Israel’s devastating campaign of collective punishment against the people of Gaza has aroused international condemnation and popular mobilization in support of a ceasefire and an end to Israeli Apartheid. This movement has also spread to the US, where hundreds of thousands of people flocked to Washington D.C. on Nov. 4 for the largest pro-Palestine march in US history. Support for a ceasefire in Gaza is widespread among the US public—with more than half of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans alike in favor of such a measure, according to Data for Progress. Yet the federal government continues to largely ignore calls for a ceasefire and an end to US aid to Israel, with only a minority of House Democrats willing to back a resolution for a ceasefire. Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, a key organization in the current Palestine solidarity movement, joins The Chris Hedges Report to explain what the movement is demanding from leaders in Washington to stop Israel’s genocide of Palestinians.
Editor’s note: The death toll in Gaza from Israel’s bombardment campaign has now exceeded 10,000—including over 4,000 children.
On Nov. 9, the White House announced Israel would observe a daily four-hour pause in bombing to allow Palestinian civilians to flee from northern Gaza. The Biden Administration continues to resist calls for a full ceasefire.
Studio Production: David Hebden, Adam Coley
Post-Production: Adam Coley
Chris Hedges: Democratic representatives, Cori Bush, Rashida Tlaib, André Carson, Summer Lee, and Delia Ramirez introduced a Ceasefire Now Resolution on October 16 to halt the siege on Gaza. The resolution calls on the Biden administration to demand an end to the Israeli attacks and to send humanitarian aid to Gaza. Eight other Democrats signed on as original co-sponsors and an additional five have since sponsored the resolution along with other members of Congress. This brings the total number of sponsors to 26. Compare those numbers with a House resolution passed on October 25 by a 412-10 margin, expressing solidarity with Israel as it “Defends itself against the barbaric war launched by Hamas.”
The resolution made no mention of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza that have killed more than 8,000 Palestinians, 3,000 of them children, and displaced some 1.4 million people. Representative Betty McCollum, the author of congressional legislation, that would impose restrictions on how the Israeli military can use USAID backed the resolution. Palestinian rights advocates and anti-war activists have staged protests and sit-ins at congressional offices around the country demanding a ceasefire. Not only to protect civilian lives and facilitate the release of hostages but to prevent a regional war. In the Senate, only Bernie Sanders has called for a halt to the Israeli air assault, but even he stopped short of calling for a ceasefire.
Why is there such a tepid response to clear-cut Israeli war crimes? Why has most of the progressive caucus refused to call for a ceasefire? Why did the Democratic Party and the Biden administration shut down all discussions of a ceasefire, including vetoing UN resolutions calling for a ceasefire? Are these lawmakers frightened of the Israel lobby AIPAC, which has already targeted Representatives Jamaal Bowman and Ilhan Omar, both of whom are calling for a ceasefire? Are they captive to the war industry which profits from this assault? And yet, a poll released by the progressive firm Data for Progress, found that 66% of likely voters strongly or somewhat agree that the US should call for a ceasefire: A percentage that rises to 80% among Democrats. 53% of Democrats told CBS News pollsters that they oppose the US sending more weapons to Israel.
Joining me to discuss the grassroots effort to impose the ceasefire is Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of the feminist anti-war group, CODEPINK. Madea, you’ve been a peace activist for many years. I wonder what this moment compares to. Does it feel like the aftermath of 9/11? Can you draw a historical analogy?
Medea Benjamin: It certainly has feelings like 9/11 when the country is turned upside down and when there is so much censorship and no room for those who call for an end to violence. And it also is reminiscent of the grassroots opposition in terms of the huge demonstrations that we found and helped to organize after 9/11. And comparing those with the enormous and really spectacular protests that have been going on now. There were so many good examples of large, large protests in New York City, Washington DC, Chicago, and San Francisco, all over the country, even in small towns I have been visiting. And they said wow, we never had 500 people out in our small town as well as the sit-ins and offices. So it is reminiscent of what happened after 9/11.
I would say one of the big differences though is that now there is a Democrat in the White House and that really changes the alliances that we have in terms of people in Congress and the ability to make those alliances with the grassroots more overt. As you said, there’s only a small number of Congress people in the Democratic Party now, 18 of them have called for a ceasefire. So it’s very difficult when you have a Democrat in the White House to get the response from Democrats that we should be having when we’re seeing this mass slaughter.
Chris Hedges: You’ve been very involved with Ukraine. You also saw the Biden administration sabotage a ceasefire effort. It was orchestrated primarily by Türkiye. And I want you to compare. For me, it’s stunning to have an active effort on the part of a Democratic administration to shut down any discussion of a ceasefire both domestically and internationally.
