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AOC and Pelosi clash over ‘genocide Joe’ label flung at Biden by Gaza protesters

Two champions of different wings of the Democratic Party offered dueling takes on the increasingly vocal protests against Joe Biden over the US’s role in funding Israel’s military assault against the Gaza Strip during interviews on Sunday.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leader of the party’s progressive wing, appeared on Meet the Press where she hesitated to embrace the label of “genocide” being applied to the sustained carnage caused by Israel’s invasion of Gaza; the congresswoman did, however, defend those in her party (including fellow “Squad” member Rashida Tlaib) who have used the term and accused the US government of being complicit.

The International Court of Justice is currently hearing arguments brought by the South African government in favour of declaring the Israeli campaign a “genocide” — an initial ruling by the Court this past week demanded that Israel work to prevent one from occurring while the determination is made. The Israeli government has strongly opposed accusations of committing a genocide or ethnic cleansing against Palestinians, but a growing list of Israeli government officials have been heard in public using rhetoric which undermine those denials.

Kristin Welker, NBC’s moderator, noted to Ms Ocasio-Cortez during their interview that some activists on her party’s progressive left flank have started using the derisive moniker “Genocide Joe” for the US president. Welker then asked Ms Ocasio-Cortez if the descriptor of “genocide” went too far:

“Some of your colleagues have accused the president of supporting genocide, including Rashida Tlaib. Do you agree with that word, ‘genocide,’ that the president's been supporting a genocide, or does that go too far?”

”Young people are appalled at the violence and the indiscriminate loss of life,” the congresswoman responded. “We are not just seeing twenty-five thousand people that have died in Gaza. We are seeing the starvation of millions of people, the displacement of over 2 million Gazans.”

As the two noted that the ICJ has yet to make a formal determination, the congresswoman from New York continued: “In the interim ruling, the fact that they said there's a responsibility to prevent it, the fact that this word is even in play, the fact that this word is even in our discourse, I think demonstrates the mass inhumanity that Gazans are facing.”

Though the ICJ’s process of determining whether a genocide is being committed by Israel in Gaza remains ongoing, it is notably not the standard that the US government, under Joe Biden, has used when deciding whether military action or other conflicts cross that line.

The president himself described Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “genocide” in an April 2022 interview; the ICJ has yet to make a determination on that case either, though it has demanded that Russia cease military action in Ukraine. The civilian death toll since in Ukraine is reported to be less than half of the death toll in the Gaza Strip dating back to just October of last year; Israeli officials and international monitoring organisations strongly disagree over the number of Hamas militants killed, with Israel claiming as many as 9,000 have died.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s words came as a startling new poll from YouGov and The Economist reported that half of respondents who said they voted for Mr Biden in 2020 thought that the Israeli government was committing a genocide in the Gaza Strip. Similar numbers thought that the conflict was likely to broaden across the Middle East.

Meanwhile, a representative of the Democratic Party’s old guard (in both age and political thinking) appeared on CNN to discuss the same issue. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi was interviewed by Dana Bash and argued (without any evidence to support her view) that some of the recent demonstrations against Mr Biden were “connected to Russia”. The dismissal did not go over well with her detractors on the Democratic Party’s left wing.

Mr Biden himself is the subject of a lawsuit brought by civil rights groups and Palestinian-Americans arguing that the president has violated both US and international law by allowing US military aid to support a country accused of committing genocide. Initial arguments began in the case this past week.

A White House spokesman, John Kirby, did not comment on the suit itself but told reporters on Tuesday that “nothing’s changed about the president’s strong view that we’ve got to continue to make sure Israel has what it needs to defend itself”.