wins as a great sign for Democrats in 2024. Instead, they’re more evidence that abortion is a winning issue for Democrats and when they center that issue, they have the best chance of prevailing.
The Third-Party Tickets: Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced he will not seek reelection in 2024, and he’s rumored to be considering running for president as a third-party candidate. Possibly, for the spoiler third-party effort No Labels. They say they can win on a “Unity ticket” as an alternative to the two major parties. Democrats say they'll draw votes from Biden/Harris and put Trump back in office. Other third-party candidates who might split the vote include RFK Jr. (who is expected to pull GOP votes), academic and socialist activist Cornel West (who could pull some Dem votes), and Green Party candidate Jill Stein (who pulled enough Dem votes in key swing states cost Hillary Clinton the presidency in 2016).
No Delay in Docs Case: Former President Donald Trump lost a bid to delay his federal classified documents trial until after the 2024 election. His trial is set for May 2024.
Weaponizing Federal Agencies: In a recent interview on Spanish-language TV network Univision, Trump said he would weaponize the DOJ and FBI against his political opponents in the same way he claims the Biden administration has against him. He said the Democrats “released the genie out of the box” and that “it could certainly happen in reverse.”
Xi Visits Wednesday: President Biden will meet with Chinese President Xi in California on Wednesday. The White House says they will discuss how the US and China can “responsibly manage competition and work together where our interests align.” The White House briefed that they will talk about Taiwan, election interference, the war in Ukraine, the war between Israel and Hamas, and according to the AP, North Korea, and Iran.
FBI Seizes NYC Mayor’s Tech: The FBI seized NYC Mayor Eric Adams’ phones and iPad as part of an investigation into Adams’ fundraising practices — and potential conspiracy with the Turkish government to receive (and cover up) foreign donations.
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Civilian Lives and Public Outrage: Today, a striking shift in tone from the Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who had this new message for Israel: “Much more needs to be done to protect civilians and to make sure that humanitarian assistance reaches them.” He said this after Israel agreed to daily four-hour pauses in warfighting to allow civilians to flee south. (More on this below.) What’s driving the concern about public opinion?
The ongoing suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza:
The Information War: Social media is filled with videos of Palestinian suffering. Videos of injured people, fire, and debris are circulating online, claiming to show those harmed in hospitals. Narratives that hold Hamas – and not Israel – accountable for that suffering aren’t equally viral.
The “Second Nakba”: Since Israel announced daily four hour humanitarian pauses to allow civilians to flee south, over 100,000 Palestinians have done so, making the grueling journey on foot. Images of civilians pushing wheelchairs, riding donkeys and waving white flags have gone viral with activists calling it Nakba 2.0, referencing the Arabic name for the 1948 exodus of Palestinians from the land that became the state of Israel.
Hospitals: And now the IDF reports that they have surrounded Al Shifa hospital, the largest in Gaza. They have ordered an evacuation and the Red Cross says the Gaza health system has collapsed. The IDF maintains that Hamas headquarters is under Al Shifa hospital so the hospital “could lose its protected status.” Video online purports to show Gazans injured and dead due to Israeli strikes; but other video purports to show Hamas shooting at people as they attempt to evacuate. I can’t verify the facts around either claim but they’re feeding the global outrage on both sides. And winning no converts.
Fears of a wider war:
While the focus is on the fight inside Gaza City there is ongoing violence across Israel, the West Bank and against US assets in the region.
US forces have also taken fire from Iran-backed militant groups in Iraq and Syria and have responded by attacking arms storage facilities in Syria.
And in the West Bank, 11 are dead as Israeli settler violence against Palestinians escalates. Eight of the dead are Palestinians, including one child, and three are settlers.
These are all small fires in the background right now, but any single event could be the spark that ignites a wider war.
Difficulties in negotiating the release of more hostages:
There are reports that Hamas is willing to release anywhere from 20-100 hostages — women, children and seniors — in return for the release of Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails and a temporary ceasefire, plus the delivery of more food and fuel.
So far, Israel hasn’t agreed to it; Netanyahu dismisses calls for an extended pause in fighting or delivery of fuel to Gaza.
Conflict over what a post-combat Gaza might look like:
Add to all this: new conflict over what happens to Gaza after combat operations end. This week PM Netanyahu said Israel will keep security control of Gaza “for an indefinite period.” The White House pushed back on that. And Secretary Blinken said that Palestinians must govern Gaza and the West Bank under unified control. Will any peace settlement be possible with Netanyahu as Israel’s head of government? And would some of this tension be resolved if Netanyahu weren’t Prime Minister? (There are ongoing calls for Netanyahu to step down – see one here and one here.)
Pressure on the US and changing public tone:
This all goes to a central problem: Fears that Israel is losing the PR war. In a fascinating interview, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak put it plainly: the world’s patience with the offensive is already wearing thin.
“We are losing public opinion in Europe and in a week or two we’ll start to lose governments in Europe. And after another week the friction with the Americans will emerge to the surface,” former PM Barak said in the same interview. He predicted, “We will have to come to terms with the American demands within the next two or three weeks, probably less.”
We mentioned Secretary of State Blinken’s new tone. Another State Department official told the US Senate that the actual death toll in Gaza could be “even higher” than the Gaza Health Ministry’s stated toll of 11,000+. (Those figures don’t distinguish between civilians and terrorists.)
CNN reports that in a leaked cable a US diplomat warns that the US’ support for the war risks “losing us Arab publics for a generation.” It reportedly says, “We are losing badly on the messaging battlespace.” (A cable is a confidential written message shared by diplomats).
Inside the US, politicians are feeling pressure from within their own ranks. Pro-Palestine staffers on Capitol Hill staged a walk-out, State Department employees signed onto a dissent cable and some White House aides are reportedly privately pushing back against the US’ support for Israel.
There is intense support for Israel’s war-effort as well. The administration is not backing off its position: that Israel has a right to defend itself and rout Hamas. But there are signs the US’ full-throated backing of the operation in Gaza is not open-ended. And allies clearly believe that Israel will gain in standing by doing more to show they are protecting civilians, bringing in more aid, agreeing to terms that will win the release of more hostages, taking steps to contain violence in the West Bank, and opening to a post-war agreement that empowers Palestinians. This isn’t advocacy or opinion – I’m reflecting a shifting reality.
Finally, a little news that doesn’t suck:
Dogs Are Family Too: Jader Alexis Castaño of Colombia went through a rough divorce in 2021, and since then, he’s been depressed, unable to stomach meals and sick with grief over losing Simona, his dog. Now, good news for Jader: a Colombian court ruled that Simona, his dog, is legally “his daughter” and that Castaño’s ex-wife must grant him regular visitation rights. Castaño’s lawyers won the case by arguing that Simona was part of his “multispecies family” and that on the rare occasion Castaño’s ex-wife did allow him to visit Simona, the dog was “emotionally affected” when he had to leave. Since 2016, Colombia has recognized the rights of animals as “feeling beings” entitled to legal protection of their wellbeing. The 2023 decision ruled that visitation rights will protect Simona’s wellbeing. If you read Spanish, check out the court record – it’s worth your time.
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