SUN SENTINEL: Wasserman Schultz pushes for hostage releases on Middle East trip, details evidence of atrocities she saw in Israel
Washington, January 9, 2024
Just back from a four-nation trip to the Middle East as part of a bipartisan delegation pressing Qatar to do more to entice Hamas to release hostages it seized on Oct. 7, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz expressed rage, sorrow and determination over the horrors she saw and heard about in Israel.
By Anthony Man
“No one is safe with the continuation of Hamas as a terrorist entity,” she said. “They need to be eradicated. Their leadership needs to be eliminated and the threat that Hamas poses to Jews, and to anyone who stands in their way needs to be eliminated.”
To illustrate her view, and Israel’s objective on Hamas, for Americans, Wasserman Schultz pointed to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“Who in this nation would accept a terrorist organization living on our border and being able to continue living there after slaughtering thousands of our residents,” she said. “Can you imagine if after 9/11, the terrorists that perpetrated that horrific act and killed almost 3,000 of our people that they were allowed to continue to live on our border?”
The delegation — Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate — met with families of Hamas-held hostages and toured Kibbutz Nir Oz, a scene of carnage where people were killed, abducted and wounded by Hamas during its Oct. 7 attacks.
Meeting Tuesday with reporters at her district office in Sunrise, Wasserman Schultz displayed pictures she’d taken with her iPhone showing homes at the kibbutz that were sprayed with bullets, set ablaze with people inside, or damaged when a bomb was thrown inside by Hamas on Oct. 7.
The overall objective of the trip: “Making sure that we can keep laser focused on releasing the hostages and bringing the conflict to an end when Hamas is eradicated.”
Speaking in Washington on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, offered the same view of the trip’s objective: Release of Hamas-held hostages, especially six Americans.
Wasserman Schultz also decried, and analyzed, the lack of attention that’s been afforded to brutal sexual violence inflicted on women during the Oct. 7 Hamas attack and what a range of public opinion polls shows is strikingly lower support for Israel among young people in the U.S. than in the overall population.
Sexual atrocities Horrific accounts have emerged of unimaginably brutal sexual violence against women that took place on Oct. 7. Wasserman Schultz lamented that it has taken time for some organizations, including progressives and women at the United Nations, to condemn what has happened.
“Very frankly, because there seems to be an asterisk for sexual violence against Jews. It’s the expression, ‘Me too unless you’re a Jew,’” she said.
“We’re seeing more and more now the forensic evidence that has come out, the stories, the firsthand stories that are being told,” she said. “What’s devastating is that there seems to be such a hatred of Jews and even among those would never publicly say that they are antisemitic, there is this latent deep-seated antisemitism built over millennia that somehow doesn’t allow people to feel empathy for Jews and it’s disgusting.”
Support for Israel
Wasserman Schultz said support in both Congress, and in the American public, for Israel is strong. It is not universal, however.
Social media has become a forum for criticism of Israel and support for Hamas. Wasserman rejected the suggestion that Israel and its supporters needed to do a better job of selling its story.
“This isn’t about public relations. It’s 1,200 innocent civilians who were slaughtered, raped, burned alive, taken captive. … And on top of that, thousands more were wounded. They still have over 100 who are being held hostage with questionable status as to whether they’re alive, injured, how they’ve been cared for, other than the stories that the hostages that are coming back,” she said.
There may be loud voices critical of Israel and supportive of Palestinians, but Wasserman Schultz said there is widespread support for Israel. “I think it’s important to note that the recent polling in the United States shows that the overwhelming majority of Americans strongly support Israel, strongly support Israel’s mission to eradicate Hamas,” she said.
Wasserman Schultz doesn’t see the attention generated by multiple pro-Palestinian protests as an accurate reflection of the views of the broad American public.
“I think what we’re seeing is a lot of outsized attention” to protests by the news media. “I think it provides a distorted view of how the American people really feel about this.”
Polling also shows that younger people are far less supportive of Israel than the overall U.S. population, something Wasserman Schultz acknowledged — and attributed to the places where so many younger people get their news. “Quite frankly, TikTok and social media and the source of news that most young people get their news from,” she said.
“If you look at TikTok, which is a horrific actor when it comes to the social media platforms, the access to hate and disinformation and misinformation that goes unchecked on TikTok, and other platforms as well” it shows “the social media companies are not acting responsibly, particularly TikTok, in sifting through and having enough moderators that they employ to take down and to flag disputed information.”
And, she said, some younger people also don’t have full awareness of how Jews have been targeted in the past. “The further away you are from the Holocaust generation, from the World War II generation, from being common knowledge that 6 million Jews were murdered at the hands of the Nazis.”
She said Hamas is responsible for the deaths among Palestinians in the war that stems from its attack on Israel.
“This would never have happened and the war would not exist if Hamas had not attacked Israel and killed 1,200 of their citizens on October 7th, had they not taken 240 hostage people hostage over 100 of whom they still hold. You would not see a war in Gaza if they just released the hostages and end their stated mission, which they have publicly said since October 7th … to eliminate Israel and kill Jews.”
Wasserman Schultz returned home Monday afternoon from the eight-day trip. Of the nine members of the Senate and House from both parties on the trip she was the only one who is Jewish. Seven of the nine, including Wasserman Schultz, had been on a fact-finding trip to the Middle East on Oct. 7, and also traveled to Israel three days later.
The most recent trip brought the delegation to Bahrain, Egypt, Israel and Qatar.
“We felt compelled and focused on traveling back as a delegation,” she said. “Our purpose and our mission was to make sure that we could send a strong message to Israel and to Israelis that the United States Congress stands resolutely by Israel in her essential goal of eradicating Hamas as a threat and making sure that we sent a strong message that we must secure the release of the hostages.”
In Israel, the delegation met with hostage families. Six Americans are still being held by Hamas, she said.
“We wanted to make sure that we came to Israel, that we came to the region and that it was important that we not just sign statements and issue press releases and be united in our position from thousands of miles away,” Wasserman Schultz said. “We wanted to make sure that the Arab leadership in the region understands that the United States is making this a priority and it is bipartisan and we expect those of leverage that are our friends to engage fully.”
In Israel, “we were clear in our solidarity,” she said.
Wasserman Schultz said she pressed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over statements made by “extreme right-wing members of his coalition” who have suggested that after the war Gaza should be run by Israel. “That is not something that would be productive or helpful,” she said. “Israel is not and should not be taking back Gaza. That’s not their intent.”
Meeting with leaders in Qatar, the delegation pushed them to do more to secure release of the remaining Israeli and American hostages who have been held since Oct. 7. Qatar, a strategic ally of the U.S., has been an intermediary between Israel and Hamas.
“They have considerable leverage and our expectation … was that they use it,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Our expectations based on our relationship is that they will use their leverage to successfully negotiate the release of the hostages and help bring an end to this conflict,” she said.
She praised the crown prince of Bahrain, who is also its prime minister. “And we told him repeatedly that he deserved tremendous credit for unequivocally condemning the Hamas attack, really the only one Arab leader in the region that did so,” she said.
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