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Pramila Jayapal stirs up hornet’s nest as Democratic divide on Gaza deepens

New Delhi, Dec 10, 2023
Indian-American Democratic representative Pramila Jayapal stirred up a hornet’s nest after she called for a “balanced” approach when answering a question from the media about the Hamas’ possible use of rape as a war tool — creating an intense backlash within the Democratic Party.

After her controversial statement, tensions rose within the Democratic Party about how to condemn Hamas for sexual violence in its war with Israel.

The chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), had condemned the rape of Israeli women by Hamas and called it “horrific” on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ last Sunday.

She pointed out that over 15,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli attacks in Gaza since the start of the war, saying, “I think we have to be balanced about bringing in the outrages against Palestinians.”

Her controversial comments brought broader divisions within the Democratic Party to the fore on the Hamas-Israel war.

Realising the tensions, Jayapal issued a fresh statement two days later saying, “Let me be completely clear again that I unequivocally condemn Hamas’ use of rape and sexual violence as an act of war.”

“What I said on Sunday in speaking about Hamas and rape was: ‘I have condemned what Hamas has done, I’ve condemned all of the actions…rape is horrific, sexual assault is horrific.’ It is what I believe and I will continue to condemn the atrocities committed by Hamas and continue to call for Hamas’ defeat,” she emphasised.

She further clarified that her comment about “balance was not about rape, and not intended to minimise rape and sexual assault in any way. It was about recognising the tremendous pain and trauma of so many—Israelis, Palestinians and their diaspora communities—in this terrible war.”

According to multiple media reports, Democrats have struggled to reconcile support for Israel’s right to defend itself in the wake of the October 7 attacks and rising protests, especially on the Left, over the devastation in Gaza.

The heightened anger, however, has highlighted growing fault lines between how the Left and the moderates are handling egregious elements of the conflict through their messaging and advocacy, reports the CNN.

“I think it couldn’t hurt,” Rep Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), a leading Jewish Democrat in the House, told The Hill when asked whether the CPC should release a united statement from its members specifically condemning sexual violence by Hamas.

New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley wrote in a statement, “We stand in unwavering solidarity with the Jewish community and all those targeted by these abhorrent acts. We will not be intimidated or deterred in our fight against bigotry. We call on every citizen to join us to ensure that New Hampshire remains a place where hate finds no harbour.”

Two women Democratic lawmakers — Reps Debbie Dingell (Mich) and Lois Frankel (Fla) were in the process of drafting a resolution that would condemn Hamas’ violence toward women, according to reports.

“I condemn it. This is going to be an issue I am seriously going to take on,” Dingell was quoted as saying.

Jayapal’s comments were also criticised by Rep Ritchie Torres (D-NY), who did not directly name Jayapal but said, “Rape and sexual violence against Israeli women calls for nothing less than unequivocal condemnation.”

“Israel did not invade Palestinian homes and rape and sexually violate Palestinian women. Hamas did invade Israeli homes and did rape and sexually violate Israeli women,” Torres said. “There is no ‘balance’ or ‘both sides’ or ‘moral equivalence’ here. Period.”

“We can all unequivocally condemn the attack by Hamas on October 7, a sentiment which implicitly opposes the rape and other horrific violence committed that day,” Hassan Martini, a senior Democratic strategist, was quoted as saying in The Hill report.

According to a report in Politico, the Hamas-Israel conflict is also dividing liberal cities in California, where bitter debates over symbolic resolutions have transformed local politics into heated fights over international affairs, human rights and anti-semitism.

Local governments in cities including San Francisco and Santa Ana are now debating whether to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.(Agency)

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