What's the point of a humanitarian pause?

In the immediate aftermath of Hamas’s creatively depraved, multiaxial attack in southern Israel, in which over 1,400 Israelis were butchered, more than 5,000 more were wounded, and another 200-plus were taken hostage by the terrorist group, President Joe Biden said and did all the right things. I praised him for recognizing the stakes of the war Hamas inaugurated and for refusing to entertain baseless moral equivalencies between the slaughtered and their slaughterers. But I also forecast a time in the near future when Biden’s resolve would be put to the test, and he is already faltering — all of two weeks later.

At a Democratic fundraiser in Minneapolis on Wednesday, Biden was confronted by a heckler — a person who self-identifies as a rabbi and is affiliated with an anti-Zionist Jewish group — who demanded the president call for a cease-fire. Rather than ignore the questioner, whose solicitation elicited boos and hisses from the audience, Biden didn’t just fail to reject the premise. He endorsed it. “I think we need a pause,” Biden replied. “A pause means giving time to get the prisoners out.” With that, the dam that had been holding back a torrent of pent-up pusillanimity among Democratic elected officials burst.

“An effort should be made to engage in conversation between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” said the Senate’s second-ranking member, Dick Durbin, in support of a “pause” in the fighting. “Whatever the rationale from the beginning has now reached an intolerable level,” he said of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict generally, eliding the specific and grotesque circumstances that opened this war.

“It’s time for Israel’s friends to recognize that the current operational approach is causing an unacceptable level of civilian harm and does not appear likely to achieve the goal of permanently ending the threat from Hamas,” Senator Chris Murphy wrote in a statement. “The current rate of civilian death inside Gaza is unacceptable and unsustainable.”

“The suffering in Gaza is worsening by the day, and a mutually agreed-upon humanitarian pause is the only way to deliver adequate aid to those in need,” Senator Brian Schatz insisted. “Continued violence will no doubt compound this already dire situation.”

Representative Katie Porter, who is running for the open U.S. Senate seat formerly occupied by the late Dianne Feinstein, produced what may be the most irrational of these demands. After condemning Hamas for deliberately murdering Israeli civilians, putting its own people in harm’s way, using innocents (including young children) as human bargaining chips, and pledging her support for Israel’s efforts to “eliminate the threats of Hamas’ terrorism,” she nonetheless claimed that compelling Israel to put a halt to at least some of its offensive operations is “consistent with these goals.”

In the coming days, we can expect more Democrats will join this growing chorus. According to CNN, the Biden administration is “warning Israel with growing force that it will become increasingly difficult for it to pursue its military goals in Gaza as global outcry intensifies about the scale of humanitarian suffering there.” That’s it, isn’t it? The “global outcry” that routinely follows when Israel exercises its absolute right to self-defense has just become too discomfiting for the Democratic Party. The barbarity of the 10/7 attack shocked the senses, but that shock has faded. And with it, so, too, has the Democratic Party’s resolve.

Biden’s cravenness has given cover to members of his party who were always uncomfortable with Israel’s expressions of its own desire to continue existing, but he has also now committed his administration to an assault on the national consensus in support of Israel’s war he helped to build.

A Harvard-Harris survey taken after the attack found that well over eight in ten Americans side with Israel against Hamas and believe Israel has the right to defend itself. Overwhelming majorities agree that Israel’s campaign to “eliminate Hamas” is justified, that cutting off resources to Hamas is warranted, and that Hamas “has no interest in the safety and well-being of Palestinian citizens.” It’s hard to think of an issue that generates such a broad consensus today. And it is bipartisan. A mid-October Yahoo/YouGov poll found a dramatic increase in support for the Israeli position among Democrats since the attack. The Democratic drumbeat for a “pause” will surely chip away at that solidarity.

And for what? Recently, White House spokesman John Kirby tried to establish the fine distinctions between a cease-fire — which the administration steadfastly opposes — and a “humanitarian pause,” but he managed only incoherence. The difference is “a question of duration and scope and size and that kind of thing,” Kirby insisted. Those qualifications don’t neutralize the problem with a “pause,” which is the same problem that precludes the prospect of a cease-fire: Hamas would use the time to rearm, regroup, and undermine Israel’s strategic position.

Odder still is the apparent assumption among Democrats that Hamas would play passively along with Israel’s unilateral gambit. A “pause” to seek the return of hostages (a precondition that not all those advocating a cease-fire have even demanded) would only ratify the logic of hostage-taking in the first place, rewarding Hamas with something it has sought unsuccessfully at the negotiating table in Doha. Not only would a pause validate abductions, thereby begetting more kidnappings all over the globe, it would demonstrate the brilliant efficacy of Hamas’s strategy of putting the maximum number of Gazans in the path of Israeli ordnance.

Gaza’s Hamas-run government organs produce dubiously high casualty statistics with pinpoint accuracy within minutes of Israel’s guided strikes on the legitimate targets the terror group hides among civilians. The credulous press dutifully runs with those figures, or relies on international organizations that operate in Gaza under Hamas’s editorial control to validate the terrorist group’s claims. Only much later are those figures ever revised, as the shambolic reporting around a supposed Israeli strike on a Gaza hospital illustrates.

In that attack, the result of an Islamic Jihad rocket that fell short, “no buildings collapsed, and no staff or patients were killed,” according to the religious order that manages that facility. Just “two of our employees were injured,” he continued. This episode demonstrates the impossibility of reporting accurately on this conflict from afar, and the extremely effective psychological impact of Hamas’s efforts to convince the world that Israel’s actions are unjustified.

There has been a high number of civilian casualties in this war. But that is not Israel’s fault. It is, after all, the objective of the illegitimate regime in control of the Gaza Strip. And there will be more. “It is ugly and it’s going to be messy, and innocent civilians are going to be hurt going forward,” Kirby said of the war Hamas provoked. Biden’s calls for a “humanitarian pause” tacitly validate Hamas’s desire to blame Israel for the civilian casualties the terror group seeks to maximize.

The threat to Israel’s strategic position represented by a “pause” is acute. There is no indication that Hamas would give up its hostages. And even if they did, that would not alter Israel’s conviction that it can no longer abide the existence of a genocidal suicide cult governing territory, and a population of 2 million people, on its border. But a “pause” would convince Israel’s critics that the shooting should never start again. And when it did, the resulting collateral damage would somehow become Israel’s fault.

So, what exactly is the point here? If a “pause” isn’t in the strategic interests of the U.S. or Israel and is unlikely to succeed on the terms its advocates have set for it, what are we privy to but an exercise in throat-clearing? Can it really be that the Biden administration and America’s most prominent Democrats are that sensitive to a revolt among what the New York Times describes as the “young, diverse Left,” whose misbegotten education has led roughly half of them to explicitly support “Hamas” in this war (48 percent of Americans aged 18 to 24, according to Harvard-Harris)? Is it really easier to cave to the demands of this wildly unrepresentative collection of moral reprobates than to explain to them why they are wrong? Or is the administration really in that much of a panic about restive Muslim voters in Michigan and Minnesota? Are Democrats willing to sacrifice America’s support for Israel in a conflict with what the 10/7 attack demonstrated are the enemies of civilization itself?

It is a sorry but not surprising sight to watch Democrats lose the nerve they summoned for only a few short weeks, but no one should feel obliged to listen to them. Israel, least of all. The Jewish state is a mission-oriented country. It is founded upon the notion that no one is coming to save Jews from the pogromists who seek to murder them. They may have to go it alone. The Biden White House’s spineless vacillation only validates the terrible timelessness of that truth.

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