Medea Benjamin: Well, yes, in the case of Ukraine, it’s been constant that the US has tried to stop any peace talks from going on. We saw what happened a month after the Russian invasion and how President Erdoğan from Türkiye was really quite successful in helping to come up with a 15-point peace plan between Ukraine and Russia that was then sabotaged by the US and the UK. And ever since then there have been efforts for a peace plan, whether it’s coming from the Pope or the six nations of Africa or the heads of state of countries in Latin America like Mexico and Brazil, and then the China effort at a peace plan, the US has nixed all of them.
Here we have another comparison between Ukraine where the US is pursuing that war because it wants to weaken Russia, and then you have the US not calling for a ceasefire in the case of Israel. Instead of making a comparison saying that Ukraine is an occupied country and Palestine is an occupied country, they say that Ukraine and Israel are the two democracies that are fighting for their preservation. When you walk the halls in Congress, Chris, you see many, many congresspeople have a stand with Ukraine and stand with Israel signs right next to each other.
Chris Hedges: I want to talk about what you look at the cause of, to the extent that perhaps the defense industry or the war industry is pushing this. And also the fact that no administration at this point can control the permanent war machine, and tie both that into what’s happened in Ukraine and what’s happening in Israel.
Medea Benjamin: There is such a huge lobby by this military-industrial complex. We don’t really see them in the halls of Congress because they don’t have to go walking the doors like we do. They go directly into the rooms in the capitol to meet with the members of Congress. They even have people embedded in their own offices that come from the different branches of the military. Many of those worked previously in the industry itself or will go to work for the industry when they leave. And of course that revolving door we see with members of Congress themselves, we see it with the Secretary of Defense, Austin, who came directly from the board of Raytheon. This revolving door is so insidious and so corrupt that you see that there are more lobbyists for the weapons industry than there are members of Congress.
So you get both the Democrats and Republicans, the overwhelming majority of them, take money from this industry. And they do the bidding for the industry by keeping this war machine going, whether it was approving billions of dollars for the war in Ukraine or the $4 billion a year for Israel, or the justification for the intensive buildup for a potential war with China. And now we’re seeing the call for another tranche, an enormous tranche of money, $104 billion that the administration is asking for that is mana for these weapons companies. So indeed they have a large role to play in keeping the US in a constant state of war.
Chris Hedges: Is the problem – And of course, many of these voices, the occupation at Grand Central War is Jewish Voices for Peace, J Street. We have all sorts of Jewish groups in the US who have decried the saturation bombing of Gaza and called for a cease fryer – But is the problem that essentially, you’re running into not only the lobby of the war industry but the Israel lobby?
Medea Benjamin: Well, yes. It’s important to call out the Israel lobby. There is AIPAC and then there are the lobby groups that are associated with as well as Christian groups like CUFI, Christians United for Israel. And all of these groups are extremely powerful. They have a lot of money and they use their money to primary candidates who have expressed some sympathy for Palestine, to take out members of Congress who have expressed some sympathy for Palestine. We saw that before October 7, but we’re seeing it on steroids and we will in the upcoming election when they are targeting people like Jamaal Bowman, and Ilhan Omar. They tried unsuccessfully to take out Summer Lee in Pittsburgh but I’m sure they will be trying again this time.
And they’ve stopped some very, very wonderful progressives from becoming members of Congress like Nina Turner or taking out Congresswoman Donna Edwards. So they have a very insidious impact. They support a lot of Republicans and they have been seen in more recent years as being a much more of a Republican group, but they try to be nonpartisan and they support about 120 of the House Democrats. They have really divided the Black Caucus by giving a lot of money to people like Hakeem Jeffries to Congressman Meeks while they tried to take out the progressive members of the Black Caucus. They’ve also given money to about half of the progressive members of the progressive caucus in the House.
So they play this role of trying to be bipartisan in their effort to take out any voices of those who call for a ceasefire right now and who call for a real resolution to the ongoing problem in the Middle East. Whether it’s Israel and Palestine, or the issue of Iran where they have been pushing for more and more sanctions on Iran and they have been pushing, for example, for the US to not be in the Iran nuclear deal. So it’s not Israel, it’s the whole Middle East where they have a very insidious role.
Chris Hedges: Let’s talk about the Biden administration’s response. And if you could in particular talk about figures like Jake Sullivan and the Secretary of State Blinken.
