Two of President Joe Biden's top advisers asked U.S. lawmakers to provide billions more dollars to Israel on Tuesday at a congressional hearing interrupted repeatedly by protesters denouncing American officials for backing "genocide" against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testified to the Senate's appropriations committee on Biden's request for $106 billion US to fund ambitious plans for Ukraine, Israel and U.S. border security.
As the hearing began, a line of protesters raised red-stained hands in the air as an antiwar protest. Capitol police later removed them from the hearing room after they shouted protests including, "Ceasefire now!" and "Protect the children of Gaza!"
Other protesters who remained silent held up painted hands that resembled blood.
Palestinian authorities say that Israel's "total siege" of Gaza has killed more than 8,300 people, more than 3,400 of them minors, and left a dire need for fuel, food and clean water.
One protester cited the number of children killed in Gaza since Israel launched airstrikes and, recently, a ground offensive. The military campaign is in response to a cross-border attack by Hamas militants on Oct. 7 that left 1,400 people, overwhelmingly civilians, dead. Those killed included dozens of American citizens.
"I … hear, very much, the passions expressed in this room and outside this room," Blinken said at the end of his opening remarks. "All of us are committed to the protection of civilians."
Rise in antisemitic incidents noted
Austin said it was a "moral responsibility and strategic imperative" for Israel to minimize civilian casualties within Gaza and West Bank, where some Israeli settlers have attacked Palestinians.
Arguing that supporting U.S. partners is vital to national security, Biden has asked for $14.3 billion for Israel and $9 billion for humanitarian relief — including for Israel and Gaza.
Biden requested $61.4 billion for Ukraine, about half of which would be spent in the U.S. to replenish weapons stocks drained by previous support for Kyiv, as well as $13.6 billion for U.S. border security and $4 billion in military assistance and government financing to counter China's regional efforts in Asia.
Biden's support for Israel, which already receives $3.8 billion in annual U.S. military assistance, has drawn criticism amid international appeals for Gaza civilians to be protected.
The protests at the committee hearing reflect the heightened tensions that have arisen in the U.S. since Oct. 7. Some 300 arrests were reported after a Capitol Hill sit-in on Oct. 19, led by a Jewish advocacy group calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
While Blinken and Austin were testifying, FBI Director Christopher Wray and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas were at a separate congressional hearing testifying to current threats to the U.S.
Hate directed at Jewish students in the U.S. following the start of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza has added to an increase in antisemitism, both said.
The Hamas attack, Wray said, "has raised the threat of attack in the United States to a whole other level" not seen since ISIS's rise last decade. The FBI chief said the agency is concerned about the potential for individuals or small groups inspired by Hamas to attack within U.S. borders.
"This is not a time for panic, but it is a time for vigilance," Wray said.
Mayorkas said that "hate directed at Jewish students, communities, and institutions add to a pre-existing increase in the level of antisemitism in the United States and around the world."
U.S. government officials met American Jewish leaders met on Monday. The White House said Monday it was taking action to fight "an alarming uptick" in antisemitic incidents at schools and colleges, including working to ensure campus law enforcement was engaged with state and local law enforcement.
Jewish advocacy group the Anti-Defamation League reported last week that antisemitic incidents had risen by about 400 per cent in the two weeks following the Oct. 7 attack, compared with the same period last year.
The office of Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen, a Democrat, confirmed Tuesday she was the target of threats that have led to charges for a Las Vegas man.
John Miller, 43, is alleged to have left a series of messages with here office between Oct. 11 and Oct. 19 calling her "subhuman" and vowing to "finish what Hitler started." Miller was charged with one count of threatening a federal official and faces a Nov. 13 court hearing.
Muslim-American group plans protest
Meanwhile, Muslim Americans and some Democratic Party activists have said they will work to mobilize millions of Muslim voters to withhold donations and votes toward Biden's 2024 re-election bid unless he takes immediate steps to secure a Gaza ceasefire.
The National Muslim Democratic Council, which includes Democratic Party leaders from hotly contested states likely to decide the election, called on Biden to use his influence with Israel to broker a ceasefire by 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
In an open letter entitled "2023 Ceasefire Ultimatum," the Muslim leaders pledged to mobilize Muslim voters to "withhold endorsement, support, or votes for any candidate who endorses the Israeli offensive against the Palestinian people."
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Muslim Americans in Minnesota, where Biden plans to visit on Wednesday, last week issued a similar ceasefire ultimatum with a Tuesday deadline. They said they planned a protest on Wednesday when the president visits their state.
Wray noted that the FBI is also on the alert for Islamophobic attacks, pointing to a federal hate crimes investigation that is ongoing after an Illinois man was charged with murder at the state level after the killing of a Palestinian-American boy.
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