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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Chris McGreal in New York

US right heats up inflammatory rhetoric on Palestine as Muslim groups worry

poster with boy's face on it reading 'dehumanization through propaganda breeds hate crimes'
A six-year-old boy was killed in Illinois in an apparent hate crime prompted by the Israel-Hamas conflict. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Anadolu/Getty Images

Senator Lindsey Graham wants to see Gaza flattened. Congressman Max Miller said the laws of war should be swept aside. A former US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, suggested that Palestinians as a whole were responsible for Hamas’s crimes.

American politicians have rushed to plant their flags firmly with Israel after Hamas killed more than 1,400 people, and abducted about 200 others, in its unprecedented attack from the Gaza Strip. Some have echoed the demand by the Israel Defence Forces – “You either stand with Israel or you stand with terrorism” – reminiscent of the heated rhetoric in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the US.

The Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted: “Anyone that is pro-Palestinian is pro-Hamas.”

Muslim groups in the US have warned the outpouring of extreme language is threatening the safety of Arab Americans following the killing of a six-year-old boy and the wounding of his mother by their landlord in Illinois in an apparent hate crime prompted by the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The police said Joseph Czuba stabbed the boy, Wadea Al-Fayoume, to death after entering their apartment and shouting: “You Muslims must die!”.

Some politicians have also spoken out against inciting language, including the Democratic senator Chris Van Hollen.

“We must call out Hamas for the evil that it is. But those seeking to use this moment to demonize & dehumanize all Palestinians & Muslims are complicit in the deaths of innocents like the brutal hate killing of this six-year-old Palestinian-American boy, stabbed to death in Chicago,” he said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

But such sentiments were less heard than bellicose language.

Graham described the conflict as a “religious war” and called on the Israelis to “level the place”.

“Gaza is going to look like Tokyo and Berlin at the end of world war two when this is over. And if it doesn’t look that way, Israel made a mistake,” he told Fox News.

That was a sentiment echoed by another Republican senator, Tom Cotton.

“As far as I’m concerned, Israel can bounce the rubble in Gaza. Anything that happens in Gaza is the responsibility of Hamas,” he told Fox News Sunday in reference to a warning by Winston Churchill about the dangers of the nuclear arms race leading to a war that will make the “rubble bounce”.

Senator Marco Rubio called for Israel to “respond disproportionately”.

The Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, told a campaign rally in Iowa that one way or another Palestinians were all complicit in Hamas’s crimes.

“If you look at how they behave, not all of them are Hamas, but they are all antisemitic,” he said.

Max Miller called on the Biden administration “to get out of Israel’s way and to let Israel do what it needs to do best”. He said there should be “no rules of engagement”.

Another Republican member of Congress, Michael McCaul, chair of the House foreign affairs committee, claimed to have seen film of kidnapped Israeli children being held in metal cages.

“I saw a video of toddlers in cages like animals … as Hamas was laughing at them,” he said.

But factcheckers at France24 said the footage was circulating online before the attack and the false claim it was of Israeli children was made on TikTok by Ashlea Simon, chair of a far-right group in the UK, Britain First.

The heated rhetoric has also been pushed on rightwing television and radio.

Joel Pollak, a senior editor at large at Breitbart News, told a conservative webcast that he was “frankly OK” with the ethnic cleansing of Gaza to force out the Palestinian population.

“Let me say the unsayable. I’m not endorsing this but it’s a possible solution which is simply to expel them from Gaza. You might call that ethnic cleansing and so forth but the fact is that at the end of the second world war there were a million Germans kicked out of Poland. There were Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia,” he said.

“That’s an option, I think, after all this … If it comes down to ethnic cleansing, you want to cleanse my people. I’ll cleanse yours first.”

Pollak also tweeted: “There will never be a Palestinian state. It’s over.”

But outside of elected Republicans, there is more division on parts of the right where there is opposition to military support for Ukraine and opposition to foreign interventions by the US.

The former Fox News host Tucker Carlson said on his show on X that the Hamas attack and assault on Gaza would be used to justify the US engaging in new, broader conflicts that, he warned, could escalate to nuclear war.

Carlson attacked the Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley as “ignorant” and “bloodthirsty” for saying the attack on Israel was also an attack on America. He accused Graham of being a “reckless” old man who didn’t care about the future because he doesn’t have children for threatening war with Iran.

“Wars beget more war. The bigger the conflict, the uglier and longer-lasting the consequences,” said Carlson.

More cautious voices were met with accusations of siding with terrorists.

Friedman, the former ambassador, lashed out at the congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez after she said that the US “has a responsibility to ensure accountability to human rights to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians”.

“Ethnic cleansing of Palestinians?!?!?!” You mean the Palestinians who decapitate babies, rape women and dismember children? Or those who hand out candy in celebration? Or those who provide the terrorists aid, comfort, safe passage and a place to hide? Israel doesn’t oppose their ethnicity, it’s their barbarity that is the problem!” he said.

But Ocasio-Cortez found support from the leader of the progressive caucus in Congress, Pramila Jayapal, who warned about positions that “that stop us from having peace ever”.

Another Democratic representative, the former soldier Jason Crow, warned that “sabre-rattling rhetoric” would do little to end the conflict.

“I think one of the lessons we learned during our 20-year war on terror is you have to go to great lengths to minimise civilian harm,” he told the Washington Post. “If you don’t, not only do you lose sight of your goals and humanity, but it’s counterproductive. You create more enemies and adversaries by over responding.”

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