Medea Benjamin: Well, the Biden administration has talked about its rock-solid support for Israel and is now calling for another $14 billion to be sent for Israel while the global community is demanding a ceasefire. We see the vote at the United Nations where it was 1,412 nations saying we need an immediate humanitarian pause. And there were only 12 nations, the US, Israel, and a handful of others saying no. So the US is quite isolated and yet you have Biden who acts like he is a leader of the global community, and Jake Sullivan who echoes that rock-solid support for Israel. In general, the White House is out of step with the global majority as well as the opinion polls that we see in the US. This is quite remarkable to talk about because it not only goes against what the Biden administration and the majority of Congress are saying, but it goes against what the mainstream reports in the press are. And yet people see through that and want to see a ceasefire.
Chris Hedges: What do you think it is that’s driving? The Obama administration had a very uneasy relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. In fact, Netanyahu was invited to speak to Congress to denounce Obama’s Iran deal. And yet, you see Biden slavishly in service to this extreme, probably the most extremist Israeli government in Israel’s history.
Medea Benjamin: Well, from your history in the region and Biden’s history he’s always been a tremendous supporter of Israel. He is the one who said if it didn’t exist, we’d have to create it. He has been, as you say, more than Obama, going along with Israel, while the Israeli government has become more and more right-wing, and these settlers have become more and more vicious. And while the Israeli people, before the October 7 conflict, have been out on the streets calling for the end to Netanyahu and protesting his attempts to take over the government and the courts. So there has been plenty of room there where Biden could have stood up and actually said he is not going to be this slavish supporter of a right-wing fascist Israeli government, but instead, he has continued to support it 100% and of course, used our taxpayer money to do so.
Chris Hedges: And what do you think is the motive? Is it political expediency?
Medea Benjamin: You could say it’s political expediency and yet the tide is turning. It’s becoming more and more of a liability and that’s why we see a little bit of toning down of the Biden administration because they realize that this is one, going against what public opinion is now saying, and two, that there is no strategy that Israel has in terms of its incessant bombing and now the ground invasion. What is it going to do after? If it indeed takes over Gaza, what will it do afterward? And three, it’s concerned about a regional war. We are seeing a slight shift in the Biden administration because there are people within the administration who are questioning this policy. We have the example of somebody who quit over this but we also know that there are hundreds of people who have signed letters within the administration saying they disagree with this policy.
I was at a demonstration the other day and talking to somebody next to me and she started crying and said that she works in the State Department and she can’t stand what this government is doing and her colleagues feel the same way. So the Biden administration is feeling the heat from many corners.
Chris Hedges: Well, isn’t “no end policy” what the US has been doing in the Middle East for the last two decades, whether it’s Iraq, Libya, Syria, or anywhere else?
Medea Benjamin: Well, absolutely. And with this whole idea that goes back to the Obama times of wanting to shift from the Middle East and focus more on Asia. Which itself is insanity because they talk about having a war with China but they have not been able to shift from the Middle East because the US has created such a disaster in the Middle East and hasn’t been able to recover from not only the constant support of Israel, but the invasion of Iraq and the destruction of that society that continues to this day; When you see many Iraqis in power that are more Iran than they are pro-US and of course things like the instability that we see now in terms of what could break out in Iran with the intense opposition and intense sanctions that the US continues to place on Iran, that has not only hurt the Iranian people, but has given more power to the most conservative elements of Iranian society.
Chris Hedges: Let’s talk about Gaza. You’ve led delegations to Gaza. Why is Gaza important for you as a peace activist?
Medea Benjamin: It’s important that people are finally understanding that in the last 16 years, the people of Gaza have been imprisoned. Where their every move is really regulated by the Israeli government, even though Israel “pulled out.” We have been involved in the freedom flotillas that try to reach Gaza by land which is impossible to do because the Israelis then board the boats and confiscate them and don’t let the fishermen even go out into the waters to be able to make a living as fishermen. We see that there’s no airport in Gaza, so people cannot get in and out of the country by air. The land borders are controlled by the Israelis, and even the border in Egypt is controlled by the Israelis. And once in a while, the Egyptians will open up that border, but as we see today, they will not do so on a regular basis without the consent of Israel.
So people are locked into that country. They are not able to thrive economically. In fact, horrific rates of unemployment and poverty because Israel controls what goes in and out of that country or that strip of land. And people live in despair. And that’s why we saw what we saw on October 7 when people are not allowed to live decent lives.
We met with Hamas several times when we went to Gaza because they do control who comes into that country if you get in through the Rafah border of Egypt. They have told us time and time again of their efforts to reach out to the US to actually have diplomatic talks with the US. They did it under Bush, they tried it under Clinton, they tried it under Obama. In fact, they gave us a letter to take to Obama when he first came into power saying we would like to talk to you about Israel’s constant violations of international law. They cited Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and human rights groups in Israel itself, and asked why the US is always siding with Israel as it oppresses us and violates international law. And they never, ever, ever had a response back from the US government.
