‘Butcher of Gaza’: Blinken faces grilling about Biden’s Israel policy from protesters and Senators

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken faced a grilling from both pro-Gaza protesters and Senators during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Tuesday.

Ostensibly, the hearing was supposed to be about the Biden administration’s budget request for the 2025 fiscal year. But even before the hearing began, the committee room on the fourth floor of the Dirksen building had numerous opponents of Israel’s war in Gaza wearing keffiyehs with their hands up chastizing him. One woman in a hijab wore a shirt emblazoned with the words “Bloody Blinken.”

“Blinken, you will be remembered as the butcher of Gaza!” one protester said as Capitol police officers threw him out of the hearing. “You will be remembered for murdering innocent Palestinians.”

Other protesters would later be thrown out in just the same manner.

Blinken faced aggressive grilling by Democrats and Republicans alike for the administration’s policies and actions toward Israel, specifically its support for Israel throughout the war in Gaza.

At the same time, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ben Cardin, who is retiring this year, echoed Blinken and the Biden administration’s condemnation of the International Criminal Court. The ICC on Monday asked for the issuance of arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and numerous Hamas leaders including Yahya Sinwar.

“I see it as a step in the wrong direction,” Cardin said, of the ICC’s decision. “There's always been an understanding the ICC is there to deal with countries that don't have an independent judiciary. Israel has an independent judiciary.”

Almost all major US leaders from both parties condemned the ICC prosecutor’s decision, which Blinken also decried at the hearing. The Secretary of State added that the decision would make it more difficult to reach an end to hostilities between Israel and Hamas.

But the agreements seemed to end there. Democrats proceeded to criticize the Biden administration for its unwillingess to hold Israel accountable, while Republicans said that the Biden administration had failed to sufficiently support Israel.

Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, asked Blinken about reports that the United States and Saudi Arabia were close to making a defense and security deal, but asked why the plans did not include Israel.

“There's an entrepreneurial opportunity for Israel to become integrated into the region to get the security, fundamental security,” Blinken said. “But in order for that, to actually go forward, there has to be an end to Gaza. There has to be a credible pathway to Palestinian state.”

Murphy followed up, accusing Blinken of making an empty promise.

“I really just express worry at the phrase ‘credible pathway to a Palestinian state,’” Murphy said. “This is maybe, perhaps the final opportunity to actually cement the Palestinian state, which many of us believe is necessary predicate to peace in the region.”

The hearing about money for the State Department comes shortly after Congress approved a $95 billion security supplemental package that also included $26.38 billion in military aid for Israel.

Senator Jeff Merkeley of Oregon, a Democrat who supports a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, asked Blinken about the State Department’s recent National Security Memorandum, known as an NSM-20, which said that Israel likely violated international law with weapons that the United States supplied.

Blinken said that investigations were ongoing and Israel itself was also conducting investigations.

“It's very difficult to make final determinations in the midst of a war when we do not have access on the ground,” he told Merkeley.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) (C) is one of only a handful of senators who supports a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) (Getty Images)
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) (C) is one of only a handful of senators who supports a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Similarly, Senator Chris Van Hollen said he was concerned about the restrictions placed on the delivery of aid to civilian Palestinians.

“This issue does not require additional investigation, we've seen this play out in real time,” he said. He also mentioned how the Netanyahu government had proven to be an obstacle to a two-state solution and added that he believes settlers in the West Bank “are just part of a movement largely empowered by this current government.”

Blinken responded by saying a Palestinian state was in Israel’s interest.

“You've got five million Palestinians between the West Bank and Gaza, and seven million Israeli Jews,” he said. “Neither is going anywhere.”

Some Republicans criticised the Biden administration for its pausing of a weapons shipment earlier this month to Israel in response to the country’s plans to attack Rafah. Senator Pete Ricketts of Nebraska asked Blinken about the fact that British Foreign Secretary David Cameron opposes conditioning aid to Israel.

In response, Blinken said that the United States “deployed significant assets to the region to make sure that we can deter any further aggression” and noted how the United States helped deter Iran’s recent strike on Israel. But he added that Israel using the 2,000-pound bombs that were in the paused shipments could have “terrible consequences” for civilians in Rafah.

Similarly, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina criticized what he perceived as the Biden administration’s weakness, which he warned invited further threats.

Minutes after he finished his questioning, Scott, who is seen as a potential running mate for former president Donald Trump, was on the Senate train, having not listened to further questioning.

Meanwhile, ahead of his own questioning, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who is up for re-election this year, was seen checking his phone.