We asked 22 US senators if Israel is committing genocide in Gaza
Also, is Chuck Grassley okay?
When we asked Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) if Israel’s offensive in Palestine is a genocide, the 90-year-old senator replied, “Yes."
The reporters gathered around the Iowa Republican at the US Capitol were stunned. Grassley’s body woman left her boss’s side to confront me about what had just happened.
Grassley broke from the group of reporters to seek out his aide and I repeated the question.
“No,” Grassley said this time — as in, Israel’s war in Gaza is not a genocide.
“It’s the other way around. Hamas’s attack on Israel was genocide,” Grassley continued. “There was peace on October 6th. On October 7th, there was an invasion, and when people want us to talk about the deaths that are going on now, if October 7th didn’t happen, no one would be dead as a result.”
Two of Grassley’s Senate colleagues answered the same question with a simple “No” and left it at that. Others were more thoughtful. Others uncomfortable, even dismissive.
These powerful US senators answers come at a moment when South Africa has filed genocide charges against Israel in the International Criminal Court. This weekend Bolivia became the first Latin American country to endorse South Africa’s effort. Expect more countries from the region to back South Africa's effort in coming days and weeks.
Nevertheless, Israel’s political brand remains strong among American senators from both parties.
Given the strong emotions surrounding the issue, we think it’s important to report verbatim what each senator of the 22 lawmakers we asked had to say. Find their responses below.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD): “No. I’m not even going to respond to that.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL): “I’m not characterizing it one way or the other. Listen, I don’t think at this point hurling language around helps at all. I’m for a ceasefire. I think to have a ceasefire you need an agreement on both sides.”
Durbin, the number two most powerful Senate Democrat, then added: “There should be restrictions on the use of military equipment and materials from the United States.”
Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL): “No, they’re defending their country.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX): “I don’t think that accurately describes what’s going on. I think the Israelis are trying to defend themselves against an existential threat by a proxy of Iran which has a number of proxies ... obviously determined to wipe Israel off the face of the map and to potentially start a regional or larger conflict. I support the Israelis doing what they need to do in order to eliminate the threat.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY): “I think it’s a term that’s being misused.”
Sen. Peter Welch (D-VT): “I don’t want to use those terms. It was completely understandable that Israel was going to act, but they’ve overreacted. The loss of massive Palestinian lives is tragic and unnecessary. I think ultimately it will be very bad for Israel. There’s an enormous amount of loss and suffering. What happened to the Israelis is unspeakable. But what’s happening to the Palestinians is likewise unimaginable. My hope is that Israel will stop the bombing and also assist in getting any humanitarian aid for millions of Palestinians.”
Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE): “No.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ): “No, unequivocally not. I think that the Hamas charter is calling for genocide. They call for the destruction of the Jewish people.”
When asked if he considered the October 7th Hamas attack a genocidal act, Booker replied by saying, “I would want to look at it, but obviously that was in furtherance of their ambition to destroy the Jewish people which they wrote about in their charter.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT): “Well, that’s a hard word. Just read what I’ve written. I’ve spoken a lot on it. But you’re going to have to define what genocide means. That’s a word you have to be a little bit careful of.”
Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT): “No. (laughs) That’s an outrageous accusation about Israel defending herself.”
Sen. J. D. Vance (R-OH): “Genocide means something very specific. Do I think Israel’s done everything perfectly? Of course not. But I think they have more than any reasonable party would expect. They have conducted the operation with concern for innocent lives. They’re fighting fundamentally an existential battle with an incredibly dug-in enemy that’s shown a willingness to use human civilians as shields and pawns in their military strategy. I think, in light of that, Israel has done well. This question of genocide, if you want to more strongly condemn Israel or you want to say they should be doing this or that different, I think it’s totally reasonable. But do we actually think that they’re trying to eliminate the Palestinians from Gaza? If they wanted to, they could be doing that a lot easier and with less loss of Israeli life. Genocide actually means something. I don’t buy that the term applies anywhere close to this case.”
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV): “I would say, from my perspective, after what happened on Oct 7, Israel has a right to defend itself and we need humanitarian aid.”
Sen. James Lankford (R-OK): “No. It’s a war. That’s the clearest definition. Wherever it may be it’s a war. It’s a bad situation. Terrible. There’s not a good part of a war.”
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR): “Remember what genocide is by definition. It is sitting down and developing a plan to wipe out another group of people. I’m a Jew. My parents fled the Nazis in the ‘30s and I study a lot of history. I know of no such plan that’s been written.”
Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ): “I just returned from Israel at 9 a.m. this morning. We were in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel. Any civilian loss of life is tragic. And I addressed these issues specifically with the Israeli government at the highest level. I brought up in detail unguided munitions and the consequences of that, speaking from my own personal experience. They need to do a better job trying to avoid civilian casualties. At the same time, what happened to them on October 7th was unprecedented in the barbarity of it and they have a right to defend themselves.”
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI): “No.”
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI): “Look, Israel has the right to defend itself. It’s also important that the administration continue to urge Israel to have that be a very targeted defense towards defeating Hamas.”
Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-NE): “No. Hamas is responsible for every death on Oct 7 and since then. They started a war and this is why wars are so terrible.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV): “I’ve never thought of it as a genocide. It’s horrible. All the absolute carnage that’s going on, you would think it could hopefully be more targeted. But I believe they have to wipe out Hamas. I believe very strongly that terrorists in any type of situation cannot be tolerated. It’s not good for the citizens, and it’s definitely not good for the whole region. I believe very strongly that terrorism has to be stopped and eliminated where we possibly can.”
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI): “Israel needs to create a much more focused way for Hamas to be taken down as a danger.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH): “I think Israel’s offensive in Gaza should allow more humanitarian aid and to better target Hamas so that there is less collateral damage.”*
*“collateral damage” is military speak for when innocents are slaughtered during war
Originally published at Capitol.press on 9 January 2024.