Chris Hedges: Let’s talk about the consequences first for Israel and then regionally, potentially if this continues.
Medea Benjamin: The consequences for Israel are really hard to predict at this point because there is this growing international hatred for Israel. And in the region especially, how can they continue on this path? And yet I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, Chris, because I don’t see the two-state solution. I don’t see the Israeli government removing these entrenched settlers from the communities that they would have to be removed from for a real two-state solution to exist. And I have a hard time even envisioning a one-state Democratic country with equal rights for all with the hatred that has been built up, not only over the years but so intensely in these last few weeks. Of course, we don’t know what’s going to happen to the people of Gaza and the West Bank in the coming weeks as Israel intensifies its land invasion in Gaza and its oppressive tactics in the West Bank. So I find that it’s very hard to predict and that I really do worry about this turning into a regional war.
Chris Hedges: We have ministers within the government who have long called for what they call “transfer.” That’s the euphemism for ethnic cleansing. They are fanatics. I lived in Jerusalem and covered Israeli politics during the heir of Amir Kahana, many of these people are descendants of Kahana. But in those days, Kahana, his party was outlawed, and Israeli society had pushed him aside. Now, of course, the Kahana and Kahana-like followers, openly racist, calling for violence against Palestinians, essentially run the government. How seriously do you take the threats of complete ethnic cleansing, essentially pushing Palestinians out of the country over the Rafah border into refugee camps in the Sinai?
Medea Benjamin: Well, certainly that is what a number of Israelis in the government would like to see happen. The Egyptian government is resisting that, knowing that it would not only be horrific for the over a million people who have now been pushed out of the north and are homeless but it would be also difficult for Sisi to keep governing internally. There would be so much internal opposition to that. And of course, the people in Gaza know that as they were being pushed from the north to the south, if they indeed were able to leave through the Rafah border into Egypt, they would never be allowed back again. That is why there is so much resistance to leaving, even though they are sitting ducks right now with the constant bombardments, not only in the north but in the south as well. So I don’t know that this scheme to push the people out of Gaza will be possible in today’s world where there is such opposition to that in the Arab world and such opposition to that globally.
Chris Hedges: The Egyptian Press has reported that the US has made overtures to the Sisi government. They have a massive debt. The Egyptian economy is very precarious. They have about $168 billion in debt. They have made overtures to pay off all or part of that debt as well as other financial incentives. Essentially buy Sisi out. The other thing that’s important to note is that this blockade now includes water purification plants that are not working, and food, of course, has looted UN warehouses. The third factor, and I know this from having been in Sarajevo during the wars, is the intensity of the bombing. So when I was in Sarajevo, we were being hit with about three to 400 shells a day, along with constant sniper fire. That was about four to five dead a day, two dozen wounded a day. The scale in Gaza where hundreds of people are being killed a day and thousands are wounded, and Sarajevo was awful, I still have nightmares about it, but it’s important to realize the level of bombing is unlike certainly anything we’ve seen in the 21st century. It’s saturation and indiscriminate bombing.
Medea Benjamin: Well, it is so horrific, Chris, to think of the over 8,000 people that have been killed so far, most of them civilians, 3000 of them children. The lack of food, water, and electricity going on – And I want to circle back – While the Biden administration is asking for more money for Israel. And while we can’t get one Republican in Congress to call for a ceasefire, we can only get 18, and then there have been some individual calls. So if you add them together, only 27 members of Congress out of 435 in the House that are calling for a ceasefire, you have to ask, don’t they have a heart? Don’t they care about people? Many of them have their own children and their own grandchildren. Don’t they care about the children of Palestinians? And what we understand too is that until the US Congress puts the pressure on the Biden administration and the Biden administration puts the pressure on Israel, these bombings will only escalate.
And the land invasion that we’re seeing right now is expanding. We in the US have horrific blood on our hands. The members of Congress have blood on their hands. The White House has blood on its hands. And the only thing that we can do if we care about these people in Gaza who every day are facing hell on Earth, is to do sit-ins in the offices of our Congress people, to demand that every single one of them who is supposed to represent us start calling for a ceasefire. If they don’t like the word ceasefire, if that’s too difficult for them, then call for a cessation of hostilities. And if that’s too difficult for them, then call for a humanitarian pause. Do whatever you can to stop this bombing, to stop the murder, to stop the killing.
As we move from there, we have to stop the US money from going to Israel because we can’t allow ourselves to be furnishing these bombs that are dropping on the heads of families and wiping out entire families. We can’t allow the US to be complicit in this because we are being hated around the world and I fear for our security as well. When we travel around with US passports, we are not going to be greeted with a smile in many places around the world. In fact, the US State Department is now warning people about being in places like Lebanon and saying that we can’t protect you. So whether or not the elected officials care about the lives of Palestinians, they certainly should be representing us and giving the green light to Israel to continue this slaughter, on this genocide, on this ethnic cleansing, is not making us safe here at home.
Chris Hedges: Before I ask you about the regional consequences, I want to ask you about what happened to the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party. Which used to exist. McGovern, Fulbright, these figures.
Medea Benjamin: Well, they have shrunk down to a handful at this point. It has been very difficult for the first two weeks of this to even get our dear Barbara Lee, who was the leader back after 9/11, to say no to war, to get her to put her name on this call for a ceasefire, which she finally did. But where is the anti-war sentiment in Congress? As I said earlier, when you have a Democrat in Congress, it’s much harder to get these Democrats to stand up. If this were Trump who was carrying out this policy or another Republican, we would see a large number of Democrats or certainly a larger number of Democrats that were with us. Right now in these massive protests that are happening, all I see is Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush that come out to address the protestors.
We have been in the offices of very progressive members of Congress on other issues, like Mark Pocan who used to be the co-chair of the Progressive Caucus. He wouldn’t sign the resolution. He finally came out with his own statement calling for a ceasefire. But that was only after a lot of pressure from people in his district and in Washington DC. The same for Ro Khanna who has been very good on so many of these issues, including the war in Yemen. He will not call for a ceasefire in the case of Gaza. So it has been extremely difficult. We talked about the power of AIPAC, we talked about a Democrat in the White House, but we have to talk about the lack of courage and the lack of compassion that is keeping many of these Democrats from joining us.
Then we do have to talk about the Republicans because there was a sizable number of Republicans that still don’t want to send more money for the war in Ukraine. One of them told me when I asked him, he said, because I hate war, but now he wants to send money to Israel to kill the people of Hamas. So a tremendous inconsistency. But on the positive side, there is an anti-war movement now around Gaza that we have not seen before and I am very inspired by that movement. It’s not only these very courageous Jewish groups but very courageous Palestinian groups because right now it’s actually easier to speak out as the Jew than it is as the Palestinians. So when we see the Palestine youth movement, when we see American Muslims from Palestine, when we see groups like CAIR, C-A-I-R, coming out, they’re putting themselves at risk, and they are facing tremendous attacks for doing that. But I am very encouraged to see the buildup on the grassroots level for stopping the war in Gaza and stopping the US support for Israel.
Chris Hedges: Let’s close by looking at the potential consequences beyond the borders of Israel. There have been strikes on US bases in Syria and Iraq. Israel has carried out airstrikes in Syria, and two airstrikes against the airports in Aleppo and Damascus. Hezbollah has stepped up its activity along the northern border of Israel. The Turkish president has been quite outspoken calling Hamas resistance fighters. And then you have Iran. How could this potentially go horribly, horribly wrong?
Medea Benjamin: Well, you’ve laid it out, Chris. Iran is a very huge society with a huge military. Despite all the sanctions that have really hurt the economy of Iran, the Iranians have continued to build up their armaments, their drones, their massive military, and they stand ready. They do not want to get involved in this war. They have made it very clear and they have been quite restrained, but they are ready to do so if needed.
And of course, they have their allies and Hezbollah that also don’t want to get involved in this war, but are being pushed and pushed and pushed. And you talked about the US strikes in Syria. Once again, the Syrian government has been through so many years of war, does not want to get involved in this, and yet is being provoked. And we have many people in the government in Iraq that are furious with the Israelis and with the US support for Israel.
There is a region about to blow. We have been fighting the war in Ukraine and warning about it turning into a third world war, even a nuclear war. We have to warn about the consequences of this war that Israel is now waging in Gaza, and how it could turn into a regional conflagration that will set the region on fire. That’s why it is so important that we build up this anti-war movement in the US and link arms with the massive movement that’s happening all over the world, including in Europe, where there have been attempts by governments in places like Germany and France to make it illegal to carry a Palestinian flag or illegal to have pro-Palestine demonstrations. People have come out on the streets anyway.
I do want to end by saying that is our role as citizens right now to try to stop this war and avoid a regional war, to come out in massive numbers to say no to the Israeli attacks, and to say yes to a free Palestine.
Chris Hedges: Thank you. That was Madea Benjamin, peace activist and co-founder of CODEPINK. I want to thank The Real News Network and its production team: Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, David Hebden, and Kayla Rivara. You can find me at chrishedges.substack